10 March, 2009

Shebeen el-Kom strikers denounce privatization

Click the pic for a set of photos of the striking workers in Ghazl Shebeen el-Kom, renamed Indorama after it was privatized in 2006. I've been to quite a few strikes and workers' protests in Egypt during the last few years, but this time was quite different. It was the first time the central security troops parked outside did nothing to prevent me from entering the factory or talking to the workers, and the first time officials from the state-controled union expressed their full support of the strike - and it may well be the last.

For the workers, the transfer of the factory to a private investor has been a catastrophe. The stories they told sounded very similar to that of other recently privatized companies like Telemisr or Tanta Linen Co. Since 2007, the new management has refused to pay bonuses worth a total of 10 million pounds, while allegedly paying 6 million pounds cash to about 200 workers that agreed to early retirement. Since it was privatized, the losses of the company has more than tripled - even before the global financial crisis started. Workers accuse the new owner of deliberately sabotaging the factory to eliminate competition, and of buying dysfunctional old machines from his other factories in Pakistan and Indonesia at trumped-up prices as a way to transfer resources abroad.

As a result of the current state of affairs, many of the workers called for the government to re-nationalize the company to protect their jobs. "This is happening now in Europe and the US, so why couldn't it happen here?" one of them asked.

Just inside the main gates striking workers had hung an effigy of company lawyer Ali al-Dossuqi, who apparently had described them as baltagiyya, or a bunch of thugs, in an interview on private TV-channel el-Mehwar last night.

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