The writer of this article, Giulio Regeni, was an Il Manifesto contributor based in Cairo while researching his doctoral thesis. On Wednesday, his tortured body was discovered in a ditch in the city. Il Manifesto published his last article posthumously and Red Pepper is re-publishing it here.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi presides over the Egyptian parliament with the highest number of police and military personnel in the history of the country, and Egypt ranks among the worst offenders with respect to press freedom. Yet independent trade unions are refusing to give up. The Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), a beacon of independent Egyptian trade unionism, has just held a vibrant meeting.
Although the largest room at the centre has 100 seats, the meeting hall could not contain the number of activists who came from all over Egypt for an assembly that was extraordinary in the current context of the country. On the agenda was a recommendation from Sisi’s ministers for close cooperation between the government and the country’s only official union, the Egyptian Trade Union Federation, with the explicit order to counter the role of independent trade unions and to further marginalise workers.
Although today the CTUWS is not representative of the complex galaxy of Egypt’s independent trade unionism, its call was heard, perhaps unexpectedly, by a significant number of unions. By the end of the meeting, there were about 50 acronyms that signed on to the closing statement, representing various sectors from all over the country — from transportation to schools, from agriculture to the large informal sector, from Sinai to Upper Egypt, from the Delta to Alexandria to Cairo.
The government’s policy represents a further attack on workers’ rights and trade union freedoms, greatly restricted after the military coup of July 3, 2013, and so has been the catalyst of widespread discontent among workers. But until now, the unions have found it difficult to turn their frustration into concrete initiatives.
After the 2011 revolution, Egypt experienced a surprising expansion of political freedom. It saw the emergence of hundreds of new trade unions, a true movement, of which the CTUWS was among the main protagonists, through its support and training activities.
But over the past two years, repression and co-optation by the Sisi regime have seriously weakened these initiatives, so that the two major federations (the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress and Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions) have not convened a general assembly since 2013.
Virtually every union acts only on its own, within its locale and industry. The need to unite and coordinate efforts, however, is deeply felt. That accounts for the great participation in the CTUWS meeting, as well as the many attendees who lamented the fragmentation of the movement and called for the need to work together, regardless of affiliation.
Comments from attendees came in by the dozen, concise, often passionate, and with a very pragmatic approach: The purpose was to decide together ‘what to do by tomorrow morning’, an appeal repeated like a mantra during the meeting, given the urgency of the moment and the need to draw up a short and medium-term action plan.
Notable was the presence of a large number of women, whose actions were sometimes among the most appreciated and applauded by the predominantly male audience. The assembly concluded with a decision to form a committee, as representative as possible, to take charge of laying the groundwork for a national campaign on issues of labor and trade union freedom.
The idea is to organize a series of regional conferences that, every few months, would convene in a large national assembly and possibly a unified protest. (‘In Tahrir!’ offered some of those present, invoking the square which was the scene of the revolutionary period of 2011-2013 but for more than two years has been off limits to any form of protest.)
The agenda seems very broad but includes an underlying objective to counter Law 18 of 2015, which has recently targeted public sector workers and has been strongly contested in the past few months.
Meanwhile, in recent days, in different regions of the country, from Asyut to Suez to the Delta, board workers in the textile, cement and construction industries, went on strike for as long as they could. Mostly their demands concern the extension of wage rights and indemnities to public companies.
These are benefits that workers have ceased to enjoy following the massive wave of privatisations during the last period of the Mubarak era. Many of these privatisations after the 2011 revolution have been brought before the courts, which have often nullified them, noting several cases of irregularities and corruption.
Strikes against the revocation of benefits are mostly unrelated to each other, and largely disconnected from the independent trade unions that met in Cairo. But still they represent a significant development, for at least two reasons: For one, albeit in a manner not entirely explicit, they challenge the heart of the neoliberal transformation of the country, which has undergone a major acceleration since 2004, and which the 2011 popular uprisings and their slogan, ‘Bread, Freedom, Social Justice’, have substantially dented.
The other aspect is that in an authoritarian and repressive context under General Sisi, the simple fact that there are popular and spontaneous initiatives that break the wall of fear is itself a major spur for change.
The unions’ defiance of the state of emergency and the regime’s appeals for stability and social order — justified by the ‘war on terrorism’ — signifies, even if indirectly, a bold questioning of the underlying rhetoric the regime uses to justify its own existence and its repression of civil society.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue