• November 11, 2006
  • 30 minutes read

Labor Elections: Painful History, Dark Future

Labor Elections: Painful History, Dark Future

The Egyptian political arena is witnessing, these days, labor elections that are considered the strongest and hottest throughout its history, more than 100 years. Egypt’s first labor union was established in 1898; during this long period, the relation between the Egyptian political regime and the labor movements varied and  witnessed important stages (the most prominent of which was the demonstrations that flared up on 8th May 1938 that smashed Cairo, as people carried placards calling for the recognizing Labor Unions, laborers mounted a hunger strike at Al-Ataba Square in 12/6/1938)

This report will discuss the following points:

– Bird’s eye view on history of Egyptian Labor Union movements
– Current Labor Union Elections
– The future of the Labor movement according to the current elections

Emergence of the Labor Movement:

From the early beginning, the Egyptian national movement recognized the importance and the necessity of the Labor Unions; thus, when the prominent leader, Muhammad Farid, assumed leadership of the National Party after the death of the prominent leader, Mustapha Kamel, in 1908, he tried ambitiously to establish a great association for laborers called "the association of the handicrafts", he was eager to edify all these laborers in schools, in addition to strengthening ties among them through the unions’ organizations and activities because he was aware of the function of this class of people and their role in supporting the national strife towards liberation.

However, after the World War erupted and after the British mandate on Egypt, Farid’s attempts were aborted; also, the authorities of Mandate clashed with laborers and their meetings. In 1919 revolution, the laborers played a momentous role. There occurred an all embracing strike where laborers in metro stations in Heliopolis, Alexandria, and laborers in the government printing office in addition to all employees in harbors, and customs staged a strike which paralyzed the country; at these moments, the role of laborers became crucial as this class of people participated in the national strife against the English occupier and their agents. Despite the positive aspects of this strike, yet the Egyptian growing capitalist power became aware of the importance of this working class; so, it decided to concoct schemes against them in order to weaken the power of this working class.

Tendency towards Independence:

Egyptian Laborers knew the socialist movement just after since 1918, as there were several organized associations on socialist bases in Cairo, Alexandria, cities along the Suez Canal, Zagazig and Port Said. This new born socialist succeeded in declaring the first general union for laborers in September 1921. The ruling class realized that the same Bolshevism that ousted the Caesarian I Russia is knocking at the doors in Egypt, especially after the socialist party in Egypt declared changing its name to be "The Egyptian Communist Party" and then it declared that it joined the Nation of Communism; after that, labor demonstrations erupted and all participants raised red flags.
The first bloody clash between the Egyptian government and the organized labor movement was in 1924, when the Labor Union and the Communist Party were to dissolve. After that, leaders of these two bodies were detained, then a set of laws were issued in order to ban laborers joining associations and unions in addition to banning strikes and demonstrations.
The Egyptian Parties rushed to establish other labor unions to be an alternative for the banned one in order overcome the lack of labor unions. Later, several unions branched out, like Al-Wafd Union headed by Abd Al-Rahman Fahmi in 1924, then the union of "Free Constitutionalists" in 1928, then the Union of the Royal Heir Apparent in 1930, followed by the Labor Union of the Egyptian Province led by Al-Nabil Abbas Halim in 1935, the most successful attempt to recruit several leaders for labor unions, in addition to providing several services.

The independent movement for the working class started, influenced by the socialist thought, after the first phase of extirpating the budding of the first union; then "The Authority for Organizing the Independent Union Movement" was formed in 1939, managing to help laborers to form and establish dozens of strong independent unions. The authority succeeded in sending a delegate to the International Conference for Unions in Paris, October 1945; it also led a strong struggle in order to press for issuing the Law of Recognition for the Unions in September 1942. (the most prominent of its activities was the hunger strike on 8th May 1938 that rocked Cairo, where posters showered all the city calling for recognizing Labor Unions).

Although the Law (85, of 1942) was issued to legally recognize Unions, yet it stated many besets before the rights of laborers especially those for forming their own unions. It prevented laborers in agriculture and employees in government from joining any union. Moreover, it prevented unions from carrying out their activities before taking an administrative registration. It allowed the government to refuse registration as well and authorized it to dissolve unions.

