The Egyptian military top brass have taken over the running of the country and, while they are promising a transition to “democracy” at some stage, they are more concerned in the short term about what they see as “chaos and disorder”. That is, not just the rallies that have gripped all of Egypt’s major cities, but something far more dangerous in their view, the growing strike wave.
An example of the militancy of the Egyptian workers is this statement issued by the higher coordination committee of the Petrotrade workers, calling on workers at the company for an open ended strike until their demands are met.
Today marks one month since the revolutionary overthrow of the hated dictator Ben Ali in Tunisia on January 14th. The last month has been a constant struggle between the ruling class which wants to return to bourgeois normality and workers and youth who carried out the revolution and who are struggling to stop the old regime from trying to make a comeback.
The tyrant has fallen! As I write these lines, Hosni Mubarak has resigned. This is a great victory, not just for the people of Egypt, but for the workers of the entire world. After 18 days of continuous revolutionary mobilizations, with 300 dead and thousands injured, Hosni Mubarak's 30-year tyranny is no more.
There are situations in which mass demonstrations are sufficient to bring about the fall of a regime. But Egypt is not one of them. All the efforts of the masses to bring about the overthrow of Mubarak through demonstrations and street protests have so far failed to achieve their principal objective.
The Egyptian revolution, following on rapidly from the Tunisian uprising, has sent shockwaves across the whole of the Arab world. All the serious strategists of capital are discussing the “domino effect” of the events unfolding in Egypt. None of them, however, had anticipated any of this.
Sixty years ago, on 14th February 1951, the New Zealand Waterside Workers Union implemented an overtime ban in support of their wage claim against the cartel of British shipping companies who controlled the most of New Zealand's wharves.
An overtime ban was considered the most appropriate form of industrial action because, although in theory the basic working week was forty hours, in practice the men typically worked sixty to eighty hours a week just to earn a living wage. The shipping companies immediately responded by putting all the men on a two-day penalty for collectively refusing overtime. They were arguably entitled to do under the government regulations at the time. On 19th February, the shipping companies went further: they posted notices insisting that each individual worker agree in advance to accept whatever hours of work were offered for a day, in advance of the worker being engaged for the day. As overtime was not usually announced until several hours into the working day, this meant workers would have to accept in advance to work for a day whose hours were not known. This explicitly contravened the same government regulations. The workers refused to comply with this new unilaterally-declared condition and rightly considered themselves to have been locked out. That is why this article is about the waterside lockout, not the waterside strike.
The masses have once again taken to the streets in the biggest demonstrations yet seen in Egypt. They call it the "Day of Departure". Already this morning Al Jazeera showed an immense crowd of people thronging Tahriri Square. The mood was neither tense nor fearful, but jubilant. The very instant Friday prayers finished the masses erupted in a deafening roar of “Mubarak out!” The few Mubarak supporters who were slinking on the streets outside the Square like impotent jackals could do nothing.
“The sky was filled with rocks. The fighting around me was so terrible we could smell the blood.” With these words Robert Fisk describes the dramatic events in Tahrir Square, where the forces of the Revolution met the counter-revolution head-on. All day and all through the night, a ferocious battle raged in the Square and the surrounding streets.
One of the salient features of a revolution is that the masses conquer the fear of the state and repression. This has been graphically demonstrated on the streets of Egypt. At the same time the surge of a mass upheaval breaks the taboos in the psychology of the soldiers and the army begins to cleave on a class basis. A rare fraternity between the security forces and the masses, whom they are supposed to crush, develops as the revolution blossoms.