by Andrew Pollack
On Feb. 11 the masses of Egypt succeeded in driving Hosni Mubarak from office. After repeated mobilization of millions in Cairo and elsewhere, they had begun to march on state institutions in the capital (as had already happened in Suez and Alexandria). To forestall a split in the army, the military hierarchy pushed out Mubarak and declared themselves in control.
The masses celebrated with delirious joy the fall of the dictator, as did their compatriots and allies abroad. They proceeded immediately to mobilize to get rid of the Mubarak-appointed cabinet ministers and to demand from the military the fulfillment of their still unsatisfied program for freedom and social justice.
Workers in Egypt and in Tunisia are using the new space afforded them to continue to demand meaningful political change and to strike for their own economic needs, at company and industry level as well as nationwide.
Tunisians have continued to demonstrate and strike, forcing all the ministers of the ruling party, including the prime minister, to resign one by one in the weeks since Ben-Ali fled.
Alhem Belhadj, a Tunisian revolutionary socialist and member of the Ligue de la Gauche Ouvriere (Left Workers’ League, LGO), which is part of the Jan. 14 Front uniting various left-wing groups, told Green Left Weekly that after the revolution, the police and militia of the former ruling party sought to destabilize the situation and create panic. So people organized themselves for self-defense: “Now we have Committees to Defend the Revolution. In a lot of regions, trade-union regional and local committees have emerged.”
The post-Ben Ali regime, said Belhadj, “can’t organize a constituent assembly. They can’t provide social justice. So we are asking people to organize themselves to do these tasks. The LGO is sponsoring a conference of revolutionary organizations of the Arab region in Tunis in late March.
In Egypt, the masses forced the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq, the prime minister appointed by Mubarak. Western ruling classes and their media see hope in the new Egyptian regime for a “corruption-free” capitalism—ignoring the fact that the billions appropriated by Egypt’s ruling class in recent years, as in the U.S., was traceable to the normal functioning of capitalism, in this case under conditions of a declining capitalist system ridden with crisis, in which speculative capital became the favored means of enrichment in the absence of opportunities for investment in manufacturing and services. (See Timothy Mitchell’s article for MERIP on this topic.)
The masses, in contrast, are demanding the renationalization of industries given away by Mubarak and his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Already in 2009, workers on strike—such as at the Tanta Flax and Oil Company—were raising the need for workers’ control to ensure that nationalization was not just a cover, as it had been in the past, for siphoning off revenue to the country’s ruling class, both private investors and military businessmen.
The military hierarchy at first threatened to break strikes, but sensing their weakness, switched quickly to pleading with workers to stay on the job. Workers on strike since Mubarak’s fall have often called for their comrades in other plants to form or revive Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which were set up during the uprising to protect workplaces and neighborhoods against attacks by Mubarak’s forces.
The new independent union federation issued a statement a week after Mubarak’s fall that listed a series of demands—political, economic, and social—that would take forward this process of permanent revolution (see their statement below).
Bulletins by the Bureau of the Fourth International (FI) have echoed these demands, calling for rank-and-file committees to carry forward the struggle against the remnants of the old regime through a radical program of political and social demands.
To finish not just with ousted dictator Ben Ali but with his whole system, said the FI, “will require opening a process of free elections for a Constituent Assembly. This process must be based on the organization of committees, councils, coordination and popular councils that have emerged from the process if it is not to be confiscated by a new oligarchic regime.
“In this process, the anti-capitalists will defend the key demands of a program breaking with imperialism and capitalist logic. … This is the program of a democratic government that would be at the service of the workers and the population.” To gain space to do so, “the Tunisian and Egyptian people must be able to count on the whole of the international labor movement, [and] on all the global justice movement.”
The FI noted that the dynamic of these revolutions “will inevitably encourage the mobilizations of migrant communities from the Arab region, who are overexploited and oppressed in the advanced capitalist countries”—e.g., France and elsewhere in Europe, and in the United States, where FBI, grand jury, and Homeland Security repression of Palestinians, Yemenis, and other Arab and Muslim communities is rising.
The FI also pointed to the inspirational impact the Arab revolution would have on young workers in the imperialist core. We’ve seen this already in Wisconsin, but it is just as relevant for youth in Europe wondering what additional steps are necessary after repeated general strikes have yet to yield concrete gains.
The FI also spoke to the duty of workers in imperialist countries to support the right of new regimes in the Arab world to cancel debts owed to imperialist banks, the restitution of the goods and financial assets of the dictators, protection of the national sovereignty of the people against the pressures of international capitalism, etc. To achieve this, direct links with unions and other organizations in the Arab world must be established.
The confrontation with the military in Egypt and Tunisia has only been postponed, not avoided. To the extent that workers’ self-organization flourishes and unifies before that final confrontation, the loss of life can be drastically minimized, especially since organized workers can win over the vast bulk of the soldiers. For this process to proceed, however, the creation of mass revolutionary parties with such a strategic perspective is essential.
Egyptian independent trade unionists’ declaration
Cairo, 19 February 2011
Revolution – Freedom – Social Justice
O heroes of the 25 January revolution! We, workers and trade unionists from different workplaces which have seen strikes, occupations and demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of workers across Egypt during the current period, feel it is right to unite the demands of striking workers that they may become an integral part of the goals of our revolution, which the people of Egypt made, and for which the martyrs shed their blood.
We present to you a workers’ programme which brings together our just demands, in order to reaffirm the social aspect of this revolution and to prevent the revolution being taken away from those at its base who should be its beneficiaries.
The workers’ demands which we raised before the 25 January revolution and were part of the prelude to this glorious revolution are:
Raising the national minimum wage and pension, and a narrowing of the gap between minimum and maximum wages so that the maximum is no more than 15 times the minimum in order to achieve the principle of social justice which the revolution gave birth to; payment of unemployment benefit, and a regular increment which will increase with rising prices.
The freedom to organise independent trade unions without conditions or restrictions, and the protection of trade unions and their leaders.
The right of manual workers and clerical workers, peasant farmers and professionals, to job security and protection from dismissal. Temporary workers must be made permanent, and dismissed workers to be returned to their jobs. We must do away with all excuses for employing workers on temporary contracts.
Renationalisation of all privatised enterprises and a complete stop to the infamous privatisation programme which wrecked our national economy under the defunct regime.
Complete removal of corrupt managers who were imposed on companies in order to run them down and sell them off.
Curbing the employment of consultants who are past the age of retirement and who eat up 3 billion of the national income, in order to open up employment opportunities for the young.
Return to the enforcement of price controls on goods and services in order to keep prices down and not to burden the poor.
The right of Egyptian workers to strike, organise sit-ins, and demonstrate peacefully, including those striking now against the remnants of the failed regime, those who were imposed on their companies in order to run them down prior to a sell-off. It is our opinion that if this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right to a loaf of bread.
Health care is a necessary condition for increasing production.
Dissolution of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation which was one of the most important symbols of corruption under the defunct regime. Execution of the legal judgements issued against it and seizure of its financial assets and documents. Seizure of the assets of the leaders of the ETUF and its member unions and their investigation.
The article above first appeared in the March 2011 edition of Socialist Action newspaper.