Egypt may be receding from international headlines, but the protest movement that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation continues. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, Egypt’s already vibrant labor movement has been invigorated by the mass protests in Tahrir Square. Localized actions are turning into national strikes, as workers demand higher wages and more rights, and the unemployed demand jobs.
Kareem Fahim of the Times reported, “The [labor] movement had been building for years, despite the heavy hand of the security services… Joel Beinin, a Stanford professor who has followed Egyptian labor movements, said strikes over the past decade accelerated in the past six years in response to the government’s efforts to privatize the economy.”
The importance of the labor movement in Egypt’s revolution was an under-reported story in most of U.S. mainstream media. As the Times article points out, though, their organizing groundwork continues to be an important complement to the widespread but more impersonal organizing done online. More importantly, the strikes in Egypt are a reminder that the revolution is not just about political demands. Egyptians are demanding an alternative not only to autocracy, but also to an economy that produces low wages and high unemployment.
In that regard, the protests in Egypt resonate with movements of workers not only elsewhere in the Middle East, but all over the world – including in Madison, WI, where tens of thousands of students and public sector workers gathered this week to demand their rights to unionize. Closer to home, some PI staff and Poverty Scholars this week joined Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York at a rally in support of restaurant workers at Del Posto, who are demanding fair wages and working conditions. While there are differences between these struggles, there are also striking similarities. Countless workers around the world share the experience of low wages, job insecurity, and suppression of workers organizing against these threats of neoliberalism.
On Saturday, 24-year-old Egyptian activist Gigi Ibrahim wrote on Al Jazeera, “The revolution is not over … Rebuilding Egypt is going to be tough and we all have to take part in this. There are organised strikes demanding workers’ rights for better pay and conditions and those are the battles to be won now.”
The same could be said today in Wisconsin, New York City and across the United States.