- Middle East/North Africa
A labor conference was held at the Journalists Syndicate on Thursday with the aim of detailing the condition of more than 10,000 workers at the Ceramica Cleopatra company, whose employer has confronted them with a lock-out, after police forces assaulted and detained a group of protesting workers in Suez City on Tuesday evening. Following the conference, the ceramic workers led a march through the streets of downtown Cairo.
Over 100 workers from Ceramica Cleopatra attended the conference, while tens of other struggling workers from the United Sugar Company, the Nile Textile Company and the Egyptian Petroleum Services Company (EPSCO) were also in attendance. Unionists, students, labor activists and lawyers also addressed the conference.
Ceramica Cleopatra’s workers have been subjected to a lock-out for over a week, while over 10,000 workers at two companies (located in 10th of Ramadan Industrial City and the Red Sea Town of Ain Sokhna) are threatened with mass unemployment if the company owner, ceramics tycoon Mohammed Abul Enein, moves ahead with his alleged plans to liquidate these companies.
The multi-millionaire Abul Enein was a former MP from Hosni Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party, and ex-chairman of the dissolved Parliament’s Industrial Committee. His company was the biggest producer of ceramic tiles and sanitary ware in Egypt.
This bigwig of the former ruling regime is still being investigated on charges of instigating armed attacks against protesters in Tahrir Square on 2 and 3 February, commonly known as the Battle of the Camel, which left 13 protesters dead and more than 1,000 injured.
Ceramica Cleopatra’s angry workers chanted against Abul Enein: “If you slipped away from the [trial of the Battle of the] Camel, you won’t be able to slip away from the workers.”
“Abul Enein claims that we [workers] are thugs and thieves for demanding our basic rights, yet he is behind the mobilization of thugs who attacked protesters in the square, and who have also attacked us,” said Amr Suleiman, a unionist from Ceramica Cleopatra’s Ain Sokhna branch.
Addressing the audience, Suleiman added, “He claims that we are harming the economy with our protests, yet he is the one harming and threatening the national economy through the liquidation of our companies.”
Abdallah Hussein, a worker from the 10th of Ramadan Company, commented, “Both of the companies have come to a standstill since last week. Abul Enein and his administration have stopped sending busses to transport us to work and back. We fear that we are not going to get paid this month, and we fear that he will shut down the factories for several more weeks, if not months.”
“We don’t know how we will feed ourselves and our families during the holy month of Ramadan,” Hussein added.
Cleopatra’s workers chanted, “There is no God but Allah, and Abul Enein is Allah’s enemy.” Others chanted slogans in support of Egypt’s new president: “There is no God but Allah, and President Morsy is Allah’s beloved.”
Fatma Ramadan, a labor activist and leading member of the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, said, “Abul Enein was an influential figure within the old regime. We must make sure that the does not become a member of the new ruling regime. We must not allow him, or his likes, to continue stealing the rights of workers.”
Khaled Ali, a prominent labor lawyer and a former presidential candidate, addressed President Mohamed Morsy, saying, “Just like you met with businessmen to assess their needs and to protect their interests, so too must you meet with workers to protect their rights.”
“I call on President Morsy to avoid the manipulations of Egypt’s businessmen, and to avoid being controlled, used or influenced by corrupt businessmen,” Ali continued. “If such businessmen decide to shut down their factories and sack thousands of workers, then we must nationalize these factories.” This statement was met with thundering applause and chants from the workers in attendance.
Ali concluded by saying that workers can best protect their rights if they unite and stand in solidarity with each other. He recommended that workers visit the 23,000 striking workers at the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla City to express their solidarity with them during Ramadan, if their strike continues.
Workers at the conference chanted, “Sugar, ceramics, and textile workers are one hand.”
A striking worker from the Nile Textile Company, Mohamed Ibrahim, commented that he and his fellow workers express their solidarity with workers at Ceramica Cleopatra, Misr Spinning and Weaving, the United Sugar Company, EPSCO and all other struggling workers. Workers at the Nile Company have been striking for the past 16 days in demand of overdue bonuses, profit-sharing payments and overtime payments, among other demands.
"In his presidential address before Tahrir Square, President Morsy spoke of upholding the rights and dignity of Egypt’s workers, both at home and abroad,” Ibrahim said. “We are holding the president accountable for his promises to us.”
“Our rights and dignity should be above all other considerations. Yet our rights continue to be neglected and our dignity is being trampled on. This is evident as we have seen with the case of Ceramica Cleopatra’s workers who were brutally assaulted by police forces in Suez,” he continued.
More than two weeks after having met with Morsy and his staff at the presidential palace in hopes of resolving their grievances, hundreds of protesting workers from the Ain Sokhna branch of Ceramica Cleopatra embarked on a protest march to the Suez Governorate headquarters on Tuesday, 17 July.
Authorities and some media reports accused Ceramica Cleopatra’s workers of attempting to storm and occupy the governorate building, while other reports claimed that the disgruntled workers attempted to burn it down.
After crossing a barbed-wire fence workers began to throw rocks, and were met with volleys of teargas canisters and beatings administered by security forces. At least two workers were injured at the hands of the police, and five were detained for several hours before being released.
Ahmed Salah, a conservative worker with a long beard, shaved mustache and a bandaged head, addressed a group of journalists, saying, “Yes, we crossed the barbed-wire fence. Yet there were a few instigators, not workers, among us who began throwing rocks at the Central Security Forces.” Salah said he was clubbed and beaten in the head with the butt of a rifle, and also stabbed in the back with knives some police officers had in their possession.
Tareq Ali, another bearded worker who was assaulted, unbuttoned his shirt to reveal numerous shallow cuts on his chest. “We were cursed, slapped, knifed, and beaten with clubs, tree branches, metal pipes, rifle butts, fists and boots,” he said, adding that both he and Salah were singled out for physical and verbal abuse because they are Islamists.
“Security forces in Egypt haven’t changed since the revolution. They remain as brutal and abusive as they were before,” Ali added. “We were not seeking trouble or clashes at the governorate, we were only seeking our rights and a resolution to our grievances.”
EPSCO workers claimed that they had been subjected to similar assaults on Wednesday, 18 July, but at the hands of company security personnel, not police forces.
EPSCO worker Wael Ibrahim showed a video he had captured on his cell phone. The video shows security personnel beating protesting workers with clubs and belts outside the petroleum company’s branch in the Maadi district of Cairo.
“We were cursed and mercilessly beaten by company security for demanding improved wages and working conditions. We cannot speak of social justice for workers and employees under these oppressive circumstances.”
Following the conference, over 100 workers — primarily from Ceramica Cleopatra — took to the streets of downtown Cairo where they marched and chanted slogans against Abul Enein. They demanded the re-opening of their companies and that production resume. “Revolution, revolution until victory; revolution against the thieves of Egypt,” they chanted.
A number of these workers beat a large photo of Abul Enein with their shoes. Others chanted, “Close down factories or burn them down; the workers’ voice is rising.”