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Foundation of the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress

category north africa | workplace struggles | news report author Monday October 31, 2011 15:47author by Equipo de Trabajo para el Norte de África - Confederación General del Trabajo Report this post to the editors

For Democratic Active and Workers’ Representative Trade union Organization

In a meeting held at the Syndicate of Commercial Professionals “Togareen” in Abbassiya, Cairo on Friday 14th October 2011 the representatives of 149 trade unions announced the foundation of the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress which is open for all the Egyptian workers without discrimination, stretches its hands to all of them who wish to establish their active independent unions and to all who work with it to liberate trade union rights from the shackles which restrained them for long bitter decades and to all who are biased to the right of the Egyptian workers to establish their trade unions freely and struggle to put fair labour standards into effect. [Castellano]

Foundation of the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress

For Democratic Active and Workers’ Representative Trade union Organization

The Congress Holds its Second Meeting After Six Weeks
Six Committees to Complete Congress Foundation Procedures

In a meeting held at the Syndicate of Commercial Professionals “Togareen” in Abbassiya, Cairo on Friday 14th October 2011 the representatives of 149 trade unions announced the foundation of the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress which is open for all the Egyptian workers without discrimination, stretches its hands to all of them who wish to establish their active independent unions and to all who work with it to liberate trade union rights from the shackles which restrained them for long bitter decades and to all who are biased to the right of the Egyptian workers to establish their trade unions freely and struggle to put fair labour standards into effect.

The Congress is inspired by the history of the Egyptian trade union movement which was deep-rooted before the beginning of the 20th century and is based on a decades-long struggle against oppression, depredation, impoverishment and marginalization; and it commemorates the martyrs, strugglers and labour leaders who sacrificed their lives in defence of democratic trade union rights for the Egyptian workers. In their first founding meeting of the Congress, the trade union and labour leaders, activists and civil society organizations’ representatives considered the current situation of the labour and trade union movement and the challenges confronting it which were diagnosed in the following:

  • On the eve of the Revolution, it was apparent for all who can see that the Egyptian workers can no longer live according to the present equation: the prevalent minimum wage level which can hardly meet the needs of a single individual, the temporary labour contracts which prevailed the labour relations, the permanent organized jobs which were receding, the black labour relations which dominated the private sector, the public business sector which was depredated and its units were liquidated or privatized with thousands of their workers laid off, the social security network which collapsed with the collapse of the public sector, the unemployment rates which were ever growing, and the seasonal and informal labour patterns which were escalating.

    The labour movement had started to challenge the legal constraints to form independent trade unions based on the actual situation on the ground and to its legal rights according to international agreements. The Government of Egypt found great difficulties to evade its commitments to international labour standards in light of the continuous pressures of the International Labour Organization (ILO). The amendment of the Law on Trade Unions was “Required Immediately”!!. There was serious paradox between an official trade union organization whose hypothetical life has expired and is awaiting a historical sentence to terminate it and the rising protest movement which aspires to break the yoke and to possess its own organization tools but is deprived of its right to organize its trade unions.

  • When the crisis of the whole Egyptian population exploded in shade of the corrupted regime, when categories of the population revolted on 25 January, 2011 refusing to live under unemployment, poverty and silence of the oppressed and while the official organization or the so called Egyptian Trade Union Federation went to the extremes in supporting Mubarak during the revolution and pretending that it was the representative of the Egyptian workers .... those workers, by their own means, announced their genuine and authentic situation vis-à-vis the regime which subjected them to starvation, oppression and humiliation. Their strikes were successive - to the extent that they reached civil disobedience on 9 and 10 February before the regime was toppled down - so that the labour movement crowns its considerable role in effecting the zero count to terminate the corrupted despotic regime. Thus the movement drove a final painful blow to that regime in the last days of its history and exposed to light the urgent need to manifest itself as an independent movement separated completely from the official trade union organization and determined to be liberated from its offensive captivity.

