By Elisabeth Springer, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Millions of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest with a unified demand: to overthrow the regime. Labor and workers’ rights organizations from across the globe have vocalized their support for the protesters and their demands.
The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), an Egyptian NGO established in 1990 by labor leaders and activists, issued a statement with a summary of the demands of the Egyptian people, and a call for the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt to respond because “it is the only way to the salvation of Egypt.”
The AFL-CIO spoke out in praise of the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, a new labor federation to represent workers in numerous industries. The new trade union announced its formation at the gathering of protesters at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Sunday January 30, 2011 and issued a general strike call in favor of democracy and fundamental rights.
This new union emphasizes the need for unemployment compensation, a higher minimum wage, extended benefits, the right to organize, and for all detainees imprisoned after January 25 to be released immediately. It brings together health sector employees, tax inspectors, manufacturers, public employees, and others. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised the workers for their courage and their defiance of the union ban.
The International Trade Union Confederation also wrote about their support for the Egyptian people. ITUC General Secretary exclaimed “This is a hugely important step for all Egyptians, who have for so long been denied the right to democratic representation at work. Independent unions, which the regime refused to recognize, have organized thousands of local strikes, sit-ins and protests in recent years, and have been a moving force behind the massive mobilization of Egypt’s people that we have been witnessing in recent days.”
Egypt’s current regime has largely failed to connect with the rapidly growing urban working and middle classes of society, and its inability to provide jobs to these people set the stage for the protests that began last Tuesday, January 25. In response to clashes between the people and the military, which has left the country with about 100 killed and 2,000 wounded since the protests began, a military curfew was instated on Friday, though it has been widely ignored. More than 150,000 people gathered in Cairo on Sunday to continue their call for President Hosni Mubarak to step down. The people were optimistic and excited, a celebratory tone surrounding the protests. Some had been there all night and planned to continue to stay, both chanting humorous slogans and voicing serious demands. Most protesters feel it is only a matter of time before the current President is forced to step down.
President Mubarak attempted to appease the mass uprising by naming two of his party officials, Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Shafik, to the positions of first Vice President and Prime Minister respectively, but this was met with general opposition from the people. The main unifying theme amongst the protesters, though, is the call for Mubarak to leave. At this point, he seems to hold support solely from his very small inner circle with no other segment of society backing him.
Mohamed Abd El Qudoos, leading opposition protester and head of the Freedom Committee in the Press Syndicate, which has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, reflected on how these protests are a dream for him. "Remember when I would stand on the steps of the press syndicate to protest? I would stand-alone. Now look at everyone. They are all here."