The authority succeeded in fulfilling the dreams of united union movement; it declared establishing a preparatory committee for the conference of labor unions in Egypt; it joined the conference of Labor Unions of companies and governmental organizations in the Egyptian Province, and they both formed the "conference of Labor Unions in Egypt in 1946. Despite this rich history, bloody campaign launched by Egyptian capitalist classes never stopped. The tyrant prime minister "Ismail Sidqi" launched a fierce campaign on this national class in 11 July 1946, as he dissolved all labor organizations, confiscated all independent press, arrested some leaders of the labor unions and put them in jails, and fought the rest through firing, displacement and intimidation in addition to denying them access to factories.

Quickly, the movement revived again and capitalism crushed it as usual in 1948. The laborers movement came back and succeeded in establishing- in 1952- "the preparatory committee for the labor unions federation" that set 27 January 1952 for holding the first constitutive conference for the new conference. However, it seems that capitalism and its ally-the occupiers- found no solution to quell the independent labor movement except through burning Cairo; thus, on 26th January 1952, the famous accident known as "the Cairo Fire" took place. Consequently, the government imposed a curfew and declared martial laws; all these aided to quel the increse of the independent labor movement.

Movement of the Army, Confiscation of Civil Society:

Meanwhile, the labor movement was trying to overcome the disaster of Cairo Fire and the imposed martial laws; the army declared its "blessed" revolution in 23rd July 1952. Months before the army assumed power; laborers in Egyptian Company for textile in Kafr Al-Dawar (nearly 10 thousand labourers) declared their sit in on 12th August 1952, flocked into the factory, rallied for demonstrations and submitted their demands: they called for increasing salaries and approving raises and housing allowance for guest workers not living in the company housings. They called for equality between employees and laborers and for privileges and to cancel the arbitrary dismissal, and to carry out free elections for the union in addition to moving the main office to outside the company in order to be separated from the control of the management.

Although laborers were eager to show their support to the movement of the army and its leader "Muhammad Naguib" through chants at demonstrations, but the army forces that enclosed the factory in order to block it shot many bullets at the demonstration and as a result a number of laborers were killed. Even the new military Junta turned to be against laborers, where the martial courts declared a farcical trial for laborers in front of the company where two laborers were sentenced to death; they were Muhammad Khamis and Muhammad Al-Baqari and the army officers declared the verdict from a balcony overlooking a stadium in front of 1500 laborers who where compelled to sit and hear the verdict issued by the Revolutionary Command Council against the two laborers who were brutally hanged. The verdict was carried out in Al-Hadra jail in Alexandria on 7/9/1952; the funeral of the two bodies was under the guard of armed soldiers and they were buried in Kafr Al-Dawar; then guards were commissioned to guard the cemeteries so that these hanged men would be a lesson to others.

There were many protests carried out by laborers like the strike carried out by laborers in the light transportation in November 1983, calling for increase in salaries, the strike of Al-Nasr Company for Pipes in January 1984, calling for increaseing incentives, the strike of laborers in Kafr al Dawar against the increase in bread prices in August 1985, the strike of laborers in Esco in Shubra Al-Khayma in April 1968 due to canceling the wage of the weekly vacation, the demonstrations of laborers in Mahala Kobra due to canceling the endowment of schools, a few hours after President Hosni Mubarak declared it in a speech he delivered on 20 September 1988, the great strike staged against regulations of the military production factories, in Alexandria and the strike mounted by the factory 18 in Abu Zaabal in 1988. However, the biggest strike was that staged by the laborers in Iron and Steel Factory in August 1989 to call for dissolving the union and setting a new regulation for work; in this strike, a laborer called "Abd Al-Hai Muhammad" was gunned down by the current regime’s fires. It is a painful history for the labor movements in Egypt who are trying to overcome pangs of labor in order to keep the movement from collapsing.

