Monday, February 12, 2007

Reports of Labor Strife

Al-Ahram newspaper reports a number of strikes in recent weeks in Egypt, perhaps a sign of more vigorous opposition by the labor movement. The headlines calls the sweep of strikes "unprecedented," which is probably overstating it, but certainly the government has taken measure to ensure the stifling of the growth of an independent labor movement.

The strikes included 4,200 workers at factories at Misr Shebin Al-Kom Spinning and Weaving Company in the Delta region comes following the sale of the company to a private Indian firm. One thing that is interesting about the case is that the workers are striking to force the government and company to fulfill promises about bonuses. The workers aren’t protesting the sale to the private investor. In fact, the newspaper quotes one worker as saying, “We welcome the new owner, but we must receive our financial rights.”

Click here for the al-Ahram’s report.

The pace of privatization of companies in Egypt has been pretty slow by most standards, but still fast enough to case dislocation. For a government so keen on "stability" as the Mubarak government, it has faced down much of the pressures to modernize a pretty old and slow economy. But the real problem here is that the workers themselves have been frozen out, muzzled just like other aspects of civil society. As the pressure to modernize the Egyptian government gets stronger, the easiest and least disruptive way of doing this would be to ensure labor involvement. But that would mean loosening control over Egyptian civil society. The government is doing its best to ignore the dynamics of this balance -- a more vigorous labor movement would certainly be one key event to force them to confront it.

Here's an interesting post on labor struggles in Egyptian history, including the theory that the first recorded strike occurred in 1500 BC in Egypt.

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