Morocco union leader Touriya Lahrech will join women unionists at a gender equality conference in Casablanca. Credit Tula Connell/Solidarity Center
Nearly two dozen women trade unionists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Palestine are set to meet next week for a unique skills-building and strategy conference in Casablanca, Morocco.
The Solidarity Center-sponsored Women’s Regional Advocacy Conference for the Middle East and North Africa region will bring together women leaders from seven union bodies to hone concrete skills, such as communications outreach and message development, and to support union-building initiatives that women leaders have identified as most important. Women representing the gamut of workers—from public sector employees to those toiling on farms—will share and learn strategies for strengthening women’s voices in their unions, their workplaces and in society.
The Sept. 30–Oct 1 conference continues the Solidarity Center’s series of trainings with union partners around the world. The Solidarity Center is committed to helping train women activists to become more effective advocates for gender equality at the bargaining table and within union structures.
In July, the Solidarity Center hosted more than 100 labor and community activists from 20 countries for the two-day conference, “Women’s Empowerment, Gender Equality and Labor Rights: Transforming the Terrain.” Touriya Lahrech was among those taking part, and she will welcome participants to the Casablanca conference. Lahrech is coordinator of the Women’s Department at the Confederation Democratique du Travail in Morocco.
Participating union bodies include: the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC); the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU); the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Jordan (FITU); the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU); Algeria’s SNAPAP; and the Union Générale Tunisienne de Travail (UGTT).
An Egyptian court overturned a guilty verdict against EDLC President Yousri Maarouf for union activities. Credit: IndustriALL
An Egyptian court overturned jail sentences for five trade unionists arrested after they went out on strike at the Alexandria Container & Cargo Handling Company, according to the Egyptian Democratic Labor Congress (EDLC). Yousri Maarouf, EDLC president, faced three years imprisonment for leading dockworkers in a struggle for decent employment conditions.
The court ruled yesterday that Maarouf and his colleagues were innocent because “sit-ins and strikes are guaranteed by the constitution and the defendants simply exercised this right.” In doing so, the court recognized that workers have to right to strike under Egyptian law, and that no worker should be imprisoned for this act.
Egypt’s 2003 Labor Law recognized the right to strike for the first time, although it imposed many restrictions.
The charges against Maarouf stemmed from October 2011, when he led 1,500 workers on strike, bringing the port facility to a standstill. Maarouf received international support in his campaign for justice from the global union,IndustriALL and other trade unions around the world. Maarouf was elected president of the EDLC by representatives of more than 186 independent unions at EDLC’s founding congress in April.
Mohammed Hamid, a cement worker in Alexandria, Egypt, has worked for the same company for 12 years. Yet he says he is classified as “temporary,” which means he makes far less than full-time workers and receives no benefits. Many of his co-workers are in the same position. So in February, he and other workers at Portland Cement waged a sit- in at the corporate office—and were routed by more than 1,000 security forces with attack dogs and electric prods. Several workers suffered injuries, including broken bones.
Eighteen workers were arrested and are awaiting trail, set for March 20. Hamid describes his situation in a video.
The company has been owned by three foreign investors, one of many such operations to be sold to outside corporations following Egypt’s 1991 privatization law.
Says Morsi Salah, coordinator for the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), a Solidarity Center partner: “We are not against investment, but we are against imposing slavery, against despotism that forces workers to labor under the most difficult conditions.” The CTUWS is assisting the workers in their efforts to get permanent contracts, receive the same benefits as the full-time workers and be paid profits due them from 2007.
Hamid says employers should understand that “if you want to move forward, move first with workers. Take care of workers, as workers are Egypt.”
Watch the full video.
The situation for workers in Egypt in 2010 sadly bears all too much similarity to that conflict between Egyptian workers and their government so many centuries ago. Today’s Egyptian government maintains an iron grip on power, harshly punishes dissent and plays a central role in a system that keeps workers powerless and poor.