Egypt truckers strike turns violent

Hazem Zohny , Wednesday 22 Dec 2010

A majority of Egypt's truck drivers remained on strike, occasionally resorting to violence against strike-breakers, and with failed negotiations, there is as yet no end in sight

Truck drivers strike
Truck drivers waiting for the strike to end

As the truck drivers’ strike approaches the two week mark, those who are not themselves participating are also stationary. Fear of attracting violence from their more zealous colleagues is keeping them off the road.

“I was on the Ring Road when I found what seemed like a hundred bricks thrown at my front window,” says one truck driver working in 6 of October City. His shoulder remains bandaged up from the attack earlier this week and he has not worked since.

Numerous vehicles have been destroyed over the week and reports of shots being fired at drivers makes those who want to work think twice before embarking on any journey.

Incidents of violence have been particularly frequent in Sharqiya and Daqahliya, where police arrested 80 strikers on Sunday for damaging property.

Yet at the heart of this apparent aggression appears to be a fundamental miscommunication between truckers and government representatives. Despite repeated assurances by officials last week that no new taxes would be imposed on truck owners (the trigger of the strike), a number of truckers told Ahram Online yesterday that the “new taxes” are the reason for their continued protest.

When the drivers were told that the prime minister and finance minister both confirmed that no taxes would be levied, truck driver Ahmed (“Just Ahmed,” he insisted) said the issue of taxes was only part of the issue. “If it’s true that they won’t raise taxes, that means we only need to have them revert to their plan to phase out trailers over the next two years,” he said. “Then we can get back to work.”

However, the decision to gradually remove trailers from Egypt’s roads appears to be an issue that Transport Minister Alaa Fahmy has repeatedly stated is not up for negotiation.

Meanwhile, the effects of the strike are spilling over onto other industries, with patience running short as the strike shows no sign of abating. Drivers of smaller trucks, who are not taking part in the protest, are nervous about the fate of their businesses.

Mansour Abdelbadi and his colleagues have been stranded outside the 6 of October wholesale market for the past two weeks trying to sell red bricks. Surrounded by 15 parked medium sized trucks loaded with bricks, for years their job has been transporting bricks to this location and helping to load trailers.

“But now there’s nobody to load anything onto,” says Abdelbadi. He and his colleagues are worried that they will not be able to renew their licenses at the end of the year or pay the annual LE20,000 instalment of their hire purchased trucks.

“My income has been, without any exaggeration, zero for the past two weeks,” he says.

On a larger scale, companies like Lafarge, a French industrial company specializing in cement, construction and concrete, among other things, says its operations in Egypt have been significantly impacted.

“Our cement sales have dropped since the beginning of the strike from 30,000 tons per day to 1,200,” said Ahmed Shebl, Lafarge Cement’s General Manager in Egypt. In a written statement to Ahram Online, Shebl said that key infrastructure projects, including the Cairo Metro and power plants, have also been affected.

Like other companies, Lafarge is frustrated at strikers attacking their drivers, who have not taken part in the strike. “Our problem is not with those participating in the strike - this could be one of their legal rights,” says Shebl. “The actual problem comes from those abusing this right by imposing their position on other drivers who want to keep working.”

As negotiations between truck drivers’ associations and government representatives repeatedly failed to find a breakthrough this week, both large and small businesses can only hope that the next round will see some fresh headway made to break the stalemate.

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