Egyptian workers strike and occupy textile factory for better pay, representation, and conditions, 2007

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Timing
Time Period:  
23 September
2007
to
28 September
2007
Location and Goals
Country: 
Egypt
Location City/State/Province: 
Mahalla al-Kubra
Goals: 
Workers demanded a greater share of the company’s annual profits, better wages and working conditions, a change in the company’s management, and the firing of the CEO Mahmoud El-Gebali.
 

Misr Spinning and Weaving Company is the largest public sector Egyptian textile company, employing 27,000 workers in the mid-2000s. The company is located in the Nile Delta town Mahalla al-Kubra and had a history of workers protests, the most significant of which occurred in December 2006 when about 20,000 of the company’s employees struck (see "Egyptian textile workers strike for bonuses and prrotest corruption, 2006"). The strike was successful as the workers were promised increased pay and an investigation of reported corruption with the company’s executive board; however, in actuality the government did not follow through with the promises. As a result, the enraged Mahalla al-Kubra workers planned an action one year later. (The December 2006 Mahalla al-Kubra strike also inspired a wave of labor actions across the country; upwards of 600 were reported from December 2006 - September 2007.)

On September 23, 2007, during Ramadan, Misr Spinning and Weaving Company workers began a strike. They demanded a greater share of the company’s annual profits, better wages and working conditions, a change in the company’s management, and the firing of the CEO Mahmoud El-Gebali. Ten thousand workers halted production that Sunday and occupied the factory. The next morning, early shift workers, along with 3,000 female employees (many of whom brought their children), joined in the strike. The protest quickly gained support, with about 24,000 workers protesting in total.

Word of the Mahalla al-Kubra strikers spread quickly. Kafr Al-Dawar textile mill employees stated that they would act in solidarity on Tuesday, September 25, and railway workers announced a similar pledge. Many political and activist groups around the country, such as Kefaya, also broadcast their support of the actions.

In addition to occupying the factory’s hulking ground, the workers created a security force protecting the building’s grounds. They also threatened to occupy the factory’s headquarters. Inside and outside the factory, the workers banged drums and chanted, with phrases like, "We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be colonialism!", and carried coffins reading the names of the company’s senior management. The protesters also created a tent city on the factory premises, enabling all aged workers to join forces and occupy the space. YouTube videos produced by young Egyptians show emotional workers stressing that their wages were not enough to feed their families. As the strike continued, the workers also demanded political change, criticizing the government and asking for intervention from President Hosni Mubarak.

On day three of the strike, local police arrested eight leaders of the actions, including Wael Habeeb, Sayyed Habib, and Mohamed al-Attar (also a member of the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services in Cairo). The arrests incited anger among the protesters, who added demands for their release to their chanting. The International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers sent a letter to President Mubarak denouncing his statement to jail the strike leaders. The International Trade Union Confederation also criticized the detainment of the leaders.

More international support came on September 26, when the General Federation of Trade Unions of South Africa and The International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions sent solidarity letters to the Egyptian government. The National Trade Union of Education Workers of South Africa also wrote a letter, in which it advocated for the workers’ right “to organize, to associate and to strike.” Italian unions also stated their support for the workers.

On September 27, the Egyptian activist group Kefaya organized a solidarity demonstration outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo (which was surprising as Kefaya had been mostly inactive since 2006). In an attempt to intimidate and thus stifle any future protests, uniformed police and plainclothes thugs pushed Kefaya’s 150 activists against the building’s doors, disabling them from leaving until late that night. Nearby, Ghad (Tomorrow) Party members joined in the rebellion, chanting anti-government slogans from their headquarters.

Also on the 27th, sympathetic police released the leaders of the Mahalla al-Kubra strike. The factory’s management proposed a compromise of an immediate payment of a 40-day bonus for all the workers, but the leaders rejected the offer and stated that the strike would continue indefinitely.

Fearing this, Egyptian Trade Union Federation head Husayn Mugawir and company executives began a negotiation with the leaders. The workers ended their strike after six days, when their demands had been met. They won: a bonus equal to 90 days’ pay; a committee to discuss additional compensation given the danger associated with their work; incentive pay linked to basic pay with a seven percent annual increase; the dissolution of the executive board; the firing of El-Gebali; and vacation pay for the six days of the strike.

Research Notes
Influences: 

The strike was influenced by the prior Misr Spinning and Weaving Company workers' strike in December 2006 (see "Egyptian textile workers strike for bonuses and prrotest corruption, 2006"). (1)

Sources: 
BBC. "Egyptian Workers Occupy Factory." BBC News - Home. 25 Sept. 2007. Web. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7013184.

Legault, Mia. “Egyptian textile workers win major strike.” 16 October 2007. <http://www2.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7475&printer_friendly=1>.

Dunkel, G. “Egyptian Workers Win Strike.” 6 October 2007. <http://www.workers.org/2007/world/egypt-1011/>.

Khashab, Karim. “‘A Matter of Life and Death.’” 27 September 2007. <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/864/eg4.htm>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Elliana Bisgaard-Church, 29/10/2011