Revolutionary Organization of Labor
With the assassination of Sadat, U.S. imperialism had finally consolidated its consensus policy begun in 1970, i.e. a consensus among the major Arab countries (particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) who would now work either directly or indirectly with the settler state of Israel to defend the interests of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East.’ (‘The Israeli Settler Military Occupation of Lebanon: Victory or Defeat for the Palestinian People?’ Ray O. Light Newsletter #12, September 1982)
Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world. Its more than 80 million people are fully half of the entire population of Arabia. It has the most developed working class. Hence, there is great strategic importance of Egypt for the revolution in Arabia.
After living under one of the harshest and most repressive regimes in the world for the past thirty years, the Egyptian people through a powerful and growing street protest movement over an eighteen day period from January 25th until February 12th, forced President Hosni Mubarak from power. The Mubarak Regime has been one of the closest and strongest allies of U.S. imperialism, the hegemonic imperialist power, during this entire period. Toppling this brutal dictator was itself a major achievement.
Ever since Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed a peace treaty with the settler state of Israel in 1979, the Arab world has made no attempt to topple the Israeli regime by force. In collaboration with this Israeli apartheid regime, and under U.S. imperialism’s military baton, Mubarak’s reactionary regime in Egypt has protected the flow of oil for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, a cornerstone of U.S. imperialism’s power vis-à-vis its imperialist partner-rivals. In addition, the Mubarak Regime has ensured critical Suez Canal and over-flight access for U.S. military operations.
Accordingly, over these three decades, Mubarak’s Egypt has been second only to Israel as a recipient of U.S. ‘aid.’ Since 1979, Egypt has received approximately $2 billion per year in economic and military aid of which more than $1.3 billion each year has been direct military aid. Mubarak himself came to power in Egypt from his leadership position in the Egyptian Air Force. It is this U.S. imperialist-financed Mubarak-led military dictatorship that has terrorised the people of Egypt these many years.
In the first days of the massive street protests, Mubarak first tried to get the protesters to leave Tahrir (Liberation) Square and disband the protest by promising that he would not run for another term in September and he seemed to make a step in that direction by appointing a Vice President. The new Vice President was none other than Egypt’s ‘torturer in chief,’ Omar Suleiman, chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service since 1993. Indeed, Mubarak knew that by appointing Suleiman, ‘the CIA’s man in Cairo,’ and an Israeli favourite as well, he was placing himself in the best possible position to remain in power. At the same time, if the Egyptian masses were unwilling to cease their protest, Suleiman, under U.S. imperialist direction, would be strong enough to push Mubarak out of power.
When these manoeuvres failed to disperse the people, Mubarak tried to drive the protesters out of Tahrir Square through beatings by the fearsome National Police dressed in civilian clothes – with the Egyptian military ‘looking the other way.’ Even the New York Times admitted that more than 300 protesters were killed during the eighteen days of protests (which ultimately spread throughout Egypt) and many more were injured.
Throughout this period, top U.S. officials were in constant contact with top officials of the Mubarak Regime, virtually all military men. U.S. Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton consulted with Vice President Suleiman while U.S. Secretary of Defence Gates communicated with Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mullen dealt with top military official, Lt. General Sami Anan. (Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq is also a former Air Force chief.) As the Wall Street Journal observed, ‘The strongest ties between the U.S. and Egypt run through the countries’ militaries, a relationship that could be pivotal in building a new government in Cairo.’ (‘Military Ties Are Key,’ 2-7-11) Indeed, more than one U.S. pundit has observed that the extent to which U.S. foreign policy has been directed from the Pentagon during the crisis in Egypt is unprecedented.
By the 16th day of the protest, the Mubarak Regime attempted to restore normalcy by eliminating the night curfew and having businesses reopen. The result was a powerful strike wave of the Egyptian working class all across the country. The New York Times reported: ‘Labour strikes and worker protests that flared across Egypt on Wednesday affected post offices, textile factories and even the government’s flagship newspaper, as protesters recaptured the initiative in their battle for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.’ (‘Protesters in Egypt Regain Initiative as Workers Strike,’ 2-9-11) While workers had individually participated in the protests during the first two weeks, now the collective power of the working class sealed Mubarak’s fate.
A 2/10/11 Democracy Now Interview with Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East history at Stanford and former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, focused on the topic, ‘Striking Egyptian Workers Fuel the Uprising After 10 Years of Labour Organizing.’
Beinin pointed out: ‘This is huge, because there has been for the last 10 years an enormous wave of labour protests in Egypt that’s included over two million people participating in perhaps 3,300 strikes, sit-ins and other forms of protest. So that has been the background to this whole revolutionary upsurge of the last several weeks. ... But in the last few days what you’ve seen is tens of thousands of workers linking their economic demands to the political demand that the Mubarak regime step aside.’
