Workers at the state-owned Misr Spinning and Weaving Company [MSWC] have returned to work after a fourteen-day strike.
After two weeks of strike action, the 16,000 striking MSWC workers resumed work after the company management and a committee of local MPs promised to meet their pay demands within a week.
The workers had been on strike demanding an unpaid bonus worth ten-percent of their annual salaries, an increased share of company profits, increased food allowances, and the replacement of the company’s Commissioner-General with a board of directors.
In a leaflet distributed to strikers signed by the Commissioner-General and a number of local MPs, the workers were informed that the key demands of the strike including the unpaid bonuses and an increase in the food allowance from LE48 to LE90 a month would be met providing they returned to work.
Workers involved in the strike have told independent media they are ready to continue the strike next week after the end of the Eid al-Adha holiday if the promise to consider their demands proves hollow.
The strike of the Mahalla workers is hugely important. Attacks on the strikers in the government media increased sharply in recent days, with claims that “terrorist organisations” were behind the workers’ action. Yet despite threats of a lockout, media smears, and security service checkpoints being set up around the city, the workers have forced the largest state owned company in Egypt to listen to their demands.
When the security forces tried to intimidate workers, thousands of local residents and strikers marched through the streets of Mahalla. Despite the continued presence of security forces around the city, they have reaffirmed the right of workers to strike in a country renowned for the suppression of workers’ disputes. And whilst future repression is possible, the current pause marks a step forward for workers across Egypt.
The anger of workers in Mahalla has been driven by increases in the cost of living, following a package of ‘economic reforms’ imposed by the military regime that has seen inflation spiral upwards to 33%.
Prices soared over the winter, driving a wave of strikes many of which have been met with harsh repression. A previous attempted strike by workers in Mahalla on 7 February followed spontaneous protests in seven governorates over the slashing of subsidized bread rations.
The scale of the workers mobilisation in Mahalla, and its success in challenging the regime should give confidence to workers across Egypt that they do not have to accept the starvation policies of El-Sisi.