    When the revolution broke out, the workers were worthier to express their pains and call for their rights to change their conditions; they were worthier because their rights were more violated. Although they are the makers of life their share in national income shrinks day after day. In spite of their long history in participation in collective independent movements they became amongst the most categories deprived of the right to organize themselves.

  • During the months that followed the removal of Mubarak, the democratic labour movement managed to score some success in the field of trade union freedoms represented in the following:
    • Less than two months after the revolution, the movement won a very important round by removing the legal barriers on the right to establish unions. The Minister of Manpower announced the trade union freedoms which enable the workers to form their trade unions in tens of the work sites.

    • In spite of the transition period difficulties, the liquidity of ideas and the abundance of undocumented reasoning, the movement achieved fair success in promoting the principles of trade union freedom and elaborating the importance of establishing trade unions. This encouraged various categories of the population - some of whom were far from the labour movement - to form trade unions in order to attain their rights and achieve their demands.

    • In spite of the severe battles which the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) has launched to reject the workers’ rights to form their independent unions, the democratic labour movement achieved a new success on Thursday 4/8/2011. The cabinet of ministers issued a decision to implement the courts sentences which annul ETUF’s elections for the term 2006 - 2011. The Minister of Manpower and Immigration was put in charge of implementing these court sentences which include dissolving ETUF’s board of directors and forming a temporary committee to manage ETUF until elections are conducted under judiciary supervision. The Minister will also issue all the decisions and make the related necessary procedures in cooperation with the concerned bodies.
Although it was supposed that the implementation of the aforementioned court sentences should lead to dissolving all of ETUF’s institutions and branch unions, and in spite of the defects of the Temporary Committee - which comprised five of ETUF’s dissolved board of directors and is headed by one of its leaders who denies the principles of trade union freedoms - the issue is not to conduct elections, change ETUF’s leaders or restructure its institution. The issue is to dismantle the principles upon which the institution was built, liberate trade union action, liberate the workers and enable them to establish their democratic and independent trade unions. However, the fall of ETUF’s group, which dominated trade union action in our country for long years through oppression, tyranny and corruption, was not an easy thing. It was a very expressive change and a step to pave the tough road towards salvation and freedom. This step could not be completed without issuing the law on trade union freedoms and removing all the obstacles which hindered the right to establish trade unions during the previous agonizing period. Accordingly, it was necessary to introduce certain changes in the approaches of the labour and trade union movement as follows:
  • The dissolution of ETUF’s board of directors which was followed by less than six weeks by the dissolution of seven general trade unions will not be the end of the story. It is supposed that the boards of the other general trade unions, at least, will be dissolved very soon in spite of the strong resistance of the chairman of the temporary committee in cooperation with the presidents of these unions. It is also supposed that all of ETUF’s boards and institutions must be dissolved according to the correct logic and the provisions of the law.

  • Moreover, the invalid trade union term expires on the 27th of this month (October 2011) and will consequently lose its legality which is based on the current defective law on trade unions (No. 35 for the year 1976 and its amendments).

  • The above mentioned facts open the way before big numbers of workers, particularly from the public business sector and the big industrial companies, to withdraw their membership in ETUF which owns vast resources. Those workers truly consider ETUF’s assets their own money which was collected from them as membership fees by the check-off system and ETUF accumulated them year after year while the workers were left to suffer.

  • Those workers have the right now, more than any time ago, to establish genuine democratic unions which can possibly unite or remain separated without waiving the right in the assets and wealth of ETUF and its affiliated institutions. The success of all these approaches and the emergence of a positive democratic movement on the ground depends upon the issuance of the law on trade union freedoms. In spite of these positive steps, there are several challenges confronting the Egyptian workers’ in their attempt to acquire their full and secure right to establish their unions freely and their ability to build their active and democratic trade union organization(s). The challenges include:
    • The risks contained in failure to issue the law on trade union freedoms until now; or in other words, the failure to annul the law on trade unions (No. 35 for 1976 and amendments) which is still active with all its restrictions and defects.

