Monday, August 31, 2009

Solidarity with RETA Union from the International Trade Union Confederation

International Trade Union Confederation/ITUC
Interference in the Affairs of the Real Estate Tax Authority Union

Dear Mr. President,

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC,) which represents 170 million workers through its 312 affiliates in 157 countries throughout the world, protests along with Public Service International (PSI,) the interference by the President of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation with independence and autonomy of the PSI affiliate Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETA).

RETA was formally constituted in April 2009 in accordance with the Egyptian Constitution as well as international labour standards ratified by the Egyptian Government. A Social Care Fund, providing retirement benefits for its members was established and then approved by the Minister of Finance (Decree No. 425, in July 2009).

According to our information, since then considerable pressure has been exerted by Mr. Hussein Megawer, President of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF), including officials in the Real Estate Tax Authority and Ministry of Finance, to withdraw the recognition of RETA as an independent trade union and to dissolve or seize control of the Social Care Fund. Those pressures include among others: physical assault of two RETA officials, intimidation of RETA members, arbitrary transfers of RETA leaders and public prosecution against the President of RETA, Mr. Kamal Abu Eita and against the decision of the Minister of Finance approving the establishment of RETA's Social Care Fund.

In December 2008, the ITUC had expressed its concerns when the RETA was experiencing difficulties while establishing the union. We strongly protest once again against interference with the free and independent functioning of the RETA. This interference is incompatible with the principle of freedom of association and therefore a violation of ILO Convention 87.

Along with PSI, the ITUC urges you to take swift measures to ensure that RETA can freely exercise its role as an independent trade union organisation; to condemn all acts of intimidation and harassment against the leadership and members of RETA and to condemn all external interference in RETA's activities.

Yours sincerely,
Guy Ryder
General Secretary

*August 20, 2009 - Addressed to Hosni Mubarak, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt; Copies sent to Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif, and the Egyptian Embassy in Brussels

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Egyptian Experiments in Workers' Self-Management

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Saturday 29, August 2009

Jano Charbel

We don't need no liquidation

One group of factory workers, abandoned by their owner, is running the factory themselves

When their owner fled the country ahead of a jail sentence, the employees at the Economic Company for Industrial Development, faced looming unemployment and the closure of the company's multiple textile factories. A common enough story in Egypt these days, but in this case, the workers instead embarked on a landmark labor experiment.

For nearly a year, three of the Economic Company’s textile factories in 10th of Ramadan City have essentially been running themselves. Granted the right to self-management by a September 2008 court decision, the workers are paying their own wages, handling customer orders and trying to clean up the financial mess left by the previous owner.

“Working here nowadays is sweet like honey," said Mohamed Youssef, a 12-year veteran of the company’s textile embroidery production line. “We have more rights and benefits as workers."

Youssef’s salary has jumped from LE 450 two years ago to LE 650 per month under the new system.

The arrangement has its difficulties, and the company may yet collapse under a massive burden of tax and utility bills, but for now it stands as a closely watched experiment for a country roiled by labor unrest.

The story began when Adel Agha, owner of the Ahmonseto Company, was sentenced to three years in prison in 2002 for bribery and evasion of customs taxes. Shortly after his release, Agha was caught up in another legal battle over bank loans, and fled the country in 2008 before being sentenced to 15 years in absentia.

Agha sought to liquidate his companies, which employed 5,000 workers, while the banks moved to sequester many of his assets. The Economic Company for Industrial Development, a subsidiary of Ahmonseto, controlled nine textile factories with more than 2,000 workers. Faced with unemployment, the workers petitioned for the right to run the factories themselves.

On September 5, 2008 a court granted the workers’ request. It was only the second time in modern Egyptian history such an experiment had been tried. Previously, a light bulb factory in the 10th of Ramadan industrial zone was fully self-managed by its workers after its owner, wealthy businessman and former MP Ramy Lakah, fled the country in 2001.

The workers at the Lakah-owned light bulb factory managed themselves from October 2001 to June 2006, when Lakah’s company again assumed ownership.

Over the past year of self-management, the employees at the Economic Company for Industrial Development have established their own local union committee and raised worker wages by nearly 50 per cent, said Ibrahim Othman, treasurer of the newly established local union committee. The new management was forced to close six out of the company’s nine factories, costing 1,500 jobs. However, the other three factories continue to function, keeping more than 500 workers employed.

The new found freedom and increased wages also come with their share of headaches.

“On the downside, however, we now have to chase after our customers and clients. We produce according to the orders we receive from each customer. Piecework is an unstable and unreliable source of income," said Othman. “Agha’s outlets, stores and showrooms, where our products were sold, have all shut down. Previously we exported to America and Australia, now it is our clients who export our products."

In addition, the company now has to pay millions of pounds worth of insurance fees and utility bills, plus the tens of millions of pounds worth of debt that Agha incurred from bank loans and accumulated interest. “If these huge debts were resolved then our wages and living standards would be greatly improved," said Othman.

Youssef, the veteran employee said, “Our only problems are that the banks and utility companies are always after us with their bills and fees. They have the power to pull the plug on this whole company. Our fate rests in their hands."

At the top of the company’s new hierarchy is the caretaker commissioner Ibrahim el-Hefny, who was originally appointed by Agha in 2006 as the company’s administrative president.