Current Elections

A barefaced governmental forgery
Striking off 2000 Muslim Brotherhood candidates and 600 judicial appeals
The Ministry of Labor Force declared that 18 thousand workers applied for nomination in 11 union committees in the first stage of the elections. 2773 candidates won uncontested by in 231 union committees, and Cairo was the biggest governorate in which workers won uncontested.
The Ministry of Labor Force and Immigration declared that the  total the candidates for the membership of the labor union committees in governorates was up to 18045 candidates in the committees of 11 general associations in the first stage of the elections, that will start next 8 November. Aisha Abdul Hadi, the Minister of Labor, confirmed that the total number of those candidates winning uncontested reached 2773 candidates in 231 union committees, and that the number of candidates that will be elected is 15274 candidates and will take place in 568 committees.
The number of Cairo candidates reached 5414 candidates in 230 committees, including 470 candidates who won uncontested in 47 committees; in Alexandria, the number of candidates reached 1255 candidates in 101 committees where 159 candidates won uncontested in 18 committees; the elections will take place for 1098 candidates in 83 committees; in Giza, the total number of candidates reached 1599 in 69 committees, including 203 candidates who won uncontested, and 1369 candidates in 48 committees; in Al-Qalyubia, 1223 candidates in 15 committees will run for the elections including 172 candidates who won uncontested in 19 committees, and 1051 candidates will run the elections in 32 committees; in the Red Sea governorate, there is no candidate winning uncontested, and the number of candidates reached 193 candidates who will run for elections in five union committees. Noteworthy, Cairo is the governorate having the biggest number of candidates winning uncontested.

In Alexandria,  many workers at al-Ameriah companies for textile,  Alexandria co. for tires, education and sewerage faced random arrests and were detained in police stations and they were not released except after they gave their identity cards in order to prevent them from applying to run for the elections. On the other hand a number of candidates filed a lawsuit to be able to apply for the nomination. Centers for applications witnessed weak interest from the independent candidates or those representing all political movements and the process was restricted to the members of the National Democratic Party.

In Minya Governorate, the tensions erupted between the labor circles in Minya after the subsidiary union committees in Minya refused to give letters or certificates indicating membership and that they paid subscriptions to application in order to be submitted to the general association in Cairo to the candidates of opposition and independents. Opposition candidates confirmed that this attitude would demolish the labor movement and curb any activities that targer reform, especially after the old cadres failed to provide any new views.

A big number of candidates of the coalition of the opposition tabled the request for nomination to the union committee for agriculture, railway, endowments, land transport, Al-Azhar, Health and scientific research; the union committees of these Directorates refused to give any papers that prove that the applicants are members and that they paid all membership fees. Hence, these union committees have maintained only its old cadres and are held with the recommendation of the ruling party government that ignores any objection and uproar from laborers. Noteworthy, the only union committee that did not put obstacles before candidates is the union committee for the workers in the electricity company where it granted any one who applied for elections papers to prove membership and that that paid subscriptions.
As for the union committee of the Electricity Distribution company, it gave all its candidates papers proving membership, but it exclude 15 candidates in the general association in Cairo; the candidates filed 15 suits against the Labor Union for preventing them from the nomination. Some candidates escaped from the grip of the subcommittees and the general association in Cairo for fear of the incitement of the government that would file appeals against them and strike them off.

In the Governorate of Red Sea, Ahmad Atif, the husband of the minister of Labor Force Aisha Abd Al-Hadi exploited his wife’s position and committed a disaster because he is the head of the General Association for Oil where he put, before candidates applying for nomination in the association, many obstacles in order to keep them away from seizing the opportunity. He decreed that they would travel between Cairo and Red Sea in order to get the approved certificates from the General Association for Oil that proves that all nominees had spent 50 years as members in the association; this was the condition for nomination. All candidates failed to get the certificates and they discovered that the minister’s husband concocted this plot in order to prevent them from nomination through wasting time in traveling between the two governorates; meanwhile, he facilitated getting certificates for members of the current union committee. Many workers were forced to retreat from nominating themselves because of the inflexibility of the minister’s husband who works as a Culture Secretary in Egypt Labor Union, the secretary of union studies institute and a lecturer in several training centers and member of the advisory committee in the General Authority of oil.

