Public transport strikes paralyze Cairo

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Workers at Cairo s Public Transportation Company called off their strike and returned to work on Sunday after the government met their economic demands, a move seen as an attempt to avoid politicizing the latest in the biggest wave of strikes witnessed by Egypt since the 1950s.

Cairo’s public bus drivers returned to work two days after a well-organized wave of industrial action that affected traffic on the already congested roads. The action is threatening to spread to other transport sectors on which millions in Africa s most populous metropolis rely.

The transportation workers strike, which comes ahead of next month s legislative elections in the Shoura Council (Upper House of Parliament), was seen as a victory for workers who, according to industry sources, expressed their dissatisfaction with the government s privatization strategy.

Industry sources told The Daily Star Egypt that the strike was met by a government clampdown on the protesting drivers, some of whom were arrested after they announced the stoppage.

The drivers walked away from a main bus terminal in Mataria, a densely populated area south of Cairo, reportedly threatening to march to the presidential residence in Heliopolis to voice their demands directly to the president.

Some drivers were arrested at the top of nearby residential buildings where they tried to flee state police, said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.

Drivers working for the Public Transportation Company are threatening mass resignations, for whom there is huge demand by the private sector, which invested heavily to buy the licenses to operate.

The source continued: “Private mass transport companies, which entered the transport market after the government opened it up to investors, are offering to pay drivers double the wages. It is a very lucrative sector, with the booming business of moving people and things around, many want to cash in on it.

It all began when workers did not get an annual raise on Labor Day.

Witnesses, meanwhile, said there was higher-than-usual traffic congestion involving public transport buses. There were also individual reports of incidents involving erratic driving and repeated breakdowns of the 50-seater buses on Friday and Saturday.

Analysts believe that even though the government acted quickly to contain the strike by negotiating with workers, and agreeing to some of their demands, the workers political demands were flatly rejected.

They [the government] agreed to the economic demands, but workers also called for the dismissal of the trade union heads elected in Fall of 2005 union elections, said Joel Beinin, director of Middle East studies and professor of history at the American University in Cairo, and who has done extensive research on labor strikes in Egypt.

Beinin rejected state media reports that the strikes have ended, saying they might have abetted for the meantime. But they will continue, and might spread into other vital sectors and services, because there is a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the government s economic performance.

While the government announces record growth rates, people do not see the result in their bottom line finances. There is a false sense of prosperity; we have record growth rates but high levels of unemployment and poverty, and these strikes will diminish growth, and the government s privatization plans will worsen unemployment and increase the gap between rich and poor.

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