Protesting workers rejected the new government and announced the founding of a committee aiming to unite their efforts across different sectors and to present unified demands, during a conference held at the Press Syndicate on Sunday.
A growing wave of workers’ protests over the last couple of months has been largely reported as a factor leading to the fall of Hazem al-Beblawi’s government, which resigned last week.
The striking workers of nine companies and representatives of the doctors’ strikes, in addition to members of independent syndicates for civil aviation, mail and the railways, signed a statement regarding their unified demands.
“We have reached the conclusion that we can not achieve our demands, cleanse our companies from corruption, return privatized companies to the public sector and put them back in business, unless we unite and move together instead of individually,” they stated.
The statement added that despite their continuous struggle, workers haven’t yet been able to realize the imposition of a minimum wage or the return of some privatized companies to the state, although they received court orders supporting these demands. It maintained that workers’ struggles have become more challenging after the government issued a law outlawing strikes in 2011, and another limiting the freedom of protest in 2013.
Workers across many sectors, including transport, gas and others, have been staging nationwide protests and strikes in recent months. Their main demands are implementing the minimum wage — which was supported by a court order — renationalizing privatized companies, and reinstating workers who were formerly made redundant.
Anger against Beblawi’s government increased after the cabinet announced that the minimum and maximum wages would be applied in January but failed to deliver on their promise.
“We have learnt that the government does not respond to the weak; we have to unite and be a force that moves together. We have made this demand before, but it has now become crucial after the new but old government,” said Hisham Fouad, spokesperson for the Revolutionary Socialist movement, during the conference.
Fouad said the cabinet adopted changes that “intellectuals” demanded but ignored the demands of the workers.
Workers rejected the choice of Nahed al-Ashry for minister of manpower, calling her “the number one enemy of the workers.” Ashry was the office manager of Mubarak-era Minister Aisha Abdel Hady, and workers blame her for adopting policies against their rights.
Ashry said that workers’ rights are at the top of her priorities and that she would work on restoring calm within the sector through negotiations that address the problems raised, in her first statement in office to state-run daily newspaper Al-Ahram on Sunday.
Member of the doctors’ strike committee, Mohamed Shafiq, also spoke at the conference. After joining forces with other medical professionals in pharmacy and veterinary practices, he said they are seeking alliances with other striking workers in order to more effectively demand better conditions for doctors and reforms in the medical field.
Shafiq said that although doctors have traditionally remained distinct from other workers’ struggles, many of them face common injustices and even receive similarly low wages.
He asserted that many doctors disapprove of newly appointed health minister Adel al-Adawy, who he says is a Mubarak-era figure that doctors rejected when he was a candidate for the post in 2011.
“It is obvious that the government is preparing for war and bringing us a cabinet straight from the National Democratic Party; we must unite and present a strong front,” Shafiq said.
At the same time as the workers’ press conference, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb delivered his first official speech, in which he urged workers to put aside strikes, emphasizing that now is a time for work.
Workers responded to Mehleb’s request, asserting that they will only stop protesting when their legitimate demands are met.
“This proves that all governments follow the same path, which is supporting businessmen and demanding that the strikes stop for their own interests,” economics expert Wael Gamal said during the conference, responding to Mehleb’s demands.
Gamal also discredited three misconceptions that are being propagated by the government. He said that the belief that the government doesn’t have the money to respond to workers’ demands is untrue, stating several sources of funds that were recently injected into the national budget. Gamal says they are being put aside to serve the new president.
He also said that the promise that every cabinet since Mubarak has made of prioritizing social justice is also false, as they all choose to channel funds in a way that only benefits the privileged.
Gamal lastly suggested that workers’ demands should not be considered as sectoral. “The workers are fighting on behalf of all Egyptians against corruption, for employment and for a decent salary; these are the demands of all the people.”
The workers in attendance also chanted following Mehleb’s speech, “striking is a legitimate right, against poverty and hunger.”
Revolutionary Socialist member Haitham Mohamadein also commented on the failure of the outgoing Minister Kamal Abu Eita to uphold workers rights. Workers considered Abu Eita to have betrayed them, after he entered the government from the ranks of workers’ movements and failed to respond to their demands.
“We don’t need a workers’ representative on a business-led cabinet; we need a cabinet that is wholly representative of and fair to the workers,” he said.
“The continuation of labor protests is the only way to achieve social justice. Petitions, demands and even court rulings have proven useless,” he added.