Egyptian textile workers strike for bonuses and to protest corruption, 2006

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Timing
Time Period:  
5 December
2006
to
10 December
2006
Location and Goals
Country: 
Egypt
Location City/State/Province: 
Mahalla al-Kubra
Goals: 
To gain bonuses and address factory corruption.
 

On March 3, 2006, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif announced that all public-sector manufacturing workers would be given an increase in their annual bonuses. The workers of Mahalla al-Kubra’s Misr Spinning and Weaving Company, the country’s largest public sector textile company employing 27,000 people, were overjoyed at the decree.

Eight months later in December, the workers received the same usual bonus and realized the government would not be following through with its promise. For the next two days, December 4 and 5, angry workers refused to accept their salaries, protesting the injustice. In addition to the ignored bonuses, workers were frustrated with the company’s corruption, believing much of it resulted from Mahmoud El-Gebali, the company’s newly appointed chair. They accused him of squandering money in corrupt deals, facilitated by his placement of friends in high-ranking company positions.

On December 7, workers took action, led by workers Mohamed Attar and Sayyid Habib (among other unknown organizers). Morning shift employees gathered in protest in Talaat Harb Square at the entrance of the factory. Later in the day, 3,000 female garment workers left their posts and visited the male-dominated spinning and weaving stations where they chanted, “Where are the men? Here are the women!” Consequently, the shamed men abandoned their work and left with the women to join the demonstration in the square. Production slowed almost to a halt. As the number of protestors increased, riot police were sent to the square, though they did not act.

Factory management came to the protests to negotiate and proposed a bonus of 21-days’ pay, which had been decided on by the Minister of Manpower Aisha Abdel-Hady and Minister of Investment Mahmoud Moheiddin, who were concerned the protests would inspire more around the country. The workers rejected the offer.

The protest continued into the late evening with the women wanting to stay the night. The men, including leaders Attar and Habib, convinced them to return home where they would be safest. Seventy male workers decided to sleep in the mill that night, however. Before dawn prayers the next morning, riot police entered the factory premises trying to surprise and overcome the men inside. Responding quickly, the occupying men yelled to the police that there were thousands of them and began pounding on iron barrels in attempts to convince the police of their large number. Furthermore, the workers called all their friends and family living near the factory and told them to open their windows and yell to the police that they were watching them. They also called all the factory’s workers telling them to rush to the factory and form a protest outside in the square. The workers made so many calls they exceeded their mobile credits.

Meanwhile, the police force suspended the factory’s water and power, and coordinating state agents at the train station lied to incoming workers, saying that the mill was not operating due to a power shortage. Their attempts failed, however, and 20,000 workers arrived at the mill. The workers gathered once more in the square and demonstrated, holding mock funerals for their bosses. Most prominent were funerals for El-Gebali with signs saying” El-Gebali is dead!” Protesters also hung an effigy of him.

News of the protests spread through the community and elementary and high school students held solidarity protests in the streets. The strike continued for two more days with similar actions, reaching a total of all 27,000 workers present, and on the fourth day of the strike, government officials were frightened enough to offer a new, more significant compromise: their afore-proposed 21-day bonus plus LE89 for each worker and bonuses of a month and a half’s salary for all in January.

The compromise represented impressive concessions from the government for the workers of Misr Spinning and Weaving Company and so they ended their strike. Unfortunately, after several months it became apparent to the workers that the government would not follow through with these concessions, which inspired the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company’s even larger, and successful, strike in September 2007 (see “Egyptian workers strike and occupy textile factory for better pay, representation, and conditions, 2007”). In the meantime, the seemingly successful Mahalla al-Kubra strike in December inspired ten other textile mill strikes across Egypt, almost all of which succeeded.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The activist group Kefaya's protests in 2005 inspired a wave of protests across the country (see "Kefaya protests Mubarak's referendum and re-election, Egypt, 2005"), of which the protest at Misr Spinning and Weaving Company was part (1). The December 2006 protest at the factory also influenced the more successful September 2007 protest (see "Egyptian workers strike and occupy textile factory for better pay, representation, and conditions, 2007")(2).

Sources: 
Beinin, Joel, and Hossam El-Hamalawy. "Egyptian Textile Workers Confront New Economic Order." Middle East Research and Information Project. 25 Mar. 2007. Web. <http://www.merip.org/mero/mero032507>.

Beinin, Joel. “The Militancy of Mahalla al-Kubra.” Middle East Report Online. December 2007. <http://libcom.org/library/militancy-mahalla-al-kubra>.

El-Khashab, Karim. "Strikers Prevail." Al-Ahram Weekly. 10 Dec. 2006. Web. <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/824/eg6.htm>.

Non-Governmental Action Program.” Research Briefing: Egypt’s strike wave: lessons in leadership.” United Kingdom Economic and Social Research Council. 2009. <http://www.harakat.org/ngpa_egybriefing0909.pdf>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Elliana Bisgaard-Church, 06/11/2011