Beinin continued: ‘The workers in Suez, and the city of Suez in particular, have probably been the most militant in confronting the Mubarak regime since this revolutionary upsurge began on January 25th. On January 25th there were two deaths in Suez. The protests were extremely militant there, attacking the local headquarters of the National Democratic Party, attacking the police station. ... The fact that the Suez Canal workers are going on strike means that one of the most important economic institutions of the country is being idled … but there are also Suez steelworkers at Suez Canal who have gone on strike and ship repair workers and textile workers around the city of Suez, because there is a special industrial zone there. So, Suez, in particular, has emerged as one of the militant sites of confrontation in this last period.’
Beinin explains that, ‘The Egyptian Trade Union Federation was established in 1957 under the Nasser regime, and since then it has been essentially an arm of the state. And it has not participated at all in the labour upsurge of the last decade. In fact, most often it’s acted in opposition to it. So, over the last 10 years or more, workers have – when they have gone on strike or otherwise taken collective action, they have either elected strike committees ... or local union committees have split and some members of them have supported insurgent workers. … But in no case have strikes or sit-ins or any other kind of collective action over the last decade been led by the official trade union structures.’*
Beinin reported that in a few cases where workers’ struggles had been especially strong over the years, independent trade unions had been formed. On January 30th, just a few days after the initial demonstration of January 25th, two independent trade unions and worker representatives from about a dozen major industrial areas came together and announced in a press conference that they are organizing an Independent Trade Union Federation. Beinin pointed out that this was illegal and therefore a revolutionary act. For Egyptian law under Mubarak has required that every union be affiliated with the Egyptian Trade Union Federation via the appropriate national sector union. Thus, the working class was set to take up its vital role in the overthrow of Mubarak.**
Especially from February 9th on, each new day saw thousands of workers in hundreds of workplaces swing into strike action with an increasingly focused political demand for the ouster of Mubarak. On February 11th, after Mubarak had refused to step down the previous day, Suleiman and the military chiefs, backed by the Obama Regime in the USA, pushed Mubarak out of power.
Since Mubarak’s ouster, a military council, selected by Vice President Suleiman (and U.S. imperialism), has been in power. It is composed of virtually all the top officials of the Mubarak Regime except Mubarak and is led by Field Marshall Tantawi, the minister of defence and military production. This military clique has closed down the parliament and dispersed the National Democratic Party, Mubarak’s political party, in partial response to the demands of the protesters. The Military Council has promised to restructure the country’s constitution, including the laws governing elections. The Council has also promised ‘fair’ elections within the next six months.
But protesters want the army to dissolve the caretaker government headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, which was appointed by Mubarak in his final weeks and contains many of his stalwarts. They also want the lifting of emergency laws that give police nearly unlimited powers of arrest and they are demanding the release of thousands of political prisoners. The military government has acceded to none of these demands. Under the aegis of U.S. imperialism, Tantawi and the military council are attempting to concede to the minimum extent possible that will allow them to persuade the protest movement to disperse and allow them to remain in power.
Toward this aim, the Obama regime has tried to keep the Egyptian masses focused on ‘national celebration’ of their ouster of Mubarak, rather than on finishing the rebellion that they have begun. But the Egyptian working class, in particular, has thus far kept its eye on the prize.
On February 19th, the Egyptian independent trade unionists’ declaration was presented under the title, ‘Revolution – Freedom – Social Justice.’ Among the excellent just and democratic demands of the Egyptian workers are: raising the national minimum wage, narrowing the gap between the poorest and richest wage, decent unemployment compensation, freedom to organise trade unions and protection for the unions and their leaders, making the huge number of temporary contract workers in factory, field, office and professional jobs, permanent and abolishing temporary contracts, stopping the privatisation program and undertaking renationalisation of all privatised enterprises, removal of corrupt managers, establishing price controls on necessities so as not to burden the poor and the right of Egyptian workers to strike, organise sit-ins, other provisions that will lead toward ‘the fair distribution of wealth,’ decent health care, and for the dissolution and seizure of financial assets and documents and seizure of the assets of the corrupt and repressive Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
These are excellent demands for the independent mass working class organisation to have as its platform; and together they constitute a large part of a national democratic revolutionary programme under current Egyptian conditions. These demands will not, indeed cannot, be met by the U.S. imperialist-dominated military council government now in power in Egypt. For the Egyptian military elite represents its own comprador interests, including its vast corporate holdings of close to half the Egyptian economy, as well as those of its sponsor, U.S. imperialism.
For these working class demands to be met, at a minimum, the Egyptian national democratic revolution against the Egyptian comprador bourgeoisie and imperialism, headed by U.S. imperialism, must be won through a working class-led national liberation front that unites all the toiling masses of the urban and rural areas and all the patriotic classes of Egypt.
Ray O’ Light Newsletter
* The AFL-CIO Solidarity Centre historically has supported the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, living up to its nickname throughout much of the world, AFL-CIA.
** The centrality of the Egyptian working class to the entire popular uprising is reflected in the fact that the April 6th Movement, widely credited with sparking the street protest movement, was itself named for the attempted strike in 2008 at the largest textile mill in Egypt where a strike of its twenty-two thousand workers for a substantial raise in the national minimum wage was being prepared for April 6th in coordination with youth and others, with the use of the internet. The Mubarak Regime dispatched a massive national police presence to the factory, a few days ahead, to suppress the workers revolt before it could be unleashed.
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