By James Parks, AFL-CIO
January 31, 2011—Representatives of the Egyptian union movement announced they are forming a new labor federation, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, which will represent workers in more than a dozen industries and enterprises. The federation also plans to set a date for a nationwide general strike for democracy and fundamental rights. Many people believe the labor demonstrations in the past two years played a significant role in giving Egyptian citizens courage to stand up to the government.
||Egyptian citizens protest in the streets. Photo courtesy of ITUC
In a letter today to Egyptian union leaders Kamal Abbas and Kamal Abu Eita, recipients of last year’s George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the workers’ “extraordinary courage and defiance of a ban on free and independent unions.”
Yesterday we learned that your organizations joined with retirees, the technical health professionals and representatives of workers in the important industrial areas to announce the organization of a new labor federation to represent workers in a new era of democracy in Egypt. We salute you in this brave endeavor and join the international labor movement in standing with you.
The peoples’ movement for democracy in Egypt and the role unions are playing for freedom and worker rights inspires us and will not be forgotten.
Abbas is general coordinator of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) and Eita heads the Real Estate Tax Authority Workers (RETA), the first independent trade union in Egypt in more than 50 years. The Egyptian government has not formally recognized RETA, but has ignored its application for recognition.
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 was formed after municipal tax collectors held an 11-day sit-in strike in front of the Ministry of Finance, gathered 30,000 signatures and elected local union committees in the provinces. It took more than a year for them to gain recognition for their independent union.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) joined in congratulating the Egyptian unions and supporting the call for a general strike. In a statement, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
The union actions will increase pressure for genuine democratic change and respect for human rights. Just as in Tunisia, where the ITUC-affiliated UGTT has been at the forefront of the democracy movement, we salute the courage and determination of Egypt’s working people in standing up to an autocratic and illegitimate regime.