Will workers join political reformists in Egypt, or will they negotiate a separate deal with the post-Mubarak military regime?
CAIRO, Egypt -- Strikes and protests are against the law in revolutionary Egypt, thanks to a March decree from the generals who run the country by fiat. Egypt's electrified workers, however, seem to have gotten the opposite message. A cascade of strikes has gripped almost every major labor sector this month. And unlike political activists, who were driven out of Tahrir Square this summer and since have had trouble mustering quorum at Friday rallies, the workers are encountering some surprisingly unqualified success.
Organizers and political activists say that Labor's momentum could finally curtail the former regime; they point out that paralyzing strikes in February of this year put the Tahrir Square uprising over the top and spurred President Hosni Mubarak's resignation. Now, they say, months spent organizing independent trade unions beyond the control of the corrupt old state-run labor federation have yielded millions of active, politicized Egyptian workers.
"The heart of the revolution is the workers," says Kamal Khalil, a leader of the Workers Democratic Party. Since January, he has agitated for more independent labor unions; hundreds have been formed, while members of established unions like the doctors and engineers syndicate have pushed to replace mistrusted leaders and eliminate government control.