“The Ahmonseto Company has all the components necessary to operate in full capacity, to produce high quality goods and to be a successful company," el-Hefny told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “However, textile production is an extremely capital-intensive industry and we simply don’t have the capital to do so. This is why six out of the nine factories have shut down."

The Ministry of Manpower has paid the wages of the 1,500 workers who lost their jobs for the past seven months. However, that money, paid out of a special emergency fund, runs out this month, el-Hefny said.

Banks owed money by Agha have seized LE 52 million worth of fabric and garments belonging to Ahmonseto. The company’s new management has requested a LE 5 million loan to enable them to reopen the six closed factories and an unfreezing of their assets.

“We have received no form of assistance from the banks or from the General Union for Textile Workers. Only the Ministry of Manpower has stood by our side," el-Hefny said.

The General Union President, Saeed el-Gohary, could not be reached for comment.

Hefny said the future of both the Ahmonseto Company and the Economic Company for Industrial Development are to be determined by the decisions of the banks and utility companies. “They might decide to tear down this entire industrial complex and to sell the machinery as well as the land on which these factories are built. But this would be such a grave loss of capital and employment opportunities," he said. “I have recently signed checks worth LE 1.8 million for utility bills. If the Economic Company cannot cover these expenses then I may end up in prison."

Child Labor within Egypt's Fishing Industry

Al-Masry Al-Youm
Thursday 27, August 2009
Children on the water

Hundreds of thousands of underage fishermen face harsh lives
By Jano Charbel

BORG MEGHEIZAL---Twelve year-old Deif Allah Ragab works on a diesel-powered winch at one of the maintenance dockyards. Operating the loud, smoky and greasy machinery he pulls a large wooden fishing boat while four (equally young) co-workers place wooden sledges and planks underneath it as it comes ashore. After turning off the winch, Ragab said “I used to go to school until I was ten, but school is expensive and I don’t like it." He added “I prefer to work here, I have friends here and I can make money here."

In addition to operating the winch Ragab scrubs and cleans the hulls of fishing boats, and is an assistant carpenter on the docks. He works from 9am-5pm six days a week, and gets paid LE10 (less than $US 2) per day.

Mohamed Hassan, 13, works at the same dockyard but only during the summer months when he is on vacation from school. He helps lodge boats in place, and assists in the painting and carpentry of boats. He earns the same daily rate that Ragab does. Hassan said “I work here during vacations, but I go to school the rest of the year. I want to be an engineer."

At another dockyard nearby 11-year-old Saeed El Kawi sits next to his father on a wooden bench outside a ship-building workshop. He has embarked on three fishing trips so far this year. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, the boy immediately replied “fisherman." But his father Saeed Senior said “I really hope he doesn’t become a fisherman. I started to work on these boats when I was 12, and I know from experience that it is a tough job."

An estimated 450,000 child laborers are employed in Egypt’s fishing industry nationwide where they are exposed to numerous occupational hazards and are denied their educational opportunities. Child labor within the fishing industry is said to be rampant along Egypt’s 2,500 kilometers of coastlines, as well as along the Nile and on Lakes Nasser and Qaroun.

Abed Hamdy, a field researcher at the Land Center for Human Rights and specialist in the labor affairs of fishing communities said child labor is common to all Egypt’s coastal governorates. But it is most pronounced in the Governorates of Port Said, in Fayyoum on Lake Qaroun, and especially in Rashid (Rosetta) in Beheira Governorate, and the town of Borg Megheizal in Kafr el-Sheikh Governorate.

In Borg Megheizal, child labor is omnipresent; children are employed at coffee shops, bakeries, and grain mills while others drive auto-rickshaws (tok-toks.) Yet the majority of child laborers are found on fishing boats, loading catches and then unloading them on shore, or as helping hands in the docking, building and maintenance of boats.

Residents here estimate that around 50 per cent of the town’s children are employed in the fishing industry. Local resident Ashraf Ali, an ex-fisherman, said that number may have been around 90 per cent two or three decades earlier. “Back then all the men and boys in this town where working at sea, while all the girls and women worked in their homes," he said.

Saeed Al Kawi Senior said the work conditions are tough for fishermen of any age. The boats may be out at sea for a week or two weeks at a time, and the large fishing trawlers may be out for even longer. “Each time it takes you away from your family, wife and children," he said. “I would like my son to complete his education and choose any other profession."

Another resident, who didn’t give his name, said that the impoverished villagers have little choice other than a life on the boats. “There are no other professions to employ people here. Unemployment rates are high and the government has neglected us and there are practically no development projects," he said. “What difference does it make if you complete your education or not? Even if you do, where are you going to find work here except at sea?"

In addition to the harsh condition, Hamdy, the labor researcher, said the underage fishermen “are subjected to the worst forms of exploitation, and are frequently injured by machinery and moving mechanical devices on board these boats."

At sea these child laborers are exposed to the harmful rays of the sun, harsh weather and humidity; all of which detrimentally affect their health and wellbeing. Children are subjected to falling overboard and drowning, some boats sink or capsize while out at sea jeopardizing the lives of fishermen, and especially the children amongst them.