In Daqahlia- north of Cairo– the General Association for workers in education and scientific research refused to give membership certificate to Tarek Qotb, the MP in the People’s Assembly for Dakahlia and Secretary-General of union Committee for the workers at Mansoura University hospital where he was prevented to apply for nomination. In addition to this, about 100 Muslim Brotherhood candidates in different union committees were prevented from applying their papers while the same old labor union remained as it is.

In Asiut, MB nominees were prevented from applying their papers and 3 of the Muslim Brothers were detained in order to prevent them from applying their papers in the union committee for workers in Endowments.

Here are some names that were prevented from nomination in the union committees in the first election stage only:

1- The union committee for workers in Iron and Steel Egyptian company, in Helwan:

The reports provided by the ministry of Labor Force showed that the struck off candidates are:

1) Tawfiq Rizq
2) Salah Abdul Hakam
3) Ahmad Al-Zamzami
4) Ashraf Hilal
5) Muhammad Mahmoud Abbas
6) Kamal Ahmad Abd Al-Magid
7) Adel Abd Al-Fatah Al-Tatly
8) Maher Abd Al-Hafiz Derina
9) Muhammad Abbas Ahmad
10) Raafat Muhammad Mihana
11) Abu Bakr Muhammad Ahmad
12) Sayed Saad Al-Din

2- The union committee for workers in Delta factories for Steel Co. in Shoubra Al-Khaymah

Many lists were provided about the candidates but they were full of errors, besides there was a notification that the General Assembly would be divided into 11 closed circles where only one member would be elected for the board of directors of the union committee. Noteworthy, every worker would elect only one candidate. This division was made after being acquainted with the names of candidates and their identities in order to preserve the members of the current council from any kind of competition; also a special committee was formed for the president of the committee council and the member of Board of Directors of the general association of the metallic and engineering industries where it was defined in the first committee ( the board director and the leaders of  sectors ) and it was favored for only one candidate who is the head of the committee and the member of the general association which agreed on this notorious division and that was keen at the same time to bring independent and opposition against each other on a single seat, and to maintain closed circles without any competition between leaders of the current union committee. Moreover, the Management was keen to forge administrative resolutions aimed to change the functional description which is not in accordance with the reality of this notorious plan in order to maintain the current leadership in management of the union committee.

3- Union committee for workers in Al-Nasr Company for cars industry, in Wadi Hof:

56 candidates applied for nomination; yet the lists including the names of candidate were missing about 11 names as follows:
1) Adel Ishaq Taha              Current Secretary General
2)Zakaria Mahmoud Riyadh
3)Fayiz Farag Shatta             treasurer
4) Galal Salim Muhammad
5) Ahmad Sayid Meccawi
6) Bashir Abd Al-Moneim
7) Fattoh Al-Sayed Fattouh.
8) Ahmad Muhammad Abd Al-Dayim
9) Nasr Hassanin Muhammad
10) Atif Muhammad Ibrahim
11) Amal Saad Mahgoub

4-The union committee for workers in the Engineering Company for cars industry:

The lists of candidates were provided by the Labor Force after striking off several candidates, including:
1) Adel Rihan   Current Secretary General  
2) Salah Imam
3) Ayman Gad Al-Mawla
4) Muhammad Eid
5) Ahmad Ibrahim
6) Muhammad Kamel
7) Arabi Muselhi    member in the council committee
8) Ebadah Ali
9) Sayed Gohar
10) Ali Anani
11) Al-Sayed Elwan
12) Abd Al-Shafi Eid
13) Ashraf Kamal

5-The union committee for workers in the Egyptian companies for the means of light transportation

A number of candidates were struck off, including:

1) Hassan Tamam a member in the council committee and member in the elected company management council.
2) Hisham Faruq Hamdi a member in the General Assembly

6- The union committee for workers in Al-Nasr Company for pipes industry

1-Sayed Salim .    
2-Ahmad Hussein .