    • The contrast which characterizes the current transitional stage which contains the old organizations as well as the new ones and Mubarak’s men are scattered between Tura Prison and many leading and effective institutions in the country !! It is a strange and exceptional situation full of risks that jeopardize the workers’ rights, nurture corruption and restricts the ground necessary for the growth of the democratic labour movement.

    • The role played by the chairman of the temporary committee which manages the Egyptian Trade Union Federation and his repeated endeavors to confine the progress of trade union freedoms starting from his attempts to keep ETUF’s general unions existing and ending with his letters to government administrative bodies asking them to refuse recognition of the new unions which are independent from the “official ETUF”, as if nothing has happened at all !!

    • The difficulty of the current transitional stage which is full of contradictions, and ambiguity. New political players and powers appear on the Egyptian arena. Some of them consider the trade union movement as one of the important and effective play cards particularly in shade of the unprecedented heat of the Egyptian political life with its challenges and opportunities for all.

    • The Egyptian trade union movement which is developing, struggling and tended towards organization during the past four years has not yet attained the objective of organizing its unions nor developed their capacities to achieve their goals. Further, the movement does not have the capacities necessary for building active, representing and democratic unions.

    • Long decades of restrictions and corruption made Egyptian workers lack the experience of establishing unions free from the state. Regaining this experience goes on a thorny and difficult road staring from the deformed meaning of the “trade union” which has become mixed in the Egyptian dictionary during the last decades with the “administration of the governmental body” and ending with the bitter practices of the official organization which turned its back to the workers’ demands and stood in one line with the government and security bodies which condemn, oppress and destroy the independent unions.

    • The difficulties which practically confront the possibilities to establish trade unions on the ground: starting from restrictions connected with forcing categories or sectors of workers to join membership with ETUF’s general trade unions, the difficulties which face withdrawal from membership, the administrative difficulties to establish trade unions in shade of the collusion between the administration, labour office employees, businessmen and ETUF leaders (such a business relationship which is still existing both on the ground and under the table), and finally the lack of experience to establish trade unions independent from the state or to manage their activities because Egyptian workers did not practice this exercise for more than half a century.

    • The general approach of businessmen who refuse the workers’ economic demands completely (such as minimum wage levels), adopt an aggressive situation against trade union freedoms and form a lobby to exercise pressure on political authorities.

    • The challenges which face the newly established unions which do not have sufficient time or opportunities for learning and training, the successive protest movements and strikes calling for long-expected economic rights and cannot be postponed any longer, the difficulties facing negotiation processes under the paradoxes of the transitional stage which the caretaker government cannot face, the obstinacy of businessmen and many administrative bodies in dealing with those newly established unions, the historical absence of the culture and mechanisms of negotiations and inability to schedule the demands connected with problems accumulated for year and the lack of confidence which is aggravated by the ambiguity of this stage.

    • The hasty announcement of the “Egyptian Independent Trade Union Federation” by some independent unions concentrated in limited sectors, and the reservation of many parties on this step which was considered as an attempt to seize the opportunity to expedite harvesting the fruits of the independent democratic trade union movement. This raised doubts in the movement credibility and weakened its discourse which was very strong and apparent before and after the revolution. Many parties think rightly that while the dissolution of ETUF’s board of directors and its unions provides ample opportunities for those who want to withdraw from its membership, it should have been accompanied by developing the movement’s strategies in a manner that enables it to embrace the ambitions and interests of broader labour sectors and build an independent and representative democratic trade union organization.
Based upon reading the actual labour situation in Egypt as elaborated hereinabove, and according to the outputs of a complete work day and viewpoints exchanged in three successive sessions, it was decided to establish the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress as follows:
  • Complete alignment with the Egyptian workers’ right to establish their trade unions freely and without any trusteeship independent from the state, businessmen and political parties); struggle for the full achievement of this right, removal of all the legal restrictions imposed on this right during the past decades and removal of all administrative restrictions which restrict the exercise of this right.

