MAHALLA EL-KOBRA: Workers from the Ghazl El-Mahalla spinning factory held a demonstration Thursday against alleged plans to sell off the Ghazl El-Mahalla company to private investors.
At 3 pm some 40 women workers had congregated outside the gate of the factory, located in the Delta town of Mahalla El-Kobra.
When Daily News Egypt arrived at 2:45 pm hundreds of workers were filing out of the factory, ahead of the scheduled time for the end of the morning shift at 3 pm.
According to factory workers the morning shift was ended early – pursuant to orders given by security bodies – in an attempt to minimize the scale of the protest.
The group of women workers entered the factory and, after a short altercation with factory security, were allowed into the factory’s central courtyard area, where workers were assembling.
Around 800 workers participated in the protest, chanting “The factory belongs to workers and calling for the removal of the factory’s manager.
During the past two years the Ghazl El-Mahalla factory’s more than 20,000 workers have frequently staged strikes and demonstrations protesting pay and conditions.
A successful six-day strike in the factory in December 2006 is credited with instigating the nearly 600 incidents of industrial action Egypt witnessed in 2007.
On April 6 a planned strike in the factory was aborted following intimidation by security bodies and workers divisions.
A general strike against increasing food prices was called for by activists on the same day as the planned strike.
Mahalla witnessed violent clashes between the police and crowds of demonstrators on April 6 and 7.
Security bodies were heavily criticized for the way in which force was used against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators, and for the arbitrary detention of hundreds of Mahalla residents.
A group of 49 people from the town are currently on trial for acts of theft and criminal damage they are alleged to have committed during the course of the two days. Rights groups have criticized what they say are trumped-up charges against the group.
Workers attributed the relatively low turnout at Thursday’s protest to the decision to dismiss the morning shift early. They also said that some shift workers were still inside the factory.
Following the events of April 6 and 7 President Ahmed Nazif visited the factory and made a number of promises to workers.
In statements made to the MENA news agency, Fouad Hassan, head of the company’s board of directors, said that the promises made by Nazif are being implemented.
He says that 100 buses will be provided for workers and that their allowances will be increased to 35 percent, amongst other promises.
During a general meeting held this week, company representative Fouad Abdel Alim informed workers that the company is incurring losses.
According to workers, the factory has recorded an estimated LE 140 million in losses.
Saber Rady, a shift-head who has worked in the factory for 17 years, explained to Daily News Egypt that workers attribute any losses made to a failure on the part of management.
“Our problem is that no one markets ours products, neither the cloth nor the yarn. Individuals in the private sector who own a spinning machine market their products, but who does that for ours? he asked.
“My father worked in the factory for 40 years and this company has never in its lifetime made a loss.
Workers allege that the government intends to make the state-owned company lose market value ahead of its eventual sell-off to the private sector.
Daily News Egypt was informed by factory security staff that all members of company management left the factory at 2 pm and that nobody was available to respond to workers’ allegations.
Mostafa Fouda says that another reason for the protest is the government’s betrayal of its promises to workers.
“Workers are under pressure because of the failure of the government to uphold its promises to us. We want a minimum wage, and standards in the hospital where we receive medical treatment to improve, he said.
“Nobody negotiates with us in a formal manner – everything is verbal.
“We want an elected board of directors in order to hold to account those responsible for the factory’s losses, Fouda said.
Fouda also alleged that the bus scheme promised to them in April, which has yet to be implemented, has been cancelled.
“If they give us a decent wage, and decent transport and decent housing, and meet our demands, we’ll have a comfortable life.
“This will allow us to think about freedom and democracy which they don’t want us to do. Even this protest we had to fight for because they tried to stop us holding it.They don’t want us to give voice to our suffering.