Monday, February 21, 2011

Worker Solidarity: From the Middle East to Madison

Although the role of labor unions in the recent uprising in Egypt has been largely under-reported in the United States, the formation of a new Egyptian trade union confederation (the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions) and the same's immediate call for a general strike during the protests received international praise from labor supporters. During the 18-day uprisings which ousted long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power, labor leaders in the US and around the globe offered support and solidarity with workers in Egypt. In a letter to Egyptian labor leaders, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote:
We salute you in this brave endeavor and join the international labor movement in standing with you...The people’s movement for democracy in Egypt and the role unions are playing for freedom and worker rights inspires us and will not be forgotten.
Now the work boot seems to be on the other foot, as Kamal Abbas, the General Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services in Egypt, released a video this week to encourage protesters in Wisconsin fighting a controversial bill proposed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) which would eliminate the collective bargaining rights of most of the state's public workers. In the video, Abbas stands in front of images of young protesters killed during the uprising against Mubarak.

According to the translation provided on Youtube, Abbas' statement reads (and pardon the lengthy block quote, but this is powerful stuff):
"I am speaking to you from a place very close to Tahrir Square in Cairo, "Liberation Square", which was the heart of the Revolution in Egypt. This is the place were many of our youth paid with their lives and blood in the struggle for our just rights.

From this place, I want you to know that we stand with you as you stood with us. I want you to know that no power can challenge the will of the people when they believe in their rights. When they raise their voices loud and clear and struggle against exploitation.

No one believed that our revolution could succeed against the strongest dictatorship in the region. But in 18 days the revolution achieved the victory of the people. When the working class of Egypt joined the revolution on 9 and 10 February, the dictatorship was doomed and the victory of the people became inevitable.

We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don't waiver. Don't give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights.We and all the people of the world stand on your side and give you our full support.

As our just struggle for freedom, democracy and justice succeeded, your struggle will succeed. Victory belongs to you when you stand firm and remain steadfast in demanding your just rights.

We support you. we support the struggle of the peoples of Libya, Bahrain and Algeria, who are fighting for their just rights and falling martyrs in the face of the autocratic regimes. The peoples are determined to succeed no matter the sacrifices and they will be victorious.

Today is the day of the American workers. We salute you American workers! You will be victorious. Victory belongs to all the people of the world, who are fighting against exploitation, and for their just rights."
Abbas is not the only one making the connection between the efforts of protesters in Wisconsin and Egypt. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) observed that "similarities" exist between the movements as expressions of popular frustration with government, and a humorous site comparing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Hosni Mubarak appeared after Walker threatened to call in the Wisconsin National Guard to enforce his decision to cut workers' collective bargaining rights. We join Egyptian laborers and people of conscience everywhere in offering our continued support to the protesters in Madison working to defend the rights and dignities of the working people of Wisconsin. (h/t

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