“Fishermen employ child laborers because they get paid less, are more obedient and are easier to boss around than grownups. These child laborers are frequently bullied and physically abused," Hamdy said. “Alarmingly, we have also received numerous reports of sexual harassment and molestation of these children at the hands of fishermen. Along Egypt’s north coast some trafficking networks are also smuggling children via fishing boats to Italy and Greece where, more often than not, they are forced to work for criminal gangs and mafias."

There are no reliable statistics available as to the number of underage fishermen in Egypt. However, studies indicate that approximately 15 per cent of Egypt's three million child laborers are employed in fishing. "We are talking here about hundreds of thousands of children who are missing out on their educations, many of whom are put on fishing boats as soon as they are able to be utilized as helping hands," concluded Hamdy.

Most Egyptian child laborers, an estimated 60 per cent of the total, are employed in agriculture. Egypt has frequently faced criticism for not doing enough to curb its child labor rates—most recently at the annual conference of the International Labor Organization in Geneva in June 2009.

Monday, August 24, 2009

AFP - Egypt demands Israel apology after policeman shot

August 23, 2009

AFP - Egypt demanded an apology from Israel on Sunday after one of its soldiers was shot by the Israeli army earlier this week, the official MENA news agency reported.

The foreign ministry summoned the Israeli charge d'affaires in Cairo, slamming the shooting as "irresponsible Israeli actions resulting from repeated Israeli army mistakes," foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki told MENA.

"Israel must apologise for the incident... The Israeli army should punish those in charge of such unacceptable action to avoid its repetition," he said.

On Monday, Israeli soldiers posted on the Egyptian border opened fire at an Egyptian policeman they said had acted in a suspicious manner.

The incident, which took place 20 kilometres (13 miles) north of the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat, left the 21-year-old conscript wounded in the chest.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman told AFP that his government had no plans to respond until the circumstances surrounding the event became clear.

"We are cooperating with the Egyptian authorities to examine the incident and until the investigation is complete we have no plans to comment," he said.

Egypt demands Israel apology after policeman shot

Sunday, August 23, 2009

In Memory of Sacco & Vanzetti

On August 23, 1927 the two Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed in Massachusetts on trumped-up charges of murder and armed robbery. These Italian workers were clearly framed and used as scapegoats in a politically motivated trial. Records, testimonies, and other evidence have clearly pointed to their innocence.

This unjust trial served as a pretext to crack down on anarchists and other leftists in the US.

The electrocution-executions of Sacco & Vanzetti provoked protests and world-wide indignation.

Fifty years after the executions of Sacco & Vanzetti, on 23rd August 1977, the then-Governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation which recognized the grave injustices perpetrated against the two.

Remember Sacco & Vanzetti!

Sacco & Vanzetti Commemoration Society

The Sacco & Vanzetti Trial

Friday, August 21, 2009

Solidarity with RETA Union from the Public Services International Trade Union Federation

Interference in the Affairs of the Real Estate Tax Authority Union

Dear Prime Minister,

Public Services International (PSI) has been informed by our affiliate the Real Estate Tax Authority Union about serious interference with its independence and autonomy by the President of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation.

The Real Estate Tax Authority Union (RETA) was formally constituted on 21 April 2009 in accordance with the Egyptian Constitution and International Labour Organisation Conventions 87 and 98, which have been ratified by the Egyptian government. After protracted negotiations, RETA succeeded in establishing a Social Care Fund, providing retirement benefits for its members. The Minister of Finance’s decision No. 425 dated July 2009 approved the establishment of the Fund.

According to our information, considerable pressure is being exerted by Mr Hussein Megawer, President of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on officials, including officials in the Real Estate Tax Authority and Ministry of Finance, to withdraw the recognition of RETA as an independent trade union and to dissolve or seize control of the Social Care Fund.
This pressure has taken the following forms:

- Shortly after RETA was formally recognised, Mr Megawer attempted to form a new general trade union for employees of the Real Estate Tax Authority; an attempt which was overwhelmingly rejected by the employees.

- ETUF and the National Trade Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Affairs have written to your government requesting it not to have any dealings with RETA.

- ETUF has filed corruption charges against the RETA leadership, accusing RETA of collecting union dues without authorisation.

- In July 2009, two RETA officials were physically assaulted in Gharibya Governate and Sharkiya Governate.

- RETA officers have been referred for investigation before administrative prosecutors and the legal departments of their workplaces. These officers include Mr Tarek Mustafa, the union treasurer and chairman of the union committee in Kalubiya Governorate; Mr Abdel Nasser Sayed Mansour, chairman of the union committee in Beni Suef Governorate; Mr Hussein Kilany, chairman of the union committee in Assiut Governorate; Mr Ezzat Khaled, chairman of the union committee in Qena Governorate; and Mr Khaled Mubarak, treasurer of the union committee in Aswan Governorate.

- RETA members are often called to the State Security offices where they are intimidated.

- RETA leaders are arbitrarily transferred from their job sites to remote places.

- At the instigation of the ETUF, an amendment to decision No. 425 was signed on 5 August 2009 which replaced RETA with the General Trade Union of Banks and Insurances, an ETUF affiliate, as signatory to the Social Care Fund.

- On 10 August 2009, ETUF filed a report with the Public Prosecutor against the President of RETA, Mr Kamal Abu Eita, and against the decision of the Minister of Finance approving the establishment of RETA’s Social Care Fund. The report falsely alleges that Mr Abu Eita’s election as President was irregular and that RETA is therefore an illegal entity.

