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Cablegate: Founder of Egypt's First Independent Union On

DE RUEHEG #1892/01 2741559
P 011559Z OCT 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 001892



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/01/2029

REF: A. CAIRO 1578 B. CAIRO 684 Classified By: Economic-Political Minister-Counselor Donald A. Blome for reason 1.4(d)
1. Key Points: -- (C) On September 30, Makram Labib, who with Kamal Abu Eita established the Real Estate Tax Collectors Union (RETU), Egypt's first independent trade union (ref B) since the 1950s, told us that RETU has achieved most of its economic objectives through negotiation with the Ministry of Finance. -- (C) Labib is dissatisfied with RETU's current direction because he sees Abou Eita using RETU as a political platform, rather than as a vehicle to promote the economic interests of its members. He intends to establish a rival tax collectors union within the GoE-controlled union structure. -- (C) Labib views the current wave of labor unrest - including RETU's activities - as an economic and social, not political, phenomena. As soon as workers achieve immediate economic objectives, Labib sees them losing interest in activism. -- (C) On a criminal complaint filed recently by the GoE-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) against Abu Eita, Labib does not think the GoE will pursue it, but will instead leave the charges pending as a "reminder."

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2. (C) Comment: Labib's assessment that Egypt's current wave of labor unrest is primarily an economic and social, not political, phenomena is consistent with the opinions of other Egyptian labor activists. Labib and others tell us that opposition political parties and civil society organizations have generally not engaged with the workers' rights movement, further limiting its impact. Independent labor leaders do, however, see worker activism having some effect on the political process. It shows Egyptians that activism can produce results and demonstrates to the GoE that negotiation can be an effective response to legitimate demands. Labib's intention to form a new union represents an all too common occurrence among Egyptian activists, who at times appear to devote as much energy to establishing competing organizations as they do to developing an effective opposition. ------------------------------ Founding and Future of RETU ------------------------------ 3, (C) Labib, who was the leader of the Dakhaleya Governorate workers' committee of the state-controlled banking and finance employees union, and Abu Eita, who was head of the Giza Governorate committee of the same union, led a strike in December 2007, seeking a large salary increase for real estate tax collectors. Both the state-controlled union and ETUF, a GoE umbrella organization, opposed the strike, forcing Labib and Abu Eita to negotiate directly, and successfully, with the Ministry of Finance, the tax collectors' employer. Because the state-controlled union and ETUF refused to support the strike, the tax collectors trusted neither to ensure implementation of the agreement ending the strike, leading them to establish RETU in December 2008. According to Labib, RETU has been largely successful in ensuring implementation, but challenges remain, including a dispute over management of the tax collectors' insurance and pension funds (ref A).

4. (C) Labib said he agreed with RETU's April 2009 decision to apply to Egypt's Ministry of Manpower and Migration (MOMM), the GoE ministry responsible for regulating unions, for recognition. Labib said that while Abu Eita was content with MOMM's acceptance of RETU's application, he saw a need for legal action to compel the MOMM to formally recognize RETU. Labib told us that absent formal recognition, RETU could ultimately lose its ability to effectively pursue its members' interests. Labib thinks Abu Eita is now less concerned with economic issues, and hopes to use RETU as a political vehicle. Labib, therefore, took steps in August to establish a new tax collectors union within the ETUF structure. --------------------------- The Egyptian Labor Movement ---------------------------

5. (C) Labib views Egypt's labor movement as almost exclusively focused on economic issues. He does not see RETU CAIRO 00001892 002 OF 002 as a model for independent unions; he said others - textile workers, teachers - may threaten to form independent unions, but as soon as they achieve their immediate economic objectives, they will lose interest. Labib commented that although strikes and demonstrations are a significant development and have been effective, strike participation numbers are often overstated. He said the December 2007 real estate tax collectors strike was one of the biggest, but, at its peak, had no more than 7,000 participants. Scobey

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