ThinkProgress filed this report from the Just Jobs Network Conference in Cairo, Egypt.
On May 27, tens of thousands of protestors once again took to Egypt’s Tahrir Square for what was billed as a “Second Day of Rage”: protests aimed at criticizing the slow pace of reform in the country and the lack of clarity regarding the fate of former President Hosni Mubarak. (A few days before the protest, the military announced it would try Mubarak.)
Even though it is no longer ruled by Mubarak, Egypt still has several huge problems, not the least of which is its moribund economy. Youth unemployment in the country is running at 30 percent, and the official overall unemployment rate is 11.9 percent (and there’s good reason to believe that number is too low). The growth outlook is poor and there’s little clue as to where the country’s economic policies will go under whatever government comes in next.
Independent labor movements, though, are trying to set things off in a new direction. Under the Mubarak regime, independent trade unions were outlawed, and the only legal unions were overseen by the state. But that has now changed. ThinkProgress spoke with Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the independent and now legal Egyptian Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services (CTUWS), who said that the independent labor movement is still getting its feet under it, and European and American unions can help the nascent independent Egyptian movement wield its new-found set of rights:
We can’t really say that there’s a role for [independent labor] quite yet, because the unions are still in the process of formation…Independent unions are going to create the basis for the negotiation between the businessmen and the workers. The two sides of the productive process. […] Unions in Europe and the United states [can play] two roles [in helping Egyptian independent unions.] Helping them in establishing their unions here. Training union workers about the management of the unions, empowering them, training them in negotiations.
As Sabina Dewan, the Director of Globalization and International Employment at the Center for American Progress, wrote, there are several ways the international community can help the burgeoning Egyptian labor movement:
The international community must ensure that the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining are written into law as Egypt establishes a new constitution and government…The international community must help equip the newly formed independent federation with the tools and training it needs to represent and coordinate newly formed trade unions to secure a unified labor movement that protects and promotes the rights of workers through public policy and with employers.
Finally, any support that the international community provides the Egyptian labor movement must include an effort to strengthen the representation of women, and the active role that women play in the labor movement as Egypt undergoes democratic reform. Empowering Egyptian women in the labor force and in politics is crucial to the country’s economic modernization.
Last week, the CTUWS called upon the current Egyptian Prime Minister to issue a law solidifying the legality of independent labor.