2012: After a year of struggle, what next for Egypt’s new unions?
Egypt’s new trade union movement is almost exactly the same age as the revolution that brought down former dictator Hosni Mobarak. The Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU) was founded on the fifth day of the revolution and now has 1.6 million members. It is made up of independent unions founded before the revolution, and which helped bring the regime down; trade unionists who have broken away from the old state-run ETUF confederation; and workers who had not organised before the revolution gave them the freedom to do so.
Jano Charbel, writing on Egypt Independent, sums up a tumultuous year: for the Egyptian trade union movement, the fall of Mubarak was only the beginning. There have been well over 200 major strikes over the year, often about improved wages, payment of overdue bonuses, safer working conditions, and full-time contracts for full-time work. In addition, unions are demanding a monthly minimum wage of LE1,200 (around £128) and a maximum wage for management. A minimum wage set lower than unions have demanded (LE700 or £75) will come into effect shortly.
He quotes Mustafa Bassiouny, labour journalist for the independent Al-Tahrir Newspaper, saying:
“Workers’ strikes and protests are, and will always be, an integral part of the 25 January revolution. It was the strikes and protests that, in the last week of the uprising, actually toppled Mubarak. The chief slogan of this revolution is ‘bread, freedom and social justice’, and this is precisely what workers seek to achieve through their struggles.”
As the Arab spring reverberated round the region, EFITU joined with other free trade unions to form the Arab Democratic Trade Union Forum in Jordan in September and has already been given Associated Organisation status (a precursor to possible membership) by the ITUC. The TUC welcomed the creation of the new confederation at our Congress last year. And global union federations and EFITU sister confederations around the world, including the TUC, will be meeting next month in Cairo to plan practical assistance for the Egyptian trade union movement.