KAFR EL DAWWAR: Thousands of factory workers and townspeople poured out of the Kafr El Dewar Textile Factory on Thursday afternoon, after negotiations by state-appointed union representatives and a host of government officials ended a 6-day strike in the impoverished delta town.
The workers whistled and clapping, throwing peace signs in the air and jubilantly shouting “God is great! There is no God but God! Mohammed is the prophet of God!
The deal ended a protest that first began on Feb. 4 when more than 12,000 workers occupied the factory and staged a sit-in. They demanded better pay and an increase to their monthly meal allowance, which had stagnated at LE 32 a month.
In addition, they wanted a share of the revenue from the recent sale of company land, improved safety conditions in the factory, better medical care at the company hospital, and an end to a freeze on promotions which began in 1995.
They also demanded a bonus equal to 45 days pay, similar to one gained by workers in Ghazl el Mahalla textile factory in a watershed strike in December.
Workers also complained bitterly of rampant corruption and mismanagement at the plant.
“The bed sheets we make here cost LE 17, said one worker. “The managers buy them here at cost and then turn around and sell them on the black market for LE 30 each. These men make a nice profit for themselves off of us, but it costs the factory a lot of money. They are so corrupt.
The deal which ended the strike was reached at a meeting between a state-appointed local union representative and Minister of Labor Aisha Abdel Hady, Secretary-General of the government-backed General Federation of Trade Unions Hussein Meghawer, and the Governor of Beheira province.
The deal was announced to the workers by Beheira Governor Mohammed Shaarawy, who arrived at the factory to read the agreement to the gathered protestors.
According to the terms of the deal, the workers’ monthly food allowance will rise to LE 43 per month and the factory will review rules instituted in 1960 as well as health and safety conditions inside the plant.
An ambulance for the factory clinic, which workers charged contained no medicine and demanded bribes in exchange for allowing sick leave, is now expected to be provided by management.
Workers will not receive a 45-day bonus under the deal, but will get a sum equal to 21 days of wages. Most workers seemed not to mind.
“They did not give us the 45-day bonus, but they gave us something better – the meal allowance, said a former protester.
“We’ll get LE 11 more a month. It’s a small amount but we’re happy with it. It will be retroactive, so we’ll get seven months worth of money.
Workers pointed out that this lump sum is actually worth more money than a 45 day bonus.
The sit-in which began last week gained strength quickly and within a few hours was quickly joined by workers from each of the plant’s four shifts as word of the protest spread through the town.
On Tuesday, the protest abruptly became a hunger strike when state security teams barricaded the workers inside the plant and refused to let anyone enter to bring them food or medicine. Unwilling to leave, workers vowed to stay in the plant and not eat until their demands were met.
According to the Workers’ Coordination Committee, the factory workers responded to the state security escalation by “broadcasting an obituary for the chief of management and trade union committee and chanting slogans demanding the 45 days bonus like other companies.
The workers rallied around the slogan “Strike until death. Strike until payment.
In the end, though, they accepted the deal proposed by the state.
In December, more than 27,000 workers went on strike in Ghazl el Mahalla in defiance of their local union. The strikers won a range of concessions from management and have now organized a campaign to impeach their local union representatives, threatening to form an independent union if their demands are not met.
If the Mahalla workers are successful in forming an independent union, it will be Egypt’s first since the 1957 formation of the General Federation of Trade Unions, the state body governing the country’s labor unions. The success of the Mahalla campaign has energized the Egyptian labor movement in recent months and inspired a string of wildcat strikes throughout the Delta. On the sidelines of Thursday impromptu celebration, some workers were unhappy with the deal that ended the strike. Despite what some view as a victory for workers, complaints of state pressure, union corruption and low wages persist. “We have union representatives who don’t know how to do their jobs, said one angry man, reacting to the news that the union had cut a deal with the government.
“We didn’t choose these representatives; the government forced them on us. We have nothing at all to do with these union people.
Another man told The Daily Star Egypt: “Myself, I make LE 290 a month. What does that do in this day and age? Why did we have this sit in? So we can get LE 11 more?
“We get very, very low wages. He said. “I want to ask President Hosni Mubarak, if you have any loyalty to your sons working in the factories, then look at us with a little mercy. Does he have no loyalty to us?