Thousands of workers fired at Shebin el-Kom factory, part of corrupt privatization deal
REED LINDSAY: For these factory workers, the Egyptian revolution was only the beginning of their struggle. The employees of the Shebin Il Koum Textiles Factory, two hours north of Cairo, have been at the forefront of Egyptâ€™s surging labor movement. They staged a month-long strike soon after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak. Now, they are taking their fight to the Egyptian courts, demanding that their privatized factory be renationalized.
Workers chanting at Makama Magles Dowla: Up for sale! My country! Wake up everybody! My country! Sold Sold! My country!
REED LINDSAY: In 2007, the Mubarak government privatized the Shebin Il Koum Textiles Factory, selling it to an Indonesian company called Indorama for a fraction of its market value. Workers claim Indorama cut production, fired 5,000 workers and eliminated the benefits of those that remained. Last September, emboldened by the revolution, an Egyptian court ruled the privatization had been corrupt and ordered the government to take back the factory. But the government has appealed the decision. Meanwhile, workers say pro-government thugs continue ca campaign of intimidation and threats.
WORKER: We told the government, we are not negotiating with thieves. If you negotiate with the investor, you are also negotiating with Mubarak. You’ll negotiate with Ahmed Ezz and all of the investors in the country. We do not want to negotiate with thieves!
REED LINDSAY: The workers at Shebine Il Koum are not alone.
In the months following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian judiciary ordered the renationalization of five privatized companies. In every case, the court ruled that the companies were sold for for less than their market value in deals considered corrupt. After the privatizations, the new owners downsized the companies, firing thousands of workers and reducing production. So far, the government has refused to take the companies back into the public sector. Instead, the administration of Kemal Al Ganzouri, handpicked by the ruling military regime, has appealed the court ruling. Ganzouri himself is impliated in the corrupt privatization deals, some of which he oversaw when he served the first time as prime minister under Hosni Mubarak some 15 years ago.
If the court order to renationalize the privatized companies stands, it could represent the beginning of a rollback to the neoliberal economic model pushed by Mubarak and the military junta that succeeded him.
WORKER: There are no proper working standards, nor proper salaries, and we’re thrown in the street. What are we to do? We spoke to the Military Council, to PM Kamal el Ganzouri, we went to Essam Sharaf (former PM), and to everyone else, No one wants to open their doors to us, and treat the workers like they have no value, and no purpose! Gamal Abdel Nasser thought the workers’ voice was pivotal and everything related to factories.
REED LINDSAY: The legal battle is dragging on for workers at Shebin Il Koum and the other factories. On Wednesday, the workers descended on this Cairo courthouse, but the judge didnâ€™t show up.
LAWYER: We came to attend the hearing, but the judges didn’t show up. They told us 10 days ago to come and file our claim, and today we arrived to find no one at our hearing.
REED LINDSAY: On this day, the workersâ€™ struggle was upstaged by a protest in favor of the Islamist presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismael. Workers strikes played a major role in the uprising against Mubarak, but they were ignored by many journalists, who instead focused on middle class activists in Tahrir Square.
In the last year, the labor actions have only intensified, but media coverage remains scant.
WORKER: They’re letting the country fall apart, but we want the country to get back on its feet. Look at the companies, the factories, the people who can’t find work. Production should improve the economy, so the country can get back on its feet. All of the country’s problems will then be solved. We are being distracted by
Abou Ismail (presidential race).
REED LINDSAY: Many of the Shebin Il Koum employees have not worked since the court ruling in September. They will have to wait at least three more days.
After waiting for several hours, they were told to come back on Saturday.
Reed Lindsay, for The Real News Network, in Cairo, Egypt.
WORKER: I’m letting you know, you’ve filmed me before: our voices still haven’t been heard!