Egyptian government says it will crack down on protest, workers continue to protest

Although Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former dictator is gone way, the low wages, high prices, lack of job security and other economic hardships that caused many to take to the streets in January have not. As a result, people have continued to strike, sit-in, and protest, which in turn has led the new government to say that it would implement a harsh anti-strike decree issued last March.

At the behest of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, Egypt’s Cabinet announced on Wednesday, June 8 that it would begin enforcing a decree it issued in March. The decree allows police to arrest anyone participating or organizing a strike, sit-in, or protest that disrupts economic activity or government services. Those arrested face fines of $5,000 to $83,000 and a prison sentence of at least one year jail.

Prior to the announcement, five striking workers at Petrojet, an oil company, were arrested. Petrojet workers had been on strike to protest the layoffs of 1,200 of the company’s workers. Then shortly after the announcement, a  Central Security Forces rolled up to a demonstration outside the Cabinet office building in downtown Cairo and arrested seven tenant farmers who were protesting illegal land seizures.

But nearby other workers continued there protests over a variety of issues. Recent university graduates were demanding jobs, Nassr Car Company workers were protesting layoffs, and stills others were protesting a new minimum wage law that raises the minimum wage to 700 Egyptian pounds a month. Protestors were demanding that the minimum wage be set at 1,200 pounds, the amount established last year by the Administrative Justice Court. “Prices are too high and wages too low. We can’t make a living and need to take a stand,” said one of the protestors, a PhD who works for the oil ministry.

But the actions of two labor groups should test the government’s resolve to tamp down on the growing independent labor movement. The doctor’s association has been leading a movement to improve Egypt’s health care system. Last May, the doctors led two one-day strikes demanding that the government increase spending on health care from its current level of 3.5 percent of the national budget to 15 percent, a fair wage for all workers, better hospital security, and the sacking of the current health minister.

“People are dying because we don’t have enough beds in ICUs, emergency surgery rooms, and emergency rooms,” Dr Mohamed Shafiq, one the leaders of the strikes, told rabble.ca. The strike shut down 85 percent of the country’s out-patient clinics, but doctors continued to provide emergency services at hospitals.

Since then the doctors have been meeting with other hospital workers trying to form an organization that will fight for better health care. They have been discussing another strike similar to the two earlier strikes, and on Friday they marched to Tahir Square where they joined with others who were protesting the lack of action to improve the lives of Egyptian workers.

Workers at the ministry of antiquities have also been trying to organize an independent union. They rallied last Friday at the Cabinet building in Cairo demanding that workers, some of whom have worked five to 30 years as temporary workers, be given permanent contracts. On June 15, they plan to begin a sit-in front of the Egyptian Museum and are debating among themselves whether to close down Egypt’s tourist sites. Security staff from the Pyramid site in Gaza said that starting June 15, they would shut down the pyramid complex.

In the meantime a sit-in of Cairo’s Metro underground rail system continues as workers protest the possible privatization of the city’s subway system, and about 1,000 workers on Saturday began a  sit-in at Egypt’s Aluminum’s main headquarters in Naga Hammad, Qena demanding an increase in bonus payments, more jobs, and the dismissal of the  administrative managerial director, Abdel-Razak Morsy.

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