CAIRO: State security bodies have begun mobilising outside the Ghazl El-Mahalla textile factory ahead of the strike planned for next Sunday, April 6, calling for better pay and conditions.
According to the website egyworkers.blogspot.com eight central security trucks containing police officers, soldiers and groups of the plainclothes police used to intimidate and attack protestors during demonstrations, have assembled around the factory.
The blog describes this mobilisation as “the preparatory stage of an attack on factory workers in the event of a strike.
The website also alleges that members of security bodies have given keys to individuals who will close the factory after the last shift on April 5 in order to prevent workers striking inside the factory.
Factory employees have repeatedly complained of collusion between the administration and workers’ syndicate officials, who they accuse of being cronies of the ruling National Democratic Party.
In addition, Kareem El-Beheiry, author of the website, told Daily News Egypt that 15 workers from the company were summoned to a police checkpoint in Mahalla, located in Gharbeya governorate. Members of security bodies told the men to intimidate co-workers into calling off the strike by telling them that if they do go on strike, they would be attacked by the police.
El-Beheiry says that the intimidation has had little effect on workers’ resolve.
“In a company as huge as this you have to expect that there will be a few workers working as informers for security bodies, El-Beheiry said. “And the threats and intimidation are normal, we’ve seen it before. Nonetheless it is expected that around 20,000 workers will go on strike on Sunday regardless of these threats, he continued.
In an attempt to quell strike momentum, factory officials displayed notices on Sunday in which they announced that food allowances had been increased from LE 43 to LE 90 by minister of investment Mahmoud Mohieldin.
Workers say that soaring food prices justify a LE 150 food allowance.
In December 2006 employees of the publicly-owned Mahalla factory went on strike after the administration reneged on a promise by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif that annual bonuses would be increased to the equivalent of a two month pay, rather than the fixed LE 100 sum previously paid.
In the event workers were paid LE 89, the standard LE 100 minus tax deductions, prompting over 25,000 workers to launch strike action which resulted in the acceptance of their demands, one of which was the impeachment of company chairman Mahmoud El-Gebaly.
El-Gebaly was eventually dismissed in November and the company’s board of directorsDissolved.
The Mahalla strike is widely regarded as precipitating a resurgence of the labour movement, with one source suggesting that there were 650 protests between December and September 2007, when Mahalla next went on strike.
While the workers’ strike action is the product of a nonpartisan grassroots movement it has inspired calls for a general strike throughout Egypt on the April 6.
Emails and notices have flooded Egyptian blogs and social-networking website, Facebook, calling on Egyptians not to go to work or buy anything on the that day to protest against corruption, rising food prices and police torture
Chairman of the Islamistleaning Labor Party Magdy Hussein told Daily News Egypt that four groups had put forward calls for the strike
“The strike on April 6 was decided on three weeks ago by the Labor Party, the Karama Party, revolutionary socialists and members of [opposition movement] Kefaya, Hussein explained.
“We chose that date because Mahalla had declared its intention to go on strike – but the general strike goes beyond solidarity with Mahalla, we’re calling on people themselves not to work, he continued.
Some analysts have criticized the initiative as political opportunism and say that it is destined to fail because of the impossibility of organizing an effective nationwide strike without an organized and independent trade union.
Hussein however says that the aim of the action is to send a message to the ruling regime
“There can be no change through the political process – Mubarak and his friends won’t leave without a popular uprising, Hussein said. “We have to send them a message that we have had enough.
Hussein told Daily News Egypt that initial estimates predict that 40 percent of people will respond to the call for a strike.
“Everyone will respond differently; some may strike some may just take part in protests if they judge that striking is too much of a personal risk, he explained.
“There has been a huge response to the call, everyone’s talking about the April 6 despite the fact that we haven’t publicized the strike in the media and there’s a blackout about it on satellite channels.
A people’s movement is imposing itself, he said