Egypt textile workers in revolt: Seven companies join Mahalla strike

Marwa Hussein, Tuesday 17 Jul 2012

As the Mahalla textile workers strike enters its third day, other textile workers around the country are joining the battle for better wages and new management

Mahalla workers stage demonstration in 2008 (Photo: Hossam El-Hamalawy)

Egypt's Minister of Industry and Commerce, Mahmoud Issa, is planning to visit the state-owned Mahalla Misr Spinning and Weaving Company factory as an ongoing strike wave starts to spread to a number of neighbouring governorates.

Thousands of Mahalla workers continued to strike for the third consecutive day on Tuesday, demanding an increase in their share of the company's annual profits and the removal of the chairman of the Spinning and Weaving Holding Company, which owns the Mahalla company, Fouad Abdel-Alim.

On Tuesday evening, the secretary general of Egypt’s Nile Delta Gharbiya governorate spent three hours with the workers to discuss their demands.

"The minister is planning a visit tomorrow to Mahalla, provided a new government is announced," a source from the ministry, who asked to remain anonymous, told Ahram Online.

On Monday and Tuesday, seven other textile factories followed Mahalla, Egypt's largest textile company. "They are raising the same demands," says Wedad El-Demerdash, a worker and strike leader. These factories are in Alexandria, Mahalla, and two other Delta cities.

Workers at the largest textile company issued a list of demands, which include a greater share of 2011 company profits and larger end-of-service bonuses. The company, which employs 24,000 workers, became a symbol of the strike movement in Egypt, after it led two successful strikes in 2006 and in 2008.

In 2008, the strike soon turned against ousted president Mubarak’s regime and gained widespread popularity. Many activists and analysts in Egypt credit these strikes with having partially set the stage for the January 25 Revolution.

Present demands are very similar to those of four years ago: the removal of a corrupt administration and a rise in as yet meagre bonuses.

"We demand fair compensation like others factories. Employees of the Spinning and Weaving Holding Company are given bonuses worth12 months of their basic salary. We are merely asking for six and a half months instead of four and half," explains Kamal El-Fayoumi, one of the strike leaders at the giant company. In addition, workers aim at removing a LE23,000 cap imposed on their end of service remuneration.

For years, the company has been generating losses. In the second half of 2011, the losses were at LE126 million, according to Al-Ahram daily newspaper. No records were available on the website of the company.

A few days after Mubarak's ouster in February 2011, another strike of Mahalla workers ended in victory with the government increasing the workers’ meal allocation from LE 120 to LE 210, as well as monthly bonuses of LE 220. Most importantly, they removed the head of the company, Fouad Abdel-Alim. A year later, he was appointed chairman of the Spinning and Weaving Holding Company, which runs under its umbrella 32 state-owned companies, including the Mahalla company.

According to the workers, Abdel-Alim was removed because of his lack of efficiency. He squandered millions of pounds of public money when he was running Mahalla.

"We managed to remove him in February's strike, but the military council put him back in a higher office. We have documents proving his wrong-doing and financial offences," reiterates El-Fayoumi. For workers, corruption is behind the poor performance of the company, and hence their poor remuneration.

"We are starting a 'purging' revolution. We won't give up," says Wedad El-Demerdash.

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