Textile workers in the Egyptian town of Mahalla al-Kubra staged a protest on Thursday of last week against plans to privatise the company.
The Ghazl El-Mahalla textile factory has been at the centre of a wave of strikes that have shaken Egypt over the past two years.
In April this year Egyptian security forces sparked two days of rioting when they descended on the town to crush a strike calling for a national minimum wage.
Hundreds of Mahalla workers were injured in the crackdown, and 49 face jail in military trials.
As part of the attempt to pacify the Mahalla workers, Egyptian authorities promised to raise their wages and fund a bus service to take them to and from work.
They have since broken this promise, leaving many in the town bitter and angry.
The latest threat of privatisation has once again galvanised opposition to the government and management among the workers.
According to activists, a group of women garment workers staged a demonstration when the factory authorities announced that the plant was making a loss. Many believe that the factory is being deliberately run down in preparation for its sale.
The women stormed past the factory security guards at the end of the morning shift.
Some 800 workers then gathered in the factory courtyard chanting, “The factory belongs to workers”, “Workers against the government of thieves” and “Raise your voice, the textile company won’t die”.
They are demanding that the factory’s management be replaced by elected representatives.
Reign of fear
The latest protest has broken the reign of fear in the factory since the April crackdown. One activist told Socialist Worker that the circulation of an unofficial factory bulletin has helped shift the mood inside the factory.
But this act of defiance has not gone unpunished. According to reports from the city, the factory management sent in its thugs to sexually assault several women who organised the protest.
This form of intimidation is common under the regime of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak – a key US ally in the Middle East.
In related events, left wing students at the giant Helwan university faced down attempts by police to stop a demonstration in protest at a hike in registration fees. The university is the stronghold of a resurgent left wing movement in the country.
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