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?


  1. Questions here:
    As far as I understand Salemco is a privately owned company, why would a wage increase, promised by Mubarak last year and which only refers to the public sector, apply to a private company? It just seems strange to me that he refers to that.
    But I aggree too little seems to be known about what happens in the industrial zones.
    Nice reporting by the way.

  2. Yes, the wage increase did only refer to the public sector and Salemco is private. But workers in the private sector always compare themselves and their wages to public sector workers. When the prime minister promised a 15 percent increase to workers in the state-owned textile industry after the Mahalla riots in April last year, several strikes and protests occured in the private sector with workers demanding the same increase.

  3. Which strikes and protests are you refering to?

  4. en français : http://melanie.souad.over-blog.com/article-29562759.html

  5. Here's one example: "The Egyptian Workers and Trade Unions Watch issued a report on the sit-in staged by the textile workers of Wabariyat Sammanoud, who occupied their factory from 13 to 19 April, demanding raising their food allowance from LE43 to LE90 similar to that decreed to Ghazl el-Mahalla by the govt, as well as receiving the 15 day bonus that Nazif announced for the textile sector following the abortion of the Ghazl el-Mahalla 6th of April Strike…"

    (I wrote 15% increase above which is wrong, it was a 15 day bonus). The management at Wabariya refused to pay it to the workers on the grounds that the company belongs to the private sector, but the workers insisted.

    Anyway, I don't find it strange at all that workers in the private sector would refer to Mubaraks may day wage increase as a symbol of the unfullfilled promises of the government to improve the living standards of ordinary Egyptians. And many working in the private of informal sector still remember Mubaraks promise with bitterness precisely because it didn't apply to them, while they were certainly affected when the government decided to raise the price on fuel and cigarettes a few weeks later.

  6. You are absolutely right looking at it from that point of view.