Unions organising international Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC CSI IGB) has passed a statement in support of the pro-democracy protests in Egypt, and called for trade unions around the world to join a Day of Action for Democracy in Egypt on 8 February.

The ITUC issued the statement on February 4 from their general council meeting in Brussels. Union protests on February 8 will include demonstrations at Egyptian embassies, as well as unions continuing to press their governments to demand democratic transition in Egypt and to ensure that those responsible for the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations are brought to justice.

Like most corrupt regimes, the official union movement in Egypt is also corrupt and manipulated by the ruling elite to keep workers under control and subservient. Independent workers organisations like the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) and unions like the Real Estate Tax Authority Workers (RETA) have had to struggle against the repressive regime just to survive. The Egyptian government tried to silence the CTUWS, closing down two of its regional offices and its headquarters in 2007. Bowing to an Egyptian court decision and international criticism, the government allowed CTUWS to reopen in July 2008. RETA, the first independent trade union organisation in 50 years formed in 2008 with 27,000 members, has had its application for recognition continually ignored by the regime.

The protests and meetings in Tahrir Square in Cairo have stimulated the formation of the Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions on January 30, 2011, bringing together existing independent unions of health sector employees and tax inspectors as well as worker representatives from the country’s key manufacturing locations, public employees and other sectors. The new confederation have issued a statement regarding their constitution in this historic moment in Egypt and called for a general strike.

"Egypt Federation for Independent Unions Constitutional Body invites all Egypt workers to create civil committees in order to defend their workplace, workers and citizens during these critical times and to organize protest actions and strikes in the workplaces, except for vital sectors workplaces, to realize Egypt people claims." the founding statement says.

They have also attacked the legitimacy of the General Federation of Trade Unions to represent workers and people of Egypt: "This struggle undertaken by workers paved the way in Egypt for the current revolution of the people… Therefore, the Egyptian workers and employees refuse that the “governmental” General Federation of Trade Unions represents them or speaks on their behalf. This federation that denied them their rights and their demands and that issued lately an infamous statement on the 27th of January announcing that it will make every effort to contain any workers protest movement during these days."

Speaking from Brussels, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow, formerly president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), said "We will continue to push the international community to put pressure on the regime of Hosni Mubarak to respect the wishes of the Egyptian people. Our support for Egypt’s independent trade unions and the other forces for democracy is unwavering, and we are determined that there shall be no impunity for the people responsible for the killings, assaults and intimidation of innocent people,”

The ITUC resolution states in full

People across Egypt have risen in massive numbers to demand change, for democracy, justice, and fundamental rights and to insist on the end of the discredited Mubarak regime. Decades of repression, poverty, imprisonment of political opponents and violation of human rights including, through the imposition of state controlled organisations, the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining have stifled social and economic progress, and denied social justice.

The ITUC expresses its full support and solidarity to the Egyptian people in their quest for respect for fundamental freedoms and rights and its deepest condolences to the many victims of the Mubarak regime’s violent repression of the legitimate protest actions which have taken place throughout the country. It pays tribute to all those who have stood up for democracy, and insists that human values must prevail over geopolitical and economic interests.

As in Tunisia and elsewhere, worsening unemployment, particularly amongst young people, has combined with resentment at the lack of political freedom to catalyse popular mobilisation against the regime. The ITUC salutes the independent trade union movement, which has stood at the forefront of the mobilisation, and recognises the critical role that the independent unions must play in putting Egypt on the path to genuine democracy and in ensuring social and economic justice for the Egyptian people.

The General Council:

  • INSTRUCTS the General Secretary to continue to closely monitor the situation in Egypt, and to assist the development of the independent trade union movement there;
  • REQUESTS all affiliates to call upon their governments to exert maximum international pressure for democratic transition in Egypt including full respect for freedom of association, collective bargaining and the other core labour standards; and,
  • FURTHER REQUESTS all affiliates and solidarity support organisations to assist in every possible way the development of genuine, independent trade unions in Egypt and their actions to promote democracy, social justice, equality and decent work.
  • INSISTS that those responsible for ordering physical attacks, or who sought in any way to use force to prevent people from exercising their right to freedom of expression or to demonstrate must be brought to trial and cannot remain unpunished.