26 March, 2009
"This country is on the brink of a revolution"
I visited the 10th of Ramadan industrial zone today and met some of the workers at Salemco Spinning, who have being staging a series of protests and threatened to block the Ismailiya road (as they did previously, in 2005) to get their salaries for February. Several production lines in the factory has been closed since January, but the workers also say their problems with the owners started long before the global economic crisis started, with hundreds being dismissed and others receiving arbitrary wage-cuts.
We had some problem locating the factory, since Salemco apparently has four factories in different locations in 10th of Ramadan city. As we stopped and asked for the way, a technician employed at another factory in the area gave us a long speech about the disastrous situation in the textile sector, with mass lay-offs and factories being closed down. He said he didn't use to care about politics but recently started reading the independent daily al-Doustor. "Where is the wage increased that Mubarak promised us last year?" he wanted to know. Then he went on to proclaim that "this country is on a brink of a revolution!"
That may still be an exaggeration. But I do believe that the situation in the textile industry and especially the industrial zones of Egypt is a severely under-reported story, even in the opposition media. Their isolated location and the almost complete lack of labour unions means that news about what's going on in places like 10th of Ramadan rarely reach Cairo - except when there is an actual strike that last more than a day. But tens of thousands of workers have been laid off in a few months - where do they all go?