PSI urges your government to take swift measures to ensure that RETA can freely exercise its role as an independent trade union organisation; to condemn all acts of intimidation and harassment against the leadership and members of RETA and to condemn all external interference in RETA’s activities. We further call on your government to confirm the establishment of a Social Care Fund for RETA members.

Yours sincerely
Peter Waldorff
General Secretary

AUGUST 18, 2009

Cc: H.E. Dr. Youssef Boutros-Ghali, Minister of Finance; H.E. Mrs. Aesha Abdel Hadi Abdel Ghani, Minister of Manpower and Immigration; PSI Arab countries and PSI Africa; Real Estate Tax Authority Union; Centre for Trade Union & Workers Services; Mr Kacem Afiya; ITUC Geneva and Brussels.

Public Services International (PSI) is a global trade union federation that represents 20 million women and men working in the public services around the world. It has some 600 affiliated unions in more than 150 countries. PSI is an autonomous body, which works in association with federations covering other sectors of the workforce and with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). PSI is an officially recognised non-governmental organisation for the public sector within the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and has consultative status with ECOSOC and observer status with other UN bodies such as UNCTAD and UNESCO.

Public Services International

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cairo's Bus Workers Strike & Win

Al-Masry Al-Youm

A strike by the city’s bus drivers has ended after the government gave-in to most of their demands
By Lina Attalah

Many of Cairo’s public busses have disappeared from the capital city’s street over the past two days. Drivers, ticket-takers and mechanics from 14 of the 19 bus garages in Cairo and Giza governorates are on strike demanding improved working conditions and awaiting tangible responses from the authorities.

The effect on the streets was immediate, with far fewer public busses on the street and large crowds gathering at many city bus stops.

The government response was equally swift. On Wednesday evening, the strikers received an offer from the Public Transportation Authority meeting most of their demands and agreed to return to work.

The new government concessions, which will return the busses to the streets, include: an 8 percent salary increase, an exemption for drivers from most traffic fines, a monthly food allowance for LE120 for drivers and ticket-takers, and agreement to consider paying compensation to drivers and ticket-takers for their daily potential exposure to infectious diseases.

The government counter-offer seemingly ensures that Cairo’s public busses will be back on the street Thursday. The drivers, ticket-takers, mechanics and other support workers had threatened to stay in their garages indefinitely until the government met their long list of demands.

Topping the list of complaints were the pay scale, the drivers’ treatment by police officers on the streets of the capital.

“The road fines are unbearable," said Dossuki Abdul Basset, a driver of an air-conditioned bus in the Mustaqbal garage in the Nasr City district in East Cairo. The garage houses around 100 busses and 700 workers, all of whom are participating in the strike, Abdul Basset said. “If I make 240 LE a month and I have compiled fines worth of LE 500, then it’s unfair."

According to him, drivers demand exemption from traffic fines unless it’s for major violations like driving the wrong way up a one-way street or breaking traffic lights. “We get penalized if we are parked in a no-parking area. But that’s usually because the busses are in very poor conditions and not well-maintained," he said. Another common fine is imposed when the bus is over-crowded with passengers, which the drivers say is impossible to avoid the shortage of available busses.

Some drivers complained of city policemen routinely demanding free rides. Policemen and military personnel are usually exempted from paying bus fares, but this does not apply to air-conditioned busses.

“When we tell them so, they threaten to penalize us," said Abdul Basset.

Drivers expounded on the poor conditions of the busses. “Percentages of the day’s revenues and the LE 5 daily fare collection fee that are granted to drivers are deducted if the bus is broken, but no money is spent on maintaining busses," said Afifi Afifi, a mechanic who works in the Mustaqbal garage. According to him, the Cairo governorate hasn’t supplied enough spare parts, leaving many of the busses barely functional. Out of 100 busses in the garage, 35 are not working, while others are in need for maintenance.

“Drivers are told to take the busses even if they are functioning at a 10 percent capacity only. When the bus is broken in the middle of the road, drivers are penalized by not getting the revenues’ percentage while they are fined for stopping in the middle of the road," Afifi said.

Long-time workers are also worried about their retirement schemes. “We get deductions from our salaries to go to social insurance, but they don’t actually go there," said Adel Mohammad Moussa, a 59-year old driver. On many pay slips, the social insurance number is absent while deductions show. According to him, retired workers do not get their pensions easily and they are just sent off with an insufficient end-of-service reward. Poor healthcare is also a source of unrest amongst the public transportation sector workers who said that the current packages do not adequately cover their families’ needs.

Officials from the General Union for Land Transport Worker worked to mediate between the strikers and the Cairo and Giza governorates. “We are the representatives of our colleagues and we take the responsibility of presenting their demands to the governor," said Bayoumi Mohammad Thabet, vice president of the union’s Committee for Mini-Busses and Air-Conditioned Busses in an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm conducted prior to the government’s counter offer.

“The governorate is very responsive and promises workers to find solutions to their problems," said Thabet. “In 2007, workers demanded a raise in incentives and they were raised from 3 percent to 6 percent (of basic wage). This has cost the governorate LE 30 million," he added.

A smaller group of drivers, fare collectors and mechanics went on strike in the summer of 2007, making the same demands, but they claim little has been done so far. The strikers two years ago also demanded an increase in their cut of the overall ticket revenues percentages from 2 percent to 10 percent, say they settled and returned to work after the governorate raised it to 4 percent.