  • Complete alignment with the fair labour standards as provided by the International Labour Conventions, struggle for their proper implementation in our country and action to guarantee the Egyptian workers’ right to defend their interests and rights through strike, collective negotiations and collective labour agreements.

  • Adherence to the principles of trade union freedoms including non discrimination between the workers for any reason, the workers’ guaranteed right to establish trade unions, the right to join / withdraw from a trade union (if multiple) and the right of trade unions to form and withdraw from federations. The founders of this Congress reject the deprivation or exclusion from any trade union right, refuse coercion to join or withdraw from trade union membership or forcing any trade union to join or withdraw from an existing federation.

  • The founders of this Congress shall do their best for the sake of strong and effective trade union unity and act for building a strong and effective trade union organization (federation / confederation) which combines considerable percentage of the workers categories in the main labour sectors.

  • The Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress combines the trade unions participating in its first founding meeting and the labour blocks of the big industrial companies of the public business sector which aspire to liberate trade unions from forced membership in ETUF, build unity upon democratic foundations and enable workers to establish their effective trade unions and federations which represent the workers’ majority.

  • The Congress calls for immediate issuance of the law on trade union freedoms which guarantees for the Egyptian workers all the afore mentioned rights. The Congress calls upon the Egyptian ,society with its democratic and political powers, to consolidate with it in order to achieve these demands. The Congress emphasizes the pivotal importance of trade union rights in building and developing the democratic Egyptian society, establish trade unions to activate societal negotiations and achieve social justice which is necessary for social equilibrium and stability. The Congress, together with the participating civil society organizations will organize a vast lobbying campaign calling for immediate adoption of this law.

  • The Congress shall act to:
    • Enable the Egyptian workers to build their active trade unions and enable the unions to defend the rights and interests of their members. The Congress calls upon its member unions to form regional and specialized federations in our to double their effectiveness and develop their roles. The Congress dedicates special importance to complete building the federations which are still under construction.

    • Enable the member unions to adopt the interests of their members and negotiate on them and to remove the obstacles which face the development of collective negotiations mechanisms.

    • Schedule the suspended labour issues and demands, adopt defined suggestions for tackling them and invite the government and stakeholders to negotiate on them in order to reach applicable solutions for them.

    • Develop joint trade union action between trade unions independent from ETUF and the workers blocks which act to liberate their trade unions from forced membership in ETUF. The Congress rejects the announcement of the chairman of the temporary committee established to run ETUF and its letter addressed to government bodies concerning the independent trade unions. The Congress decided to reply to that letter.

  • The Congress decided to meet after no more than six weeks. During this period, the Congress will carry out the decided foundation procedures and will particularly complete the establishment of regional and specialized federations and deposit their credentials, the Congress decided to form 6 committees which will act immediately to fulfill its objectives. They are:
    • Training Committee: to train trade union members and provide them with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the roles mandated to them.

    • Membership and Organization Committee: to increase the number of affiliated unions and help establish new unions and regional and specialized federations.

    • Legal Support and Technical Consultation Committee: to prepare internal regulations and handle legal problems which face member unions.

    • Publicity and Information Committee: to communicate with the media and promote the principles, objectives and achievements of the Congress.

    • Labour Conflicts and Negotiation Facilitation Committee: to help trade unions face the issues and demands related to their workers and negotiate on them.

    • Coordination and Liaison Committee: to coordinate the work with other organizations and develop strategies for joint action. In addition, the Congress discussed some of the current labour issues. The participants expressed their solidarity with Misr Menoufiya Co. workers who announced sit-in because they have not received their wages for the last three months and with the Mega Textile workers and their unions in Sadat City. The Congress called for returning the dismissed workers and releasing the detained workers (and they were released later on). The Congress discussed as well the problem of informal work and decided to hold a special session to discuss the methods to deal with this problem.

The Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress

16 October 2011

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