February 21, 2011

Workers demand dissolution of state-run trade union federation

From Al Masry Al Youm.

Around 500 workers and labor activists congregated outside the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) on Monday to demand the federation’s dissolution. Protesters gathered at 4 PM and chanted slogans calling for the right to conduct peaceful labor strikes, the trial of ETUF leaders, and the right to establish independent unions.

"The federation is a den of thieves; the federation is a group of thugs," protesters chanted. Dozens attempted to storm and occupy the ETUF headquarters at around 5 PM. ETUF security responded by beating protesters out of the building, which led to rocks being thrown back and forth. ETUF employees and security began to hurl bottles, sticks and rocks from the floors above, injuring a number of protesters and journalists.

An army jeep drove up to the shattered gates of the ETUF headquarters, and a soldier and officer brandishing guns stepped out and pushed the opposing factions away from each other. Three ETUF employees involved in the melee were detained for questioning.

The officer called on three representatives from among the protesters to spell out their demands. Meanwhile, protesters chanted, "The people demand the removal of the federation," while others held up signs reading, "Put on trial those responsible for profiteering from privatization." The largest number of workers in attendance were those from the independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees (RETA Union.)

RETA Union President Kamal Abu Eita grabbed a megaphone and spelled out the demands. "We demand the dissolution of the federation. We call on general prosecutor to freeze the accounts of [ETUF President] Hussein Megawer and all other federation officials. We demand the right to establish independent trade unions and official recognition of these free unions."

Megawer and his finances are currently being investigated by the general prosecutor's office. The ETUF president has been prevented from leaving the country until these investigations are concluded.

On February 6, the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS) filed a lawsuit against Megawer on charges of misappropriating funds and misrepresenting workers and unions. CTUWS Director Kamal Abbas told protesters outside the ETUF that "this Federation no longer represents Egypt's workers or unions." He demanded the swift investigation of Megawer's finances and those of other ETUF officials.

Abbas added: "On January 30, a new independent federation was established including the Unions of the Real Estate Tax Authority, the Egyptian Health Technologists' Syndicate, the independent Teachers' Syndicate, and the Pensioners' Syndicate. This is the only legitimate trade union federation in Egypt."

All of the aforementioned unions and syndicates were established over the course of the last two years, independent of the ETUF. Egypt's trade unions have been under state control since 1957. Since then, only two labor strikes have been authorized, while independent trade unions have been harassed and their activities obstructed. The federation has 24 general unions, 22 of which are presided over by members of ousted president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

The ETUF had planned to postpone its elections this year in orderto support the re-election of President Mubarak, and so as not to overlap with presidential elections slated for later this year.

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