“Those issues cannot be settled by the governor alone. He does not own a bank. There have to be talks with the ministries of health and finance for the allowances issue," said Thabet.

Many of the workers say they no longer want the public bus system to answer to the different governorates and want to come under the authority of the Ministry of Public Transportation like railways workers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tanta Flax Company Strike Enters its 80th Day

Around 200 striking workers from the Tanta Flax and Oils Company embarked on an open-ended demonstration outside the Ministry of Labor today, which marks the 80th day of their strike. Frustrated at the impasse with their company's administration and owner the workers turned to Labor Minister Aisha Abdel Hady in the hope that she could help them realize their six demands. As a pressure mechanism, hundreds of workers at the Tanta Company have announced their intention to launch a hunger strike as of tomorrow.

Some 1,000 workers at the company commenced their strike 80 days ago raising the demands of: reinstating nine co-workers sacked under the pretext of "inciting labor unrest;" the provision of workers' profit-sharing which has been overdue for three years; the provision of incentive pay which has been withheld since 2003; the payment of workers' social insurance expenses withheld since May 2009; and increasing each worker's monthly food allowance from LE 31 per month to LE 90.

Workers chanted slogans denouncing the company owner, a Saudi investor named Abdel Ellah el-Kaaki, and the Egyptian administrative executive Mohamed el-Seihy as being "thieves." The Tanta Flax and Oils Company was privatized over the course of three years from 2005-07. The workers at this company have staged four strikes over the past three years. During their most recent strike the workers have demonstrated outside the Saudi Embassy, blocked-off the Tanta-Zefta highway, and have called for the re-nationalization of the company; with a few militant laborers even calling for workers' self-management of the company.

Hisham el-Oqal, the local union's deputy treasurer is one of the nine workers who were fired. He said "we have sent numerous faxes to the General Union for Textile Workers, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, the Labor Ministry and to the Prime Minister but no avail. None of these authorities seem concerned with our plight. We hope that the government will heed our demands, but if they don't then we will continue to escalate our protests. We shall not leave Cairo until our demands our met."

Gamal Othman, another sacked worker said "I have been issued a court order according to which I am to be reinstated in the company, but the administration has ignored this court order. We will not leave until Aisha Abdel Hady meets with us and resolves all our problems. Otherwise we will sleep here on the sidewalk outside the ministry until our demands are met or until we are all arrested, beaten or even killed by the security forces." Othman added "we are sick and tired of being ignored. We have repeatedly met with Aisha and the head of the Labor Disputes Bureau at the Ministry Dr. Nahed el-Ashry, as well as Hussein Megawer (President of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation), and Saeed el-Gohary (President of the state-controlled General Union for Textile Workers) from whom we have receive nothing but empty promises."

Saeed el-Gohary said "we have appealed several times to the Tanta Flax Company's administration and its investor to engage in negotiations with us and indeed we managed to meet with them last month; we came upon a tentative agreement with which to resolve this strike and on this basis we called upon the local union president to call off the strike. However, neither the administration nor the investor fulfilled their part of the agreement. Naturally this has angered the workers and they are continuing with their strike."

This strike is the first one to ever be authorized by the General Union for Textile Workers. Commenting as to why the general union authorized this strike and not any other strike since 1957, el-Gohary said "this is a special case. In its attempts to reclaim these workers' rights, the labor minister and the president of the ETUF had been engaged in negotiations with the company over the course of the past three years. However, the company's administration failed to respond. Moreover, they have been threatening to take punitive measures against these mistreated workers, that's why we moved to authorize this strike."

El-Gohary concluded by saying "we are currently considering the cancellation of the Textile Holding Company's contract with the investors, or returning the Tanta Company to state-ownership. If this is not feasible and the company is liquidated then we demand that the workers should be given proper compensations and should granted their full entitlements and rights. Hussein Megawer has filed a memo to Prime Minister Nazif regarding the sacked workers, and the other grievances. We expect the Prime Minister to intervene swiftly in order to resolve this crisis."

Hoping for workers' self-management in Tanta,

Al-Masry Al-Youm: Tanta Flax Company strike enters its 80th day

Friday, August 14, 2009

Female Sudanese Journalist Challenges Trouser Ban

Sudanese journalist challenges trouser ban
Friday, 14 August 2009

A female journalist who resigned from her prestigious job at the United Nations so as to challenge a Sudanese law barring women from wearing trousers has been placed on an indefinite travel ban by the country’s authorities, writes Dennis Itumbi

Giving up the UN job meant voluntarily giving up immunity from prosecution. Lubna Ahmed Hussein told from Khartoum that she was notified of the ban as she prepared to board a plane to honour an invite by Middle East Broadcasting Channel (MBC) to discuss the issue.

Hussein was arrested at a restaurant with other women, and faces 40 lashes and a fine of 250 Sudanese pounds ($100) if found guilty.

Hussein said that the airport security officers took her passport and pulled her aside informing her that she is on a list of individuals not allowed to leave the country.

"I protested the move and still do, it’s a sign of fear by the government, they should face the facts of the case in court and let me enjoy my freedoms outside the court," Hussein argued.
She was given no explanation and her request for a written notification of the travel ban was turned down.

