People tend to believe that 25 January 2011 is the date when the revolution started. I am one of those who believe it actually started earlier when the labour movements decided to step in and fight against injustice on the ground. The beginning can be marked by the Mahallah riots in 2008, or maybe even earlier.
For me, 25 January was just a turning point from a labour movement uprising into a national mass movement, sparked by the brutal death of Khaled Said and the hope Tunisia provided.
After two years following the fall of Mubarak, the labour movement is still struggling and will keep struggling until the demands they have repeatedly announced in the past 10 years are met. The demands evolve around an institutional clean-up of corrupt figures (Mubarak’s cronies and the military), re-nationalising privatised public sector companies, fixing labour legislation, and above all the right for a humane minimum wage.
Can the labour movements in Egypt do it? They definitely can and they are already progressing. However, the labour movements house needs significant fixing from the inside.
The official labour union, or let us say Mubarak’s union, needs collective efforts by other labour entities in order to properly advocate to the public about what is really happing in this huge, rich and historically corrupt institution that always plays a supporting role for whoever is in power. Yesterday it was Mubarak’s gang, today the Muslim Brotherhood with their neo-liberal agenda.
In parallel, developing the structure of the other labour movements represented in the many independent unions and movements, which suffer from overbearing bureaucracy and inefficient organisation, is an unavoidable necessity.
Positioning the labour movement, in comprehensive terms, in relation to other stake-holders in the revolution is another important issue that needs consideration. There might be significant coordination with the active Socialist Revolutionary Movement, but it definitely needs to be taken to another level of public influence and pressure on the Brotherhood government.
Other non-labour revolutionary movements, like 6 April and maybe the Ultras, need to be involved and coordinated when it comes to sending strong messages to both the public and the government.
On the other hand, the labour movements, especially in the current revolutionary phase, urgently need to avoid short-sighted alliances with political entities that claim to support the revolution. The National Salvation Front (NSF) is an example of a stigma that is perfectly utilised by the Brotherhood that the public are willing to believe; namely, a great deal of feloul and those with a history of cooperating with the previous regime are fake opposition and active members of the front. I believe the NSF will fail, unless they engage in a self-clean-up process sooner rather than later.
The labour movement in Egypt has to get over this naive utopian attitude of the “one hand” slogan heard during the 18 days in 2011. No one can deny that those days were the best, but unfortunately politics does not function like this, and the naive are always the losers.
The movement should be clear about its demands and who to choose as a genuine ally, and who to identify (in political and peaceful resistance contexts) as enemies. This is how loyalties are created, support is developed and goals are met. Utopias only exist in fairytales. There are no compromises in basic rights, and labour rights are simply very basic.
Fortunately, what makes the labour movement the most important pillar on the second anniversary of the revolution, regardless of its structural deficiencies, is the resemblance to every average citizen’s dream. Its demands are nothing but the revolution’s ultimate goal. Bread, freedom and social justice! Therefore, they better get their house in order and immediately start spreading their message to every Egyptian household.