We didn't hear about the 2008 strike, however. We did about the 2008 "food riots." CNN News reported, Riots instability spread as food prices skyrocket, April 14, 2008. The words "strike" and "union" were never used, nor was there any reference to the basis for the strikes, a demand for a living wage. Huffington Post carried a lengthy article on the events, Egypt Grants Bonuses