7-The union committee of the workers in Misr company Helwan of spin and textile:

The lists came after striking off many candidates, including:

1-Hmzawi Muhammad. The member of committee council
2-Magdi Ramadan
3-Khalef Abdul Aal the member   of committee council 4-Abd Al-Hamid Ashraf
5-Sayed Eid The member of the committee council
6-Ehab Mansour .
7-Solaiman Hassan .    
8-Mohamed Allaam .
9- Talab Hussein

8-The union committee of the workers in the company of Sukkar Al Fayyum:

The lists struck off three candidates.

9-The union committee of the workers at Al-Nasr company for coke industry:

The lists struck off 10 candidates

10-The union committee for workers at Al-Masarah company for engineering industries (the factory 45)

The lists struck off 7 candidates.

11- The union committee of the workers at Helwan company of the engineering industries (the factory 99):

The lists struck off 7 candidates although they succeeded in applying their certificates to the Labor Force, among those struck off was Mustapha Abd Al-Hamid who is a leading member at Al-Tagammu Party. Noteworthy. The General Association for Military Production has refused to grant 16 candidates rather than those membership certificates to prevent them from applying for nomination; among those was Abd Al-Rahman Bassyouni the member in Al- Tagammu Party.

12-The union committee of the workers in the oil co-op:

The labor forces did not accept some papers candidates and from them Khaled Abdul Fattah Shafie, claiming non -conformity of the signature of the president of the general association of oil on the membership certificate to the form offered by labor forces despite the conformity of the signatures of Secretary-General, the treasurer and the seal of the general association on the same certificate of the same form, and the candidate has filed a petition No. 1087/2006 against the president of the general association of oil and the Labor Force Department, at the administration of Hadayiq al-Qobba on 29/10/2006; it is worth mentioning that this claim recurred with tens of candidates in the oil companies in different region, denying them nomination.

13-The union committee for workers in the Ameriah  company for oil refinement, in Alexandria :

The lists of candidates provided by labor forces struck off many candidates, including:

            1- Abd Al-Rahman Al-Masri
               2-Ibrahim Abdul Raziq

14-The union committee of the workers in Al Hennawi’s company for smoke, in Damanhur:

 The lists of candidates provided by Labor Force

Department Al Beheyra struck off some names of candidates who applied their papers and certificates, including:
1-Ahmed Zain Al Abidin 
 2-Hassan Al Zanati
3-Samir Sobhi   
4-Ramadan Abu Hadida             
5-Saad Hamida    
6-Abdul Magid Hamida

Human Rights Organizations Condemning the Crisis of Labor
Many Human Rights organizations have issued reports condemning the crisis of labor unions and exposing the governmental breach for rights.

The  statement issued by the Land Center for Human Rights revealed the invalidity of the special election lists in the general association for land transportation, in addition to the field follow-ups that revealed the presence of an arbitrariness and an offence to workers during their requests to get the certificates of membership of the general association; security forces attacked a great number of them, then a blockade against more than 3 thousand candidates took place in Ramsis Square in order to prevent them from reaching the headquarters of the Labor Union of Egypt at Al-Galaa Street.

The center demanded allowing the principle of pluralism in labor union and abandoning the monopoly of Labor Union activities that do not represent more than 25 % of the workers number, and the members are no more than 4 million workers although the manpower in Egypt is more 18 million workers.

The center confirmed that a number of opposition candidates faced annoyances, including preventing them from getting certificates of membership and moving some of them from their sites to other sites in order to prevent them from seizing the opportunity of success. The attacks reached the extent of recruiting some bullies to attack candidates hated by the administration.

The Land Center for Human Rights demanded postponing the labor elections till amending the law of the labor union. The center confirmed that the current law wastes worker’s rights and is in the favor of the ruling party that controls the association.

On the other hand, Sawasiya Center for Human Rights condemned the double scale policy of the government in the labor elections. The report issued by the center states that: while the minister of Labor Force and Immigration, Aisha Abd Al-Hadi, averred that elections for the new round 2006-2011 will be transparent, but the number of complaints increases on a daily basis from the candidates who are leading fierce war in order to accomplish the nomination procedures and get the requested certificates.

