Strikes immerse Egypt’s factories: Worker’s sufferings threaten Egypt’s stability

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During the first two months of 2023, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound (one dollar: 30.62 pounds) continued, and with a minimum wage of 2,700 pounds in the private sector, its value and purchasing power decreased by more than half, this provoked workers’ strikes which increased in several different companies. An excellent example of this is the workers of Leoni companies for the manufacture of braids in Nasr City, the workers of the Mac factory of the “Oriental Weavers” company, the workers of the Nasr Factory for castings, in addition to the workers of the Kiriazi factory, and others. All these strikes agreed on similar wage demands in the wake of complex economic and living situations for workers.

The first strike began on January 28, with a strike by the workers of Factory 1 of the Leoni Braids Company in Nasr City (one of the largest international companies working in energy and data management products and services in the automotive sector and other industries. It includes 14 factories and employs 5,600 workers, technicians and engineers). They demanded an increase in wages, in the percentage of allowances and indemnities, and an amendment of the health system to cover all treatment expenses and equality among all workers. They denounced the repression against workers and demanded the abolition of the “layoff” system. The administration stops on specific days, and the workers only take money for it if they work overtime on working days. The strike spread to the rest of the factory branches, where the workers showed solidarity with their colleagues and raised the same demands.

The second prominent strike was from the workers of the Mac Company, which began on January 30. The strike started after receiving their January salary devoid of the increase that was supposed to be applied. The pay was only 500 pounds, while the workers demanded an increase of 1500 and an end to the manipulation. They demanded the factory administration stop making promises for nothing in the future. The third strike was from the workers of the Kiriazi factory, which began on February 8, because most workers’ salaries initially did not reach the minimum wage approved by the government. Another thing that triggered the strike was that the administration informed the Ministry of Labor of an increase in salaries by 300 pounds last November, but that didn’t happen, and this was when even the oldest workers’ wages after 30 years of work did not exceed 5800 pounds.

In addition to these prominent strikes, there were strikes like the strike at Al-Nasr Factory, in which the workers began a sit-in, refusing the dismissal of 2,200 workers due to the privatization of the company, or the strike of the workers of Al-Wabriat Samannoud Company in Gharbia Governorate to protest against the reduction of the monthly grant by half, and the strike of the workers of the Qena Cement Company in protest against the suspension of their employment confirmation and granting them their legal rights. There was also the strike of taxi drivers in Port Said and their sit-in in front of their union, the strike of the security of Baltim Hospital in Kafr El-Sheikh, and the sit-in of the Egyptian Styrene Production Company in Alexandria at the Dekheila Port, demanding their confirmation to work for the company and applying an insurance system for them.

Repression

Although these companies continue to achieve more profits, whether the annual production target or even through the significant differences in the dollar exchange rate, which generates more profits for them, they do not tend to grant workers their rights, or at least their demands for a slight increase of the minimum wage that makes them able to live under unprecedented price inflation. The crisis gets worse when we find the trade unions that are required to protect the rights of workers and put pressure on the companies to grant the workers their demands are doing the opposite, as the government controls the trade union, preventing any independent vote from running for the union elections in the first place. The clearest example of this is when Hassan Shehata, head of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, was appointed Minister of Labor as a gift for his role in favour of the government. He remained for weeks combining the two positions as head of the Federation of Trade Unions and the Minister of Labor before he resigned. Still, he left the position to Muhammad Jubran, who began his work by affirming his intention to “solve workers’ problems from the inside.”

Add to this the human rights organizations that try to defend workers’ rights from the security blockade, as security services prevent them from performing their work correctly. This is why these NGOs are abandoned or result in harsh conditions. There are no representative trade unions in Egypt. For example, there is no trade union committee in the first place in the MAC company, as a punishment from the factor’s administration for the attempt of some workers to establish an independent union to fight for their rights as an alternative to the government-controlled unions that usually side with the administrations against the workers. The government and the blocks are using division instead of allowing the workers to organize themselves against arbitrary decisions or to protect their economic rights, not to mention the other rights related to social and health insurance. Thus the unions, the government, and the companies’ administration are all against the workers.

The companies began confronting the workers with more escalation without any significant union role. For example, the Leoni Braiding Company responded by stopping work in factories in the free zone in Nasr City for an indefinite period and referring 65 workers for investigation. Mac company also decided to close its factories indefinitely, sending various threats to workers to bring security to deal with them. As for the Kiriazi Factory, there were no threats but real repression, as security forces beat the workers and arrested 18 Kiriazi Factory workers and detained them for their protest. It is the same oppressive hand used against the workers of the Al-Nasr Factory, where the security forces broke up the sit-in and closed the factory indefinitely, and it was not heard about its crisis again since then.

A volatile social situation

Workers’ strikes ended with administrative arbitrariness in a company like the Leoni factory. But for the Mack factory, the strike ended with a partial concession by the management, which agreed to give the workers half of what they asked for, an increase to 800 pounds, with promises to increase allowances by a value ranging between 300 to 600 pounds. The workers were forced to accept these promises because of intimidation and allegations of the company’s intention to close its factories and lay off its workers!

The Kiriazi workers’ crisis ended with using the security forces’ brutal force against the workers’ strike, as the management negotiated with the workers while security services were there. The workers got an increase of 500 pounds and promised the same next July, the administration decided also to withdraw the complaints against the workers, but they were not released until yesterday (21-22 February) after more than three days of agreement. This means that the workers’ crises were not fundamentally resolved, as the companies resorted to promises they usually do not fulfil to postpone the problem for months, using the weak position of the workers, whether in trade unions or even in the face of security and government violence. The situation is likely to escalate in the future. It may result in an unprecedented explosion of unorganized (random) protests. It is the last option for the worker under the security and governmental policies, as the economic situation directly threatens workers’ everyday lives.