Friday, May 8, 2015

Egypt: No reason to celebrate Labor Day this year

Mada Masr

In unusual break with tradition, no Labor Day celebrations in Egypt this year

For the first time in living memory, Egypt is not celebrating Labor Day.

The only official commemoration took place on Monday, April 27 behind closed doors at Cairo’s Police Academy in the presence of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, governmental officials and state-appointed leaders from the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF.)

This commemoration, which was not televised, is reported to have involved 10 workers who received honorary medals. It is the first time ever that the president of Egypt has not delivered a Labor Day address.

During Monday’s commemoration, Gebali al-Maraghi, chief of the state-controlled ETUF, presented Sisi with a declaration from his federation vowing that its members would reject strikes and refrain from protests, sit-ins or other industrial actions.

ETUF leaders called instead for dialogue and collective bargaining between workers, the state and employers, according to the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.

The Cabinet also announced that there would not be a working day off, as this year the official holiday coincides with the weekend.

This comes during the same week in which a judicial decree was issued by the Supreme Administrative Court dictating that public sector employees who partake in strikes will be forced into early retirement. The judges who issued this decree, which cannot be appealed, claimed that a military decree issued in 2011 and Sharia law both prohibit labor strikes.

statement was issued by a host of Egyptian human rights organizations on Labor Day in which they denounced the aforementioned judicial decree as violating Article 15 of the 2014 Constitution, as well as international rights conventions to which Egypt is party.

“We are witnessing the worst Labor Day in Egyptian history this year,” commented Ali Fattouh, an independent union organizer and bus driver employed at Cairo’s Public Transport Authority.

Fattouh argued that the government is pushing back on workers’ rights and the organizational freedoms of unions, while Egypt’s largest independent labor federation — the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (ETIFU) — “is falling in line with the government’s dictates, denouncing workers’ right to strike while championing the policies of the ruling regime.”

Like Fattouh, many other independent unionists, labor rights organizations and leftist groupings are not celebrating Labor Day this year, as they believe there is nothing to celebrate in 2015.

Since their emergence in the 2011 uprising until 2013, independent labor federations had celebrated Labor Day in Tahrir Square. However, they were only capable of organizing small rallies involving just a few hundred workers, revealing the inability of these independent federations to mobilize their ranks.

Following the military led regime change on July 3, 2013, Tahrir Square was made off-limits for workers’ rallies, and in 2014 independent unionists celebrated Labor Day indoors.

Workers at the state-owned petroleum services company Petrotrade issued a statement on Thursday declaring, “We are not celebrating Labor Day this year, as there is no cause for celebration.”

“This is the fifth Labor Day since the January 25 revolution, and yet none of the revolution’s demands have been achieved, nor has social justice been realized,” the statement added.

Despite government pledges since 2011, neither a new labor law nor a new trade union law has been issued to replace the repressive and outdated laws regulating workers rights, the Petrotrade workers continued.

The statement argued that Egypt is suffering from a counter-revolution, indicated by the fact that a host of striking workers and independent unionists have been subjected to punitive measures nationwide, including disciplinary hearings, relocations, lay-offs, prosecution and trials.

Dozens of workers across the country are presently being prosecuted for instigating strikes and labor unrest, as well as incurring losses for industries with their work stoppages.

Fattouh explained that he and 31 of his co-workers at the Public Transport Authority are standing two separate trials on May 15 and June 13 before the State Council Court on charges of instigating strikes in the years 2012 and 2013.

“We are being sent to court, and possibly to jail, simply for exercising our right to organize a peaceful strike at our workplaces,” said Fattouh.

 “When you have a court of law outlawing the right to strike, which is clearly safeguarded by international conventions and domestic legislation, what is there left to celebrate on Labor Day?” he argued.

But Maraghi is quoted in Al-Ahram as declaring that “Egypt is currently blessed with a climate of freedom and democracy,” and “that the ETUF is the only legitimate representative for all of Egypt’s workers, regardless of their political tendencies.”

Maraghi concluded by singing Sisi’s praises, while claiming: “there is no room for politicization of the union movement.” 

Yet even Ibrahim Eissa, a TV anchor on the show 25/30, which broadcasts on the privately owned ONtv channel, criticized Sisi’s labor commemoration this year.

Eissa argued that Labor Day should be celebrated on May 1, as is the national and international tradition.

“Labor Day should be commemorated in a factory, company or workplace,” he added, asking Sisi, “Oh president, if you celebrate Labor Day at the Police Academy, then where are you going to celebrate Egypt’s National Police Day?”

*Photo of 2011 Labor Day rally in Tahrir Square, by Jano Charbel

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