Thursday, June 16, 2011

Egypt's Union Battles

The most under-reported aspect of Egypt's revolution has been the critical role of the labor movement, not only during the events, but in the years leading up to it. Now, an independent labor federation is battling for recognition:
"The battle for union influence is being waged by two groups: the long-established Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) and the upstart Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions (EFIU)...

"Ibrahim el Azhary, the general secretary of ETUF, calls the independent union movement 'the counter-revolution among the workers' and 'a Zionist conspiracy'.

"Kamel Abbas, one of the founders of EFIU, said ETUF is run by 'a group of old men who serve whatever political power is convenient' and are 'enemies of workers' rights in Egypt'.

"ETUF said it will lobby a new parliament for independence from the government, but that it wants to retain control of negotiations with the government and industries on issues such as wages and benefits. EFIU, on the other hand, argues for the complete independence of unions to negotiate on their own or in groups, and the ability to play a larger political role in the country.

"Under Mr Mubarak, the law required all unions to be a part of ETUF and it has been widely accepted that the organisation was a part of the government's apparatus to control dissent and manage the economy...

"The caretaker government, led by the Supreme Council of the Military Forces, has so far come out strongly in favour of the independent unions. Ahmed el Borai, the minister of manpower and immigration, declared the freedom of associations as one of his first acts. The move led the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to immediately remove Egypt's from its blacklist of countries that prevent freedom of association for its workers...

"Where there were only a handful of new trade unions formed before the revolution, they are now sprouting up by the dozen each month."

See also Hesham Sallam



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