Her case has drawn intensive international attention and embarrassment to Khartoum as she publicly challenged the Sudanese authorities to carry out the flogging, saying it is a degradation to women in her country.

Last week a Sudanese court adjourned Hussein’s case to request an opinion from the foreign ministry on whether she enjoys immunity as UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) employee despite resigning from that post before the trial.

Hussein said she wants the penal code containing the “indecency” clothing provisions repealed.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has told the leader of the French Communist Party, Marie-George Buffet, that he would support Hussein, praising her courage.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also expressed “concern” over Hussein’s case.

Sudanese officials have criticized the media coverage of the case accusing unspecified parties of using it for political reasons.

Solidarity from Independent Algerian Trade Union

Message of solidarity with Egypt’s independent RETA Union from the Independent Algerian Trade Union for Public Administration Employees

Addressed to Egypt’s Labor Minister & Finance Minister:

Algeria’s Syndicat National Autonome des Personnel de l’Administration Publique expresses its complete solidarity with the real estate tax employees and with their independent union; as it supports all their legitimate demands and rights.

SNAPAP will study means of raising awareness and support for this newly established Egyptian trade union on the regional and international levels.

خطاب تضامن النقابة الوطنية المستقلة لمستخدمى الإدارة العمومية بالجزائر مع موظفى الضرائب العقارية

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Striking for Trade Union Rights & Freedoms

Around 37,000 real estate tax employees went on strike across Egypt today, August 11, demanding the right to establish their own independent social-aid fund. More than 1,000 of these striking employees demonstrated outside the Council of Ministers in downtown Cairo where they petitioned Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali with slogans calling upon him to recognize their right to independently manage their finances. Ghali has reneged on his decree that these employees are to have their own social fund.

Angry employees also chanted slogans denouncing Hussein Megawer, the President of the (state-controlled) Egyptian Trade Union Federation; some even staged a mock funeral for him. Megawer was being denounced on the basis of his refusal to recognize the legal personality of their free trade union organization, and his denial of its rights to function independently of the ETUF.

According to the provisions of Egypt’s interventionist trade union legislation all unions must affiliate to their respective general trade union, of which there are 23, within the ETUF. The real estate tax employees had been affiliated to the (yellow) General Union for Employees of Banks & Insurance Companies.

The General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees was established in January 2009, and is Egypt’s first independent trade union since 1957. This historical accomplishment was realized in light of their successful nationwide strike in December 2007 through which they won increased benefits and wages (raised threefold.)

Late this evening the employees moved to suspend both their strike and demonstration pending negotiations with the Finance Ministry, but further action is expected.

In Solidarity

Monday, August 10, 2009

Israelis Release Egyptian-American Student Activist from Ramle Prison

The Egyptian-American student activist, Sarah Hawas, was released from Israel's Ramle Prison yesterday after having spent one week in the detention center. She has been issued a deportation order and now has to leave Israel via Jordan within three days.

Hawas was arrested by Israeli security forces, on August 2, while demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinian families being forcefully evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. She described the evictions at Sheikh Jarrah as being acts of “ethnic cleansing.”

Hawas, who has been visiting the West Bank and cities inside the Green Line since early July, said, “I’ve been released today, but the prison authorities still have my passport and personal belongings. I have to pick them up from Ramle" today Monday.

She said she was, “treated relatively well, especially in comparison to the conditions of refugees and illegal migrants that they are holding here."

Hawas had been briefly arrested in mid-July while participating in a campaign entitled the ‘International Day of Actions Against House Evictions and Demolitions in East Jerusalem.’ She was released, but ordered by an Israeli court to keep away from neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

She returned, in defiance of the court order, on August 2 and was arrested along with 12 other international activists who were protesting the evictions. The other 12 activists were released on the same day; but Hawas was imprisoned and ordered to leave the country.

Her Israeli (human rights) Lawyer, Iftach Cohen, is attempting to appeal against this deportation order before a district court. Sarah Hawas is an undergraduate student of literature at the American University in Cairo.

Al Masry Al Youm - Israelis release Egyptian protester

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Remember Nagasaki

Today Japan and the world commemorate the 64th anniversary of America’s atomic attack on the City of Nagasaki which killed at least 73,884. A total of around 150,000 lives are said to have been lost in the course of this inhuman atrocity and several decades onward, including those who later succumbed to exposure and other radiation-related illnesses.

War Criminal/US President Harry Truman had personally ordered the dropping of a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki only three days after he had ordered an atom bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) killing around 140,000.

The “Fat Man” plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki at 11:02 on the morning of August 9, 1945. Its mushroom cloud is said to have risen to an altitude of 18 kilometers.

So that this is never repeated: Ban the Bomb!

Remembering Nagasaki

AP - Nagasaki mayor urges worldwide nuclear arms ban

AFP - Nagasaki calls on leaders to visit atomic bomb site

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Israel Imprisons Egyptian-American Student Activist

I was just speaking on the phone with Egyptian-American student activist Sarah Hawas who is being held in Israel's Ramle Prison/Immigration Detention Center. She has been in prison since August 2 after standing in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem - who are forcefully being evicted from their homes by Zionist settlers and Israeli forces.

Sarah said that Israeli authorities are threatening to have her deported to the US. Her lawyer is attempting to avert this deportation order.

