Textile workers unite to push through Shebin El-Kom demands

Yassin Gaber, Wednesday 6 Apr 2011

Workers from El-Mahalla Textiles joined with activists and members of the new Workers Democratic Party Tuesday to rally support for Shebin El-Kom Textile workers suffering from corrupt foreign and domestic policies

(Photo: Yassin Gaber)

North of Cairo in Menoufiya, hundreds of workers gathered Tuesday at Shebin El-Kom Textiles Company to continue their 35 day-long sit-in. The textile workers are protesting against the Indonesian management’s attempts at eliminating the workforce and dismantling the factories in order to reuse the 152 acres of land on which the factory stands.

The workers – joined by others from El-Mahalla Textiles; Kamal Khalil, spokesperson for the newly forming Workers Democratic Party; and activists from the Youth for Freedom and Justice movement – held a small conference in the factory’s grounds, rallying support for and unifying the demands of the fatigued yet resilient textile workers. This in itself proved no easy task as a handful of workers wanted an end to the politics and a stricter focus on financial matters. Nevertheless, the assembled workers, allowing all to voice their concerns, eventually agreed on three principle demands.

The first, that workers wrongfully fired be rehired, especially the three (known as Ragab, Samir and Fadil) who were unfairly dismissed, secondly that the company be returned to the public sector (renationalised) with higher wages tied to prices – counteracting inflation – and the dismissal of five NDP-affiliated managers accused of corruption, thuggery and sabotaging the company in the interests of foreign investors. Among these five board members are Saber Safan, the financial affairs manager, Moustapha El-Nahhas, member of the board, and Ahmed Hibashi, the human resources manager.

There were also calls for charges to be brought against the Indorama Group whose acquisition of the company has been brought into question.

According to the group’s website, Indorama Group, established in Indonesia by the Lohia family, acquired the fixed assets of the state-owned Misry Shebin El-Kom Spinning and Weaving Company in 2007 during the country’s privatisation process, subsequently changing its name to Indorama Shebin Textiles Co SAE.

Mahmoud El-Shaar, a Shebin El-Kom factory worker, said: “As for the Indians [sic], we trained all of them, we taught them how to use the computer programmes for running the machines. They’d not used these machines [yarn spinners] before.

“[The Indorama Group] have received subsidies from the state, especially to bring in the so-called foreign experts. These so-called experts used to take notes during our demonstrations on how to operate the equipment,” he stressed with disdain. 

The young worker, walking through his trashed factory floors where machines were evidently being taken apart piece by piece, spoke of how the new management was coercing employees out of their jobs. “They transferred some of the 12 per cent – the state dictated disabled workers – to the production lines; some of these disabled workers have artificial limbs and aren’t fit for the production lines, forcing them to tender their resignations.”

Mahmoud was very eager to exhibit his factories destruction. He pointed to the makeshift walls used by the company's management to hide the true face of the new ownership. Certain work areas, using old machines from Indorama Group's factories in Turkey, were made to look productive while metres away machines lay in ruin, rubbish piled high and entire floors left bare where there had once been the noise and heavy toil of thousands of workers; 15,000 now reduced to hardly 2,000. 

After the conference, the assembled workers and activists began a march from the factory to the Menoufiya Governorate offices. Hundreds of workers took to the streets shouting anti-regime slogans or directing their anger at the Indorama Group. At points, the workers would shout “This isn’t investment it’s colonisation” (which makes for a witty rhyme in Arabic).

At the governorate offices, the crowd’s volume swelled as the charismatic Khalil yet again energised his audience with talk of worker unity – referring to the presence of El-Mahalla Textile workers – and the possibility for true change in Egypt if it’s workforce stands together.

A delegation of workers then entered the building to speak with the governor and lay out their demands. Journalists, both domestic and foreign, were denied entrance into the meeting area. Ahram Online learned, however, that the worker delegation – for the workers do not have an independent trade union – was not allowed to enter into direct negotiations with the management. Instead, the governorate spoke on behalf of the workers.

A decision was returned in favour of the return of the three terminated workers. But the three workers would not return to their original posts but were instead given jobs at the Shebin El-Kom Textiles Social Club. The corporation also agreed upon the dismissal of the five managers. The third part of the agreement stipulated that a three-person committee formed of members from the military and a unionist, agreed upon by the factory’s workforce, should remain in place inside the company in order to mediate between the management and the workers.

Kamal El-Fayoumi, a unionist from El-Mahalla Textiles, said that this was a “very good step” for the workers proving they could stand up for their demands. “It is a first step,” he stated. The next step, he continued, would come on Tuesday 19 April when the workers take their case to the courts demanding the renationalisation of Indorama Shebin Textiles Co due to the allegedly illegal circumstances under which the company was sold to the Indorama Group.

Until then, El-Fayoumi and the workers have decided to meet in Tahrir Square on Friday to demand the removal of the Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (EFTU), the return of privatised companies to the public sector, a minimum monthly wage of LE1,200 and the trial of the corrupt “gang”, including ousted president Hosni Mubarak, former minister of investment Mahmoud Mohieldin, former minister of manpower and migration Aisha Abdel Hady and Said El-Gohary, general-secretary of the textile and yarn union – viewed as a branch of the corrupt, state-owned EFTU.

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