Sunday, 30 January 2011

Egypt: The Workers' Voice


As the state of emergency in Tunisia bled (literally) into the fleeing of the ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, it was quite clear that, there after, all expectation was of an impact on the largest of all Arab nations, Egypt.

I have the priviledged experience of meeting with and working alongside the Egyptian Centre for Workers' and Trade Union Services (CWTUS) (

Historically the Centre has operated as the quasi-official centre for independent trade unionism in a country where the official labour movement has traditionally been operated and run by the state.

The ITUC's 2010 Annual Survey of the Violation of Trade Union rights provides, as ever, a critically concise snapshot of the state of organised labour in a country under siege:

As you will see the Survey's report on Egypt charts the way in which the CWTUS has attempted to build an independent labour movement, albeit in the face of a vicious campaign of state-insprited brutality.

It is clear that as the regime of Hosni Mubarak desparately attempts to cling to power a variety of civil society organisations, including the CWTUS, are succesfullly mobilising thousands of protesters across Egypt.

The end game for the Mubarak regime is part testament to the resilience of many organisations like the CWTUS who have, despite the harsh realities of life under dictator, maintained their strength largely through the spirited resolve of the Egyptian working class.

I have maintained contact with the CWTUS and have followed closely the yearly waves of strike action that bursts through the constraints of the official labour movement. Although this has typically result in sackings, jailings and assault it has not diminished the willingness of Egyptians to engage in action that is deemed to, in part at least, challenge the authority of the state.

Clearly the next few days will be critical in determining Egypt's future. And in ensuring that the voice of the Egyptian worker is part of the next stage in dialogue the CWTUS will no doubt continue to play their essential role in building a free, independent labour movement.

I am sure that I speak for many in the UK trade union movement when I send the CWTUS a message of solidarity and strength for the period ahead.



John Clements said...

Ian, this is a very interesting item you have posted - I didn't know this organisation existed.

I feel that they worry of many people in the west, depsite their dislike of Middle Eastern dictatorships, is the concern that more extreme, militant forms of 'government' fill the vacuum once the tyrants depart.

Of course I am not saying that we should maintain our priviledged lifestyles in Western societies at the expense of the maintenance of relatively stable dictatorships, but that we should (as you clearly have been) be lending support to the nascent social movements in such countries so that they have the capability to be seen as legitimate, credible alternatives omnce the regimes fail.

Looking at the disaster of Iraq from the perspective the creation of a strong, independent labour movement, we should draw conclusions of how the inteference of governments can wilfully destroy such outcomes as a direct policy of limiting the emergence of essential civil society institutions, sometimes the only ones that can put a brake on the emergence of puppet goverments.

I had never thought that 2011 would kick off quite literally in such a way. All of it a great booost to our struggles here in the UK.

See you soon.


Jas said...

Hiya Ian,

Just been following the minute-by-minute reporting from the BBC and who would have believed that Egypt would be falling - this is tremendous news. It sets a precedent for all corrupt regimes globally and as I read the BBC news I imagined all the bastard despots deciding now deciding to run or gearing up to smash revolt - a very interest year ahead!


Jenni Ashton said...


These are amazing times, I can't believe that 2011 has gotten off to such a fantastic start. It's been wonderful to see the British press counterposing the tripe the Tories have been coming out with in favour of the Egyptian protesters, against their general disgust of any form of protest in the UK, gutless bastards!

I have been following the latest scenes and couldn't believe the battle yesterday between the anti-government group and the pro-govt group - who turned out to be secret policeman in plain clothes.

I am pleased that there are organisations on the ground like the one you describe. If there is a vacuum in Mubarak's wake, they will be neeeded to bring some form of order. This also deals with the points by the first person to respond to your piece.

Interesting times eh?

Hope to see you soon.


Ian Manborde said...

Thanks Jen/Jas,

Both of you offer up some useful commentary on developments in Egypt.

I have just come across some news regarding the development of a new, independent trade union federation in Egypt.

See Eric Lee's latest posting on UnionBook for info.

Many thanks for your contributions - please keep up the feedback!


Peter Chigana said...

Forward to revolution in Egypt!

Araf Zeinab said...

Dear Sir,

I like this piece you have posted. Can I direct you to a good piece also from this blog:

President Barack Obama may have called for Egypt to avoid violence and to allow freedom of speech and assembly ahead of protests scheduled against President Hosni Mubarak today, but early signs are the regime is using most means at its disposal to crush a swelling and stunning wave of dissent in the Arab world’s largest country.

President Barack Obama has requested “multiple briefings” on the unfolding crisis in Egypt, where thousands of demonstrators were clashing with security forces, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Friday.

Obama has not called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — the target of the protesters’ anger — “but there is daily contact between the U.S. and Egyptian governments through various channels, including the embassies and other organizations in which Obama’s messages and concerns are relayed,” Vietor said.

Obama has urged the government and demonstrators to refrain from violence as protests continued.

“It is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances,” he said this week.

Vice President Joe Biden told PBS NewsHour on Thursday that Mubarak should listen to protesters. He also said the embattled Egyptian president is no dictator.

Still, he said “violence isn’t appropriate and people have a right to protest.”

Obama received information on Egypt from National Security Adviser Tom Donilon on Friday and will get other updates later.

Servers of Egypt’s main internet provider were down early Friday, according to multiple services that check whether servers used by specific sites are active.

Servers for the Egyptian government’s sites and for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo also appeared to be down. But at least one internet service provider, Noor, was still working.

“We are closely monitoring the situation and are aware that communication services, including social media, are being blocked,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “We continue to urge Egyptian authorities to show restraint and allow peaceful protests to occur.”

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the U.S. administration was “monitoring quite closely the situation in Egypt and continue to do so, obviously, in Tunisia.”

The protests in Egypt started after weeks of similar disturbances sparked a revolution in Tunisia and forced then-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country.

“This is an important time for the government to demonstrate its responsiveness to the people of Egypt in recognizing those universal rights,” Gibbs said.

With respect.

A Zeinab

Ian Manborde said...

Thanks Araf,

Check out this blog for some good pieces on Egypt including a perceptive peice regarding the labour movement in the struggle for democracy:


ToadBoy said...

And yesterday Mubarak falls, who would have guessed this?

Solidarity with Egypian workers, let us hope and trust that their future is is more open, secure and prosperous.

Peter Chigana said...


I had said on 6th Feb here 'forward to revolution' and look now in Egypt.

God is the prophet.

The Lord's blessing on the people of Egypt.

Peter C.