She added that she is in good condition, although she is feeling "bored, depressed and very worried. In comparison to the conditions of refugees and migrants that they are holding here, I'm being treated relatively well."

She went on to say that "we need further campaigns in solidarity with Sheikh Jarrah. Locals are being kicked out of their homes, children under 12 years old are being beaten by Israeli security forces, and live ammunition was being fired at, and within, Palestinian homes."

Sarah is an undergraduate student of literature at the American University in Cairo.

Remember Hiroshima

Today, August 6, marks the 64th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. An estimated 140,000 Japanese were killed in the aftermath. The orders for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki (August 9) were issued by US President/War Criminal Harry Truman - the same motherfucker who supported the Zionists' armed occupation of Palestine in 1948.

The Hiroshima atom bomb was dropped after a merciless campaign of US firebombings against 67 Japanese cities and towns which left some 500,000 dead and another five million homeless.

The US is the only state in the world to have dropped atomic bombs.
State terrorism outweighs any other form of terrorism.

Abolish atom bombs & nuclear weapons by abolishing states & governments.


AP - Hiroshima mayor calls for abolishing nuke weapons - Hiroshima mourns atomic bomb anniversary

AFP - Nuke-free world urged on Hiroshima bomb anniversary

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are trade unions back in fashion?

The Guardian
Saturday 1 August 2009
Are trade unions back in fashion?

As recession-weary employees look for ways to safeguard their jobs and protect their pay, Caroline Palmer says it's no surprise organised labour bodies are enjoying a revival

People, that is you and I, are living in fear, and, for once, I am not referring to swine flu, although that hasn't helped. The fear is of losing our jobs. A survey of 1,200 American workers this year asked: "How far would you go to hang on to your job?" Almost one-third said that they would behave immorally, including back-stabbing or lying. Younger respondents, aged between 18 and 34, were more likely to throw morals to the wind.

But there is an alternative, and young workers, in the UK at least, are starting to reverse a trend by joining trade unions in an attempt to improve their job security. Glen Howgate, a 24-year-old shop worker, joined his union, Usdaw, because he thought he'd need their help. "Thankfully it didn't come to that," he says. "There have been a lot of redundancies where I work, but being a union member has really boosted my confidence."

While the latest official statistics show that trade union membership in the UK fell more than 2% to 27.4% in 2008, new figures from Unison, Britain's biggest public sector trade union, indicate a rise in new members this year. More than 12,000 young people (16- to 27-year-olds) joined Unison in the first six months of this year – 1,500 up on the same period last year – and the union is predicting that this growth will continue. Overall, membership of Unison is also growing, a trend that other unions also say they are seeing.

After decades of steady decline, trade unions face their biggest challenge – persuading a new generation of workers that, in the face of the worst recession since the 1930s, being a union member really will make a difference to their working lives.

The main incentives, as one trade union official put it, "are protecting decent wages, protecting your job, and, if the worst happens, getting a fair redundancy deal. People in the private sector are getting shafted."

But here is the challenge unions face. In 1980, 55% of workers belonged to a union; today, fewer than one in five workplaces negotiate over pay, hours or holidays; and 64% of workplaces have no union members at all.

There are many reasons for this, hostile management being a common one. Symeon Cope works in the security industry and has never joined a trade union. "Where I've worked, if management got wind of anything like that, they'd find reason to sack us, or worse," he explains.

But unions must also take some of the responsibility. Their industrial base started to collapse in the 1980s and they have made little inroads into newer industries such as IT and finance. They also stand accused of being out of touch with today's workforce, led as most of them are by white, middle-aged males who cut their teeth on old-style confrontations with "the bosses".

Rob MacGregor, a national officer with Unite, has some sympathy with this view. "There is a whole generation of workers with no family or community links to organised labour," he admits. "I don't think there is hostility towards us, just no knowledge of what we do. Trade unions have a job to do to start looking like their members.

"As a middle-aged white male I am less and less like those we need to reach. Our message also needs to be more relevant. We need to be not just about career development and salaries but also about the environment and social justice."

But does being a union member make a difference in terms of how much you are paid and how secure your job is? The latest figures suggest union members earn around 12.5% more per hour than their non-union counterparts. And research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that about 3 million union members in the private sector (a fifth of all employees) enjoy a pay premium of around 10% directly as a result of strong collective bargaining.

Then there is compensation for people who have been unfairly dismissed. According to figures from the Labour Research Department, in 2004 unions won an estimated £16.2m for their members at employment tribunals. Unfair dismissal awards won by trade unions are more than three times higher than the average in a non-union backed case.

In 2007, unions won a record £330m in compensation for members through legal action. They also won £1m in equal pay claims – an average of £15,000 per member affected.

A barrister who regularly attends tribunal hearings for nurses notices a big difference in the outcomes. "Those who come up before tribunals without union representation rarely get a good outcome. They just don't understand what a huge difference it makes to the presentation of their case." Unions can't work miracles, though, and some are admitting that as hard as they are working to support their members, the volume of demand for help is leaving them overstretched.

Meanwhile unions are attempting to focus their attentions on the private sector. There have been some successes in getting unions recognised in the retail sector – Tesco is considered a particular success – and there has been a rise in union membership, not surprisingly, among people working for high street banks and the big insurance companies. Last month, Barclays staff who belong to Unite stunned their bosses with an emphatic vote – 92% – for an industrial action ballot following the bank's decision to close its final-salary pension scheme.

