Sunday, May 24, 2009

200 Cotton Gin Workers Beaten & Forcibly Dispersed during Demonstration outside Egyptian Parliament

Some 200 workers employed at the Nile Co. for Cotton Ginning staged a protest today outside of Egypt’s Parliament in which they put forth their grievances and demands. They began congregating outside parliament at around 11am and conducted their peaceful demonstration until shortly after 6pm – at which time police forces beat and forcefully dispersed these workers.

Over the past three months, a total of around 850 workers from eight factories affiliated to the (state-owned) Nile Co. have been protesting against their administrations’ fiscal policies and failures. The Nile Co. with its factories in Cairo, El Minya, Alexandria, Zefta, Kafr El Sheikh, Mahalla, Kafr El Zayyat, and Kafr El Ghonnamiya - which produces cotton products, oil and soap - is reportedly incurring losses amounting to millions of pounds, due to neglect and poor administrative planning.

Workers have been complaining about their overdue bonuses, the cessation of production lines, and lockouts - ever since the appointment of the company’s new administrative president, Sayyed El Saifi, in September 2008. The workers raised nine demands:

1.) Resuming production in the factories
2.) Full payment of wages – without deductions
3.) Fulfillment of payments for overdue insurance policies
4.) The provision of workers’ profit-sharing payments – amounting to 10%
5.) Payment of overdue annual bonuses
6.) Payment of all overdue incremental wage bonuses
7.) Prohibiting the sale of the company’s machinery or land
8.) Prohibiting the punitive relocation of workers to other factories
9.) Payment of wages – for the months of April & May

One cotton gin worker said “our local union councils are on our side; Saeed El Gohary at the General Union (of Textile Workers) has expressed his support for our demands but has done nothing; as for (Labor Minister) Aisha Abdel Hadi she says she’s still studying the matter. We have lost our patience and that is why have come to voice our demands here outside the Parliament dome.”

At around 5pm police officers began to harass a handful of journalists who were covering and photographing this demonstration. The officers began to harass us under the pretext of “having taken photos of security forces.” The camera-phobic police officers shouted “you have no permits for such photography.” They confiscated the press card of the Al Dustour Journalist Sayyed Torki and demanded to examine the photographs on his camera. Torki was able to retrieve his press card about an hour later.

It was during this time that the Nile Company’s workers began to debate whether or not they should resort to conducting a sleep-in protest on the sidewalk. They had generally agreed to do so. A few minutes after we journalists had departed (shortly before 6pm,) police officers ordered rows of Central Security Forces to attack, beat, and disperse the peaceful cotton gin workers. They were said to be forcefully escorted away and shoved into public transport vehicles.

I eagerly await that beautiful day when it will be the turn of police officers to receive hefty beatings at the hands of all exploited workers across Egypt.

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