Legal battle against Mubarak's trade union federation begins
A legal case was lodged with the Administrative Court on Tuesday calling for the dissolution of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).
The appeal was filed by three members of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS), Kamal Abbas, Mohamed Omar, and Sayyed Saad el-Dein. They called for the state's sequestration of the ETUF headquarters, buildings, its Workers' University, cultural institute, hospitals and clinics.
Furthermore, the CTUWS aims at barring the ETUF from representing Egypt's workers or unions at international conferences.
During the most recent International Labor Organization (ILO) conference in Geneva, Switzerland, held on 9 June, a heated confrontation took place between Abbas and Ismail Fahmy – the acting president of the ETUF – regarding the representation of Egypt's workers. Abbas, who is the director of the CTUWS, interrupted Fahmy's speech and accused him of misrepresenting Egypt's workers and unions. Fahmy, in return, has accused Abbas of tarnishing Egypt's image and attempting to weaken the unity of Egypt's trade union movement.
Fahmy has called on the ILO to take disciplinary action against Abbas, and against the International Trade Union Confederation, which had invited him to attend the conference in Geneva. Furthermore, the ETUF has since filed a legal complaint to the General Prosecutor against the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU.) This independent federation, established on 30 January, is the first of its sort since 1957.
Addressing the Administrative Court's judges in Doqqi, Defense Lawyer Mohamed al-Damati said, "The Administrative Court ruled for the dissolution of Mubarak's so-called National Democratic Party, as it was a corrupt and oppressive party. Today, we ask the esteemed court to rule for the dissolution of another corrupt and oppressive party – namely the Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
"This federation is a diabolical apparatus of the old regime," Damati added. "This federation does not in any way represent Egypt's workers or unions. It represents only the Mubarak regime."
The lawyer made reference to the ETUF's mobilization of workers in support of Mubarak and his party during presidential and parliamentary elections. Along with the fact the the ETUF had sought to postpone its elections, slated for the end of 2011, so as not to overlap with the presidential elections. Late last year, the president of the ETUF, Hussein Megawer, announced, "Our elections must not keep us from supporting President Mubarak, as he is our true supporter, and we are his supporters.”
Megawer was a member of parliament and a member of Mubarak's party. As for the ETUF's 24 general unions, 22 are presided over by members of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party.
"The Egyptian Trade Union Federation is nearly identical to the National Democratic Party" argued Damati. The lawyer pointed out that Egypt had signed and ratified international conventions guaranteeing trade union independence, democracy and plurality, but had failed to implement these conventions over the course of more than 50 years."
Another defense lawyer, Mohsen el-Bahnasi told the panel of judges, "The legitimacy of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation is gone, as is the legitimacy of the old regime and its party. This federation was appointed by the old regime through blatant violations of trade union elections, and through vote-rigging."
Outside the courtroom, Abbas exclaimed, "The [Administrative] Court had ruled that this federation's elections [October-November 2006] were null and void. Yet the court verdict was never enforced."
The ETUF's media spokesman, Ali Othman, could not be reached for comments regarding this legal case. However, the ETUF, with an estimated membership of some four million workers, has repeatedly accused independent trade unions, and especially the EFITU, of weakening and dissolving the country's trade union unity.
Egypt's independent trade union movement resurfaced in late 2008. By April 2009, some 27,000 employees of the Real Estate Tax Authority had formed the first independent trade union since 1957. Since then, dozens of trade unions have been established independently of the ETUF.
According to statistics provided by the Land Center for Human Rights, there are now around 150 independent trade unions, including general unions and their regional union committees, nationwide. Membership in these newly established independent unions is now estimated at nearly 500,000. Over the course of the past three years, independent unions have been established for teachers, farmers, pensioners, fishermen, quarry workers, bus drivers, grocery store employees, health technicians, and nurses, amongst a host of others.
The date of the next court session is yet to be determined.