Around 11,000 workers at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company in southern Cairo’s Helwan district, who have been striking and protesting for the past five days, moved to suspend their strike on Wednesday evening.
The move is aimed at distancing the workers from a nationwide Islamist march planned for Friday.
The workers have pointed out that they will suspend their strike on Thursday and Friday, but will resume with work stoppages and sit-ins starting Saturday. The workers also announced that they would move to escalate their protest actions as of Monday night if their demands are not met.
According to Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, a strike leader at the company: “We’ve been accused of being troublemakers, selfish, hired thugs and Muslim Brotherhood members. It is for this reason that we have suspended our strike – so that we are not associated with the Brotherhood’s protests this Friday.”
Workers at this gargantuan state-owned steel complex – Egypt’s largest – have launched a strike and occupation of the company since Saturday, November 22, in which they raised the same demands that they had presented during their last industrial actions in December 2013.
These demands include halting and turning back the company’s losses (which amount to nearly LE1 billion); holding their administration accountable for these losses and replacing them if company grievances are not resolved; the provision of sufficient amounts of coke fuel to power the furnaces and factories; payment of overdue bonuses; and reinstating all punitively sacked workers.
“The administration and state authorities claim that our strike is resulting in losses amounting to LE 15 million per day,” said Abdel Maqsoud. “However, we only moved to strike after the administration had incurred close to a billion pounds in losses through their mismanagement and incompetence.”
The independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) issued a press release on Wednesday in which it claimed the Misr Company’s administration was “deliberately incurring losses” so as to facilitate the process of privatizing it in the future.
Company administrators could not be reached for clarification regarding this allegation, or other claims.
Abdel Maqsoud added that he and 15 other strike leaders at the company have been threatened with arrest, and even referral to military prosecutors on charges of obstructing production, industrial sabotage and harming the national economy.
“We’ve had several high ranking officers visit the company and threaten us with punitive legal measures,” he claimed. “However, we are merely defending our rights and trying to get our ailing company back on its feet.”
This massive steel complex had been a profitable industrial unit until 2004-2005 when the company began to incur hefty losses and to lay-off hundreds of its workers. It has not generated profits in nearly 10 years.
Workers at the company point out that out of four coke-powered furnaces, only one is fully operational. However, this one furnace is not being operated at its maximum capacity due to the chronic shortage of coke-fuel.
Last week a delegation of workers from the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company had received pledges from Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb that their demands would be met by Monday, December 1, and the government would begin the process of resolving the company’s fuel shortages, whilst also investigating the losses being incurred.
“We’ve been raising exactly the same demands for nearly one year now, none of which have yet been realized,” said Abdel Maqsoud. “We hope the prime minister will be able to fulfil them this time around. We will, however, escalate our protests action if the authorities continue to drag their feet.”
Workers at the Egyptian Iron and Steel Company have also been motivated to strike against their administration following the death of their colleague, Ayman Sobhy Hanafy.
Hanafy battled with depression and ultimately committed suicide by drowning himself in the River Nile after the company’s administration dismissed him from work – without a pension or compensation.
Hanafy had been a dissenting voice and a protest leader during the last industrial action at the Helwan company in December 2013.