Egypt: independent unions under attack

Egypt’s new government has launched the most serious set of attacks on workers’ rights since the days of Mubarak, according to activists in the independent unions. Hundreds of trade unionists have been sacked from their jobs for organizing since the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi won the presidential elections in June, and pressure from management and the courts has increased in recent weeks. Five dockers in Alexandria were given three-year prison terms in absentia because they blew the whistle on corruption in the state-run Holding Company for Land and Maritime Transport. Workers at the Alexandria Container Company organised a strike demanding the resignation of the Holding Company’s board and the return of the wharves to state control, after they were sold off to a Chinese company. The next hearing in the case will be held this week. Meanwhile dockers in Ain Sokhna port, near Suez, were also hauled before the courts on Oct. 18, charged with “incitement to strike.”

The government has refused to pass a law on trade union freedoms which would give the hundreds of independent unions founded since the revolution clear legal status. Currently Egyptian law only recognises the state-run Egyptian Trade Union Federation—for decades a tool of the regime—although Egypt has also signed international conventions supporting workers’ rights to organise and strike. Activists in the independent unions launched a campaign for trade union freedoms in September and pledged to support workers facing court and victimisation for their activities. The MENA Solidarity Network‘s Oct. 18 action alert includes a list of suggested actions in support of the Egyptian workers.

See our special report, Labor Roots of Egypt’s Revolution.