Despite the worry of losing their jobs, there are still pockets of militancy in some quarters as fear turns to anger. A recent meeting at the TUC between union leaders and HR directors to debate the future of union and employer relations suggests the trade union movement as a whole is moving towards a more conciliatory approach: working with employers to mitigate the effects of job losses, putting more emphasis on helping people to retrain or encouraging voluntary redundancies where possible.

Even so, unions argue employee-employer relations can still be a dirty business and old-school heavyweights epitomised by the likes of RMT general secretary Bob Crow, are needed to restore a bit of balance. Recent revelations of a secret blacklist financed by major companies in the construction industry of allegedly "troublesome" workers is a case in point.

In France, meanwhile, it seems that a more direct approach still pays dividends. While Barclays employees were contemplating whether or not to vote for strike action, a group of sacked workers in south-west France, who had threatened to blow up equipment at their factory if they did not receive compensation, were celebrating the receipt of cheques for £25,000.

Rage Against The Machine - Sleep Now In The Fire

Police officers detain Michael Moore while attempting to direct his clip for rebel rockers RATM performing on Wall Street back in January 2000.

Sleep Now in the Fire

Egypt police kill African migrant at Israel border

Fri Jul 31, 2009

EL-ARISH, Egypt, July 31 (Reuters) - Egyptian police shot dead an African migrant trying to cross the border into Israel on Friday, security and medical sources said, the latest killing in an upsurge of violence at the sensitive frontier.

The man, who was shot in the chest and right leg, was announced dead on arrival at Egypt's Rafah hospital, a medical source said. His nationality was not immediately known. A 20-year-old Eritrean was arrested as the pair tried to breach barbed wire between the two countries, a security source said. Police ordered the men to stop, opening fire when the migrants failed to do so.

At least seven African migrants have been killed at the border since mid-May, after a six-month lull. At least 28 migrants were killed at the border last year.

Analysts and aid workers say the migration route from the Horn of Africa through Egypt to Israel has seen increased migrant flow as other routes, such as via Libya to Europe, become more difficult.

Eritreans are the single largest group of migrants attempting to cross into Israel.

Monthly migrant arrests by Egypt at the border have surged, rising five-fold in May to 55 and then doubling again to 114 in June and 160 in July, security sources said. That compares to just six arrests in January.

Cairo, which had for years tolerated tens of thousands of African migrants on its territory, has deported hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers back to Asmara despite objections from the United Nations, which feared they could face torture.
(Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; Writing by Alastair Sharp)

Egypt police kill African migrant at Israel border

Egypt's rising death sentences under fire

The Associated Press
July 29,2009

Egypt's rising death sentences under fire
By Salah Nasrawi (AP)

CAIRO — Legal experts and human rights activists are criticizing Egypt for an abrupt spike in death sentences in recent months, accusing the country's courts of trying to use capital punishment to stem a soaring crime rate.

In June, 75 Egyptians were sentenced to death in comparison to just 86 for all of 2008, noted the Cairo-based Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession in a report issued last week.

The center expressed concern that the "extravagance" with which the penalty was being used meant that defendants were not receiving a fair trial. It also noted that torture is often used by police to elicit confessions.

Nasser Amin, the center's head, said the judges may be acting under government pressure to give maximum penalties to deter a rising crime rate.

"They might be pushed to issue harsher penalties to stop other would be criminals," he said to The Associated Press. "This is very dangerous because judges should ensure that justice is being served while police should take charge of ensuring security."

Under Egyptian law, 90 different crimes can warrant execution, including premeditated murder, rape, drug-related offenses, and "security offenses" such as espionage and attempting to overthrow the government.

There is very little official data available on the actual number of executions carried out in Egypt, but a 2004 report by Amnesty International recorded 382 executions between 1996 and 2001, adding that it believed the actual number to be much higher.

By comparison, Iran executed at least 346 people last year, while Saudi Arabia put 102 people to death.

The increased use of the death penalty in Egypt was driven home by a June 13 case in Damanhour, north of Cairo, where a judge handed down 24 death sentences to defendants accused of killing 11 people in a land dispute.

Few days later, a court in the Nile Delta town of Benha, sentenced seven people to death for armed assault on a rival family.

In another case this month a court in Ismailiya, on the Suez Canal, sentenced 11 to death for killing a Bedouin sheik and wounding his wife and two children in an attack.

On Monday, a man and his son were the latest to be given a death sentence in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria after they were convicted of stealing and killing a businessman and dumping his body into the desert.

All death sentences, however, are subject to appeal and the chief judge of the top appellate court, Adel Abdel Meguid, said cases will be reviewed one at a time to "ensure the verdicts are sound and the law is applied."

"These are cases related to lives of human beings and we should ensure that justice is being served," he told the state news agency Monday.

Crime has been on the rise in Egypt, particularly robbery, as the economic situation worsens amid rising food prices and mounting unemployment.

According to the U.N., 43 percent of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.

Ziyad el-Olaimi of the Democratic Lawyers Association accused the government of dealing with economic hardships with the death penalty.

"The government cannot solve the economic problems by sending more people to the guillotine," he said. "This is vengeance not justice."