The report revealed that some companies evade from offering the papers of the registration, while some associations evade from giving the required papers to complete the nomination process like the general association for utilities and the electricity company where there are four union committees; they are the production committee, north distribution, and south distribution that carry out the process of giving the papers to some people and neglecting others.
The report of the center revealed also that some candidates failed in getting papers from the committee of transportation last Sunday because some employees in the association escaped and closed the doors in front of the applicants.

Labor Elections in the eyes of Laborers and Experts

In a special interview to Ikhwanweb and after suspending any appeals in the labor elections, the parliamentary member and the general co-ordinator for Muslim Brotherhood, Saber Abu Al-Futuh said, " 2000 Muslim Brotherhood candidates were struck off and there certificates were rejected in the labor elections."

Abu Al-Futuh said that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to submit the papers of 2000 candidate in order to take 1400 candidate out of the total number to run for the elections; however, all the group candidates were struck off in a new episode of despotism practiced by the Egyptian Regime who wants to tighten its grip over labor federations.

Abu Al-Futuh said that there are about 600 appeals in the juddiciary filed by 600 MB candidates whose election bids were rejected. The Administrative Court in Alexandria has issued 70 rulings in favor of the brotherhood candidates, obliging the authorities supervising the electoral process to abide by the judicial supervision of the labor elections.

Also, it ruled suspending carrying out the decision of the committee supervising the elections, of striking off 96 Muslim Brotherhood candidates in the labor elections scheduled to be held within days, and ordered including their names within the lists of candidates and implementing the ruling along with its draft without any declaration in addition to obliging the administrative authority pay the judicial fees. Aboul-Fotouh pointed out that the Muslim Brothers wish that the labor elections were fair and bring in a free union system that serves the interests of the workers, but it seemed that the government seeks somethinng else.

And Abul-Futuh said that there are only 200 MB candidates in the administrative boards of  companies, considering that the Egyptian authorities are panicked from the Muslim Brotherhood memebers since announcing that " the group seeks 60% seats from the General Union of Egyptian Laborers, and it started the clash with them, preventing the MB Chairman from performing Umrah (lesser pilgrimage), and the group cadres from traveling abroad, and the Muslim Brotherhood leader stressed that what happened is considered an abuse of power.
Abl-Futuh rejected the claim that what happened would be " a defeat for the Muslim Brotherhood ", and said: " we did not run for the elections in order to be defeated " and he declared his full support to all opposition candidates facing the ruling National Party, referring to the revolutionary socialists and some independent candidates and dissident groups of the National Party over the Labor Union.
Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s attitude in case the ruling party gains control over Labor Unions, Abul Futuh said, "we would work on for establishing an alternative Union like most countries all over the world.
Abul Futuh pointed out that they are already on the brink of announcing establishing an alternative Union, given that there is a very powerful alliance (Taqwa) that was established in Alexandria and it contains all political reform powers like (Al-Tagammu- Al-Wafd- Al-Ahrar-Kefaya-Al-Amal- all bodies of civil society and Human rights. It was decided that alternative unions will be established to include all Egyptian political powers.
On the other hand, the parliament member, Ali Fath El Bab  said, " the current labor elections became a scene of war and it resemble the incidents of the last parliamentary elections that claimed lives of 14 citizen who were gunned down by the Egyptian police, and I wonder what is the reason behind this stance from the part of the government who insists on this old fashioned means.
He pointed that the Muslim Brotherhood declared running for the elections out of the concept of participation not out of the concept of competition and winning over other powers, so why does the government use  all these quelling means.
He assured that these practices incites hatred towards the ruling party from the part of laborers, especially in deteriorating circumstances for the future of laborers in addition to the fact that this future is already at risk. It would have been better if the Egyptian government realized the desire of Laborers, not what it wants.
The Researcher at Al-Ahram center for political studies, Dr. Diaa Rashwan said, "Surely, the student and labor elections proved the narrow-mindedness of the ruling regime who doesn’t want to see any political opposition, especially Muslim Brotherhood that has become the only political opposition power in the Egyptian society.
Rashwan denied that the ruling party plans to carry out any political reform, especially after the massacre in Labor and student elections, "There is no rational researcher or observer who can say that any one taking such kind of actions has any reform plans, let alone its practices."

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By Hossam el-Hamalawy