Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Revolutionary spirit spreads to Egyptian industry

Workers at an Indonesian-owned mill win fight for better conditions after being inspired by Tahrir Square protests

Benjamin Barthe
Guardian Weekly
, Tuesday 12 April 2011

"The shockwave from the Egyptian revolution has reached a skyscraper in Singapore. Encouraged by the victory of the shabab (youths) in Tahrir Square and Hosni Mubarak's resignation on 11 February, thousands of Egyptian workers went on strike to demand better working conditions. Among them was the workforce at the mill at Shibin el-Kom, the main town in Menoufia province, on the Nile delta, 60km north of Cairo. A throwback to the days of Nasserite socialism, the firm was privatised in 2007 and sold to Indorama, an Indonesian multinational based in Singapore. The emphasis on flexible working imposed by the new management soon upset the workers, used to tough but regular work. They made a timid strike attempt in 2009, followed by a massive turnout this year. After a month's conflict they are going back to work having achieved unexpectedly favourable terms....

Before the revolution, the protests by workers were low-key. But in March the wind changed. "We reckoned the political balance had tipped and, with Mubarak out of the way and Amn al-Dawla [Mubarak's secret police] disbanded, we could at last say: 'No'," Shendy recalls. So the workforce downed tools, organising marches and sit-ins outside the provincial governor's offices. Their action paid off. The deal negotiated with Indorama provides for half of the 95 redundancies to be reinstated, a rise in monthly bonuses, five-year contracts, yearly scope for promotion and payment by the state for part of the lost hours."

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