4,400 Workers Still on Strike at the Shebin El Kom Textile Company
Some 4,400 workers at the Indorama Shebin El Kom Textile Company – in the Nile Delta Governorate of El Mounufiya – are persisting in their ongoing strike, for the ninth consecutive day (as of Saturday, March 14). All production at the company is at a standstill (since Thursday, March 5) as these workers demand their annual bonus pay – amounting to 228 days of wages – which has been withheld by the Indian investors who own/manage this now-privatized company. The investors have claimed that, “due to financial difficulties”, they are unable to pay the workers their bonus pay this year.
The president of the local labor union council at the company, Ibrahim Younis, said that ever since the company was privatized (in 2006) its new owners “have been claiming that they are annually incurring losses and that these total losses may amount to LE 50-60 million. In any case, these alleged losses have been incurred as a result of the investors’ faulty financial and administrative policies. We only follow their production plans; the workers at the company are not to blame in any way.”
The union president went on to say that “since the Indian investors took over the company they have increased the speed of all textile mills in the company from 9,000rph to 17,000rph – in order to increase production – so instead of producing 32 tons of textiles per month we are now producing 47 tons per month.” The vice president of the local union council, Abbas Ammar, added that “over 20 workers have their lost fingers and hands in work related-injuries since the administration ordered this vast increase in the speed of all textile mills/machines.”
The 11-member local union council had engaged itself in negotiations with the company’s administrative board (from January 27 to February 10) in attempt to have the investors pay the workers their rightfully due annual bonus pay. “When the administrative board refused to heed our demands, we resorted to the Spinning & Weaving (Textiles) Holding Company, and to the General Union of Textile Workers” said Younis. “We received a reply from the General Union on February 15 – in which they supported our demands and insisted that the administration pay our overdue annual bonuses.
Furthermore, on February the 25th the Labor Ministry officially informed the administration that it must uphold the terms of agreement which it signed – including the payment of annual bonuses – regardless of the losses incurred.” Younis concluded “if the administrative board is not willing to stick to its agreements then it should be placed under some sort of judicial sequestration.”
On Saturday, March 7, the President of the (state-controlled) General Union of Textile Workers, Saeed El Gohari paid a visit to the local union council at the company and reiterated the demand that the administrative board pay-up the overdue bonuses. Outside the company’s main gate El Gohari said that “there are terms of agreement which the Indian investors have signed with the Holding Company and the Labor Ministry. They must fulfill these agreements.” El Gohari said “we support the workers’ demands and their peaceful sit-in.”
Yet he refused to recognize the workers’ collective action as being a “strike” – since any strike must be authorized by a 2/3 majority vote from the general union council (*it must be noted here that NOT A SINGLE STRIKE HAS EVER BEEN AUTHORIZED BY ANY GENERAL UNION since the Egyptian state forcefully took control over the union movement in 1957.)
El Gohari shouted at the workers “we support you in your demands, but insist that any measure you undertake must be conducted in accordance with the legal channels.” One worker replied “we will take to the streets (in protest) if need be.” El Gohari (a member of the ruling National “Democratic” Party) screamed back: “No! All your actions must be limited within the confines of the company walls! No talk of taking to the streets please!”
Hundreds of workers were sitting-in/sleeping-in at each of the company’s six factories. “These are the worst days that this company has ever been through –ever since it was established in 1958” said one textile worker. Another worker said that “the Indian investors are ruining and destroying this company. I used to work in Factory # 2 until they closed it, now they are attempting to close down Factory # 3 as well.”
On a guided tour of the dark and now-abandoned Factory # 2, the vice president of the local union council said that “the administration is trying to drive away the full-time workers employed at the company and replace them with piece-work laborers who are paid less and have far fewer rights. Around 200 workers from this factory have been laid off, 163 of whom were pushed into early retirement. The investors are dismantling the mills and machinery in this factory and selling them as scrap metal.”
Yet another worker exclaimed “there is a grave misallocation of finances at this company. I have been working at this company since 1982 and I only make LE 500 per month (around $US 90); my basic wage is only LE 330; and now they want to take away our annual bonus pay as well?!” On March 14, Ehab Shalabi, an engineer at the company said that “we shall continue (with our strike) until we reclaim our right. We expect that the administration will give-in to our rightful demands within the next day or two, God willing.”
The last major strike by workers at the Shebin El Kom Textile Company was conducted in February 2007 – it proved successful and encouraged many workers and professionals in the textile sector, and beyond, to strike for their rights.