Saturday, April 05, 2008

"We Want a Living Wage"

A broad coalition of blue- and white-collar national forces has called a general strike for tomorrow 6 April to demand decent living conditions and protest all the man-made ills afflicting our society: corruption, nepotism, inflation, torture, poverty, police brutality. The plan is to stay home and not report to work or school, or alternatively to join others in street processions converging on main city squares.

The general strike is the brainchild of the Ghazl a-Mahalla workers, later joined by Kafr al-Dawwar labourers. Kifaya, al-Wasat, al-Karama, the 9 March Movement for University Autonomy and a slew of other collectives have also signed on. The Muslim Brothers have been wholly consumed with the battle to register for municipal elections scheduled for 8 April, but a few days ago they felt compelled to issue a lukewarm statement of support for the general strike.

This latest attempt at civil disobedience emerges from the recent wave of wage revolts sweeping all sectors of Egyptian society, and perhaps for this reason it has received far more attention than last summer’s maiden endeavour. Of course, the government and all its institutions have been mobilising for days to obstruct and ridicule the very notion of a strike. Today, the ever-informative Al-Ahram quoted a judge who reminded citizens that Article 124 of the Penal Code punishes all those who shirk their work obligations with a prison sentence of 3 months to one year, and double that for all those who incite others to strike. Civil servants, teachers, police officers and many others have been given strict instructions to report for work tomorrow, and amn al-dawla has been busy alternately threatening and cajoling workers to abandon or abort the strike effort.

Egypt’s slow-motion socio-political transformation is proceeding beautifully.