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Strike in Mahalla ends but the struggle continues

On February 22nd a strike broke out in Mahalla al-Kubra in the Nile delta, the largest state textile factory in Egypt. The Misr Spinning and Weaving Company employs roughly 16,000 workers. Mahalla is the biggest textile mill in the Middle East.

The factory is known for being the site of wide-scale general strikes from 2006 to 2008, where workers rose up due to low wages and rising food costs. Back in 2006 women workers went on strike, chanting, “Where are the men? Here are the women.” The male workers did join the strike, which lasted four days. Although there was heavy intimidation by security forces, the workers were victorious: the workers were promised higher pay and the company was not privatized. Those strikes were an important factor feeding into the eruption of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011.

Now, 18 years after the 2006 strike wave, Mahalla’s female-dominated garment sector is making headlines again. Around 7,000 Workers occupied the factory square on the 24th of February and declared they would fight until bosses met their demands for a pay rise.

Within the subsequent days of the strike, dozens of workers were summoned for interrogation and put in custody by state forces.

Last week, on the 1st of March the strike was suspended as the workers were able to achieve most of their demands. Some workers remain detained after the strike suspension.

The demands of the workers that have been met are as follows: the company will be included in a financial package that raises the minimum wage to 6,000 Egyptian pounds per month (about 175 Euros). This comes in addition to an annual 7% pay raise as of March and an 8% increase in monthly salary also paid out in March.

As Hossam el-Hamalawy notes, the significance of the strike in Mahalla is twofold, for one, it can be the start of a domino effect of industrial action and beyond. Secondly, such strikes play a crucial role in reviving a new generation of industrial organizers. Mahalla, el-Hamalawy points out, “has been setting the tempo for the labor movement. An industrial action at the Middle East’s largest textile mill usually meant an upturn in the industrial struggle. Whatever gains Ghazl el-Mahalla achieved were immediately generalized to the rest of the class, and emboldened other sectors to step up their protests.”