Army uses force to end textile workers strike, withdraws from factory

Dina Samak , Thursday 7 Apr 2011

A peaceful workers sit-in at Shebin El-Kom Textile Company in Menoufiya turned violent as the army tried to force an end to the protest

A peaceful sit-in in Shebin El-Kom Textile Company in Menoufiya, north of Cairo, turned ugly as the army tried to force workers to put an end to their protest. The workers threatened to set the factory and themselves on fire as the army fired bullets in the air and threatened to arrest the workers who returned to the factory this morning to resume a 35-day long strike they called off two days ago after reaching an agreement with company management.  

Mohamed El-Shaar, a worker in the maintenance section, said that the management called the army this morning to oversee the handover of the factory from workers to the management. "Everything seemed very peaceful in the beginning, but later the workers protested against the agreement reached last Tuesday and threaten to resume their sit-in," El-Shaar said.

The agreement that was supposed to come into effect on Saturday is not accepted by most of the workers who say they did not agree to many of its details. Workers were not part of the negotiations, they say.

"We have proof that the agreement will not be fulfilled," said Ali Mohamed, one of the factory workers. "One of our main demands was that the sacked workers return to their jobs or at least equivalent positions and this did not happen." The workers accuse the company of trying to manipulate dismissed workers and to force them to sign resignation letters, saying that this will grant their colleagues a return to work.

Ragab El-Shimy, one of the workers, says that he and his colleagues were furious after management left them for hours outside the management offices and later told them that more negotiations were needed. "We spent 35 days in the factory and many of us are tired or even sick. How can they tell us that we have to start all over again?" said El-Shimy.

The workers, according to Ayman Abul El-Ela, the company's legal advisor, attacked the management building and things turned rough. "The army had to interfere and they fired bullets into the air. Later the workers threatened to set the factory and themselves to fire and pushed the army out of the factory," he added. Two armored vehicles entered the factory compound this morning.  

Many workers were injured in the clashes and at least three were taken to hospital.

"For 35 days we took care of the factory and not a single screw in any machine was harmed," says El-Shimy. "Now the company and the army are threatening us that we will be arrested according to the new thuggery law. This will not scare us." El-Shimy added: "Workers are not thugs and we will not stop until we secure our rights."

Shebin El-Kom Textiles Company workers held a 35-day long sit-in to protest 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. Now they say they will not end their sit-in until all their demands are met.

As of time of publication, the army is still surrounding the factory and the company management is promising to fulfil the workers demands.

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