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Cablegate: Labor Strikes: Goe Approach Unsuccessful In

VZCZCXRO8897
RR RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHPOD
DE RUEHEG #1595/01 1491455
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 291455Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5405
INFO RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 001595

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA (NAFZIGER), DRL(ANZALDUA)
LABOR FOR ILAB (RUDE)
NSC FOR WATERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON PGOV PHUM KDEM EG
SUBJECT: LABOR STRIKES: GOE APPROACH UNSUCCESSFUL IN
STEMMING PROTESTS

REF: CAIRO 1283 AND PREVIOUS

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Unsanctioned industrial actions continue to spread
throughout Egypt. The GOE thus far has chosen to deal with
the various strikes on a case-by-case basis rather than
pursuing a broader labor dialogue, a tactic that has been
successful in conciliating some striking workers, but cannot
address the larger issues of shrinking real wages, fears of
privatization, and complaints of a union structure that does
not represent worker interests. Although the overall economy
has yet to be affected by the actions, increased or prolonged
labor unrest could ultimately harm investment. There is a
real prospect for increased strike actions in the coming
months. End summary.

----------------
More of the Same
----------------

2. (SBU) Unsanctioned industrial actions, while still
generally smaller than last December's textile strikes
(reftel), continue to spread throughout Egypt. Over 500
workers at a Suez cooking oil factory went on hunger strike
on May 22 after the factory owner threatened police action to
break up a week-long sit-in protest. The factory workers are
demanding increased pay and promised bonuses. A worker's
sit-in at the Mansoura-Espana Garments Company is entering
its fourth week, with 150 workers sleeping on the factory
floors and relatives supplying food and water. In early May,
over 3,000 workers from the public Transport Authority
threatened a general strike demanding pay increases and
better benefits, and briefly prevented buses from departing
one of Cairo's major bus terminals. Approximately 1,000
workers from Cairo's Metro Authority (subway system) joined
the threat of a general strike, although the Ministry of
Transport negotiators were able to open discussions and avert
the action. Egypt Air flight attendants have also threatened
work action over pay and benefits.

------------------------
GOE Approach Not Working
------------------------

3. (SBU) Despite new and ongoing strikes, the GOE has thus
far continued to deal with the various strikes individually,
seeking an appropriate blend of concessions and security
force coercion to end the actions. The director of a leading
Cairo-based human/labor rights NGO told Emboff that while he
welcomes the direct intervention of the Ministers of Manpower
(MOMM) and Investment in negotiating ends to the various
strikes, the GOE's "case-by-case" approach will not end the
strikes. The ongoing labor disputes will not be resolved, he
says, until the GOE implements some specific mechanism, aside
from the failing national union structure, to address worker
demands across the economy. A local International Labor
Organization (ILO) official told us that the GOE's
"firefighting" approach is likely encouraging new strikes
while at the same time sapping the attention and energies of
the relevant ministries away from employment creation
objectives.

4. (SBU) A senior official in the Ministry of Manpower told
Emboff that while the ministry is seeking to engage all
interested parties, including the unions, workers's
representatives, factory management, etc. when a dispute
arises, the ministry plans to maintain its "case-by-case"
policy and does not see the need to engage in a broader
social dialogue with workers. "If after our intervention the
workers strike again," the official told us, "then we will
realize it was not successful. But if there are no strikes,
then they must be satisfied."

--------------
"Silly Groups"
--------------

5. (SBU) Although striking workers cite anger over paltry
wages, shrinking benefits, unpaid bonuses, and fears of
privatization as the root causes of the unrest, Secretary

CAIRO 00001595 002 OF 002


General of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF -
Egypt's sole legal trade union federation) Ibrahim el-Azhary
recently ascribed the disquiet to non-governmental
organizations that wish to stir up trouble. He said in a
recent press interview that these "silly groups" are not
giving ETUF "a chance" to defend workers' rights amid claims
that "they don't trust us." The Minister of Manpower has
echoed el-Azhary's sentiments in numerous public statements.

---------------
MB Raises Voice
---------------

6. (SBU) The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) continues to
seek to associate itself with the plight of workers, despite
their traditional weakness among labor and the assertions
from many striking workers that politics has no role in labor
unrest. Peoples Assembly MB MP Abdul Halim Hilal submitted a
formal written question to the Ministers of Manpower and
Social Solidarity regarding the GOE's recent shuttering of
the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS)
(reftel). Hilal stated that the move was "in violation of
international covenants" and "an attack on freedoms and civil
society," and he called for an immediate reopening of the
CTUWS to "help workers restore their violated rights."

-------------------------------
Update on Mehalla Strike Leader
-------------------------------

7. (SBU) Reftel reported on the emergence of Mohamed El
Attar, leader of the December 2006 Mehalla textile strike, as
a potential mouthpiece and leader of a broadening movement.
The GOE apparently recognized him as such as well, and
reports surfaced on May 14 that the GOE security services had
ordered El Attar's employer to transfer him to a factory in
Alexandria. According to statements by the 36-year old
father of three made to leftist activist and blogger Hossam
el-Hamalawy, El Attar said he refused to accede to his
employers request to meet with security officers, saying that
"I will not negotiate with security. This is an unfair
decree to punish me for standing up for my rights and the
rights of my colleagues," according to el-Hamalawy.

8. (SBU) News of El Attar's planned "relocation" spread
quickly among civil society activists, who organized a
letter-writing campaign targeting the Prime Minister and
Minister of Manpower and expressing solidarity with El Attar
and other labor activists. His factory rescinded the
relocation order the next day, and El Attar credited the
vocal response from labor organizations and activists in
Egypt and abroad for the GOE's about-face.

-------
Comment
-------

9. (SBU) The prospect for broader labor disturbances in the
coming months is real. The grievances and strike threats of
workers at Cairo's public flour mills could resurface in June
as an interim agreement on the provision of flour to the
mills expires. The GOE's efforts thus far have been
successful in conciliating some striking workers in the
various sectors, but the case-by-case approach has not
addressed the larger, more fundamental issues facing Egypt's
workers. Ascribing the unrest to "silly groups" will neither
assuage the workers nor correct the underlying problems.
Notwithstanding the continued volatility of the labor
situation in Egypt, and the MB's attempts to cast itself as a
defender of worker rights, we do not yet see any evidence
that the strikers' economic demands have meshed with other
political grievances against the GOE.
RICCIARDONE

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