By Connor Molloy and Nouran El-Behairy
“He couldn’t run one company, how can he run 32?” asked Faisal Lacushah, taking aim at Foud Abdel-Alim, President of the Holding Company for Cotton, Spinning and Weaving, and Garments, whose thousands of employees are on the third day of their strike in Mahalla. Lacushah is a leader and coworker to thousands of workers at the holding company’s Mahalla textile plant, a group that has a storied history of rising up against the unfair labour practices that many of them face in Mahalla.
In earlier protests the workers at Mahalla were able to affect the firing of Abdel-Alim from his position as head of the Mahalla plant, only for him to eventually take the reigns of the umbrella holding company that controls Mahalla.
Now 25,000 workers have walked off the job and are staging a rotating sit-in with shifts of 3,000 to 5,000 workers occupying the compound at a time. The workers’ demands are four-fold. The first demand is the removal of Abdel-Alim.
The second demand has to do with payments; the plant workers want their bonus checks to match those of the employees of the parent holding company. Secondly, they want an increase in the nature of work allowance, and their end of service pay to be brought up to three months pay for every one year worked.
The third demand is improved healthcare and the changing of current medical staff that treats the workers. The final demand is that all corrupt members of management be expunged.
The restive plant is located in the heart of the Nile River Delta and is one subsidiary of the larger holding company, which is itself part of the Ministry of Investment. The holding company consists of 9 companies devoted to the trading, ginning, and exporting of cotton. The others are spinning and weaving companies like the one in Mahalla.
The Mahalla plant has witnessed protest before. The most notable protests took place on April 6, 2008 and led to rioting and deaths. The workers in Mahalla are in negotiation with the administration and the company said the entire issue will be resolved within 24-hours. Lacushah said the administration has until Thursday or events will escalate. “If they don’t meet our demands,” Lacushah said, “it’s going to be another April 6.”