|Striking Egyptian property tax collectors demonstrate in downtown Cairo in 2007.|
Angered by severe economic pressures and frustrated by inadequate representation, Egyptian workers started to take to the streets in a wave of strikes and other public protests in the early 2000s. Despite strong government repression, more than 2 million Egyptian workers have been involved in 3,000 strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins since 2004.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council, meeting in Orlando, Fla., this week, awarded the Egyptian union movement for the 2009 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award. The award will be formally presented later this year. Click here to read the resolution.
The Egyptian government has responded to the protests with a mixture of red tape and outright violence. Yet Egyptian workers haven’t backed down: As a result, the council said:
They are leading the most significant social movement in the Arab world since World War II, and the largest labor unrest in Egypt since the late 19th century. Egyptian workers are continuing to challenge their employers, their unions and their nation’s government.
To learn more about the Egyptian workers fight for their rights, check out a new report, “Justice for All: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in Egypt,” released recently by the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. Download the report here.
The most successful action so far in the fight for Egyptian workers’ rights was the formation of the Independent General Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Workers (IGURETA), the first independent Egyptian trade union in more than half a century.
In December 2007, about 3,000 municipal real estate tax collectors held an 11-day sit-in strike in front of the Egyptian Ministry of Finance. The strike ended with the municipal tax collectors being granted a bonus equal to two months pay and a pay raise of approximately 325 percent.
Buoyed by their success, that strike committee and its supporters gathered 30,000 signatures endorsing a new, independent union and elected local union committees. In April 2009, the workers submitted their application for IGURETA to become an independent union. After tense negotiations, the government accepted the application.
The council also cited the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), a nongovernmental labor support organization that provides important institutional support for Egyptian workers Established in March 1990, CTUWS aims, among other goals, to promote independent trade unionism, defend workers’ right to strike and develop democratic practices in Egypt.
In its statement, the council said:
The IGURETA and the CTUWS represent a growing representative labor movement for workers in Egypt. As leading examples of Egyptian workers’ dedication to fighting for freedom of association and workers’ rights, the AFL-CIO is pleased to award the IGURETA and CTUWS, on behalf of all Egyptian workers, the 2009 George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award.
The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions. Previous winners have included U Maung Maung of Burma, Nancy Riche of Canada, Wellington Chibebe of Zimbabwe, Ela Bhatt, the founder of India’s Self Employed Women’s Association, the Liberian rubber workers and Colombian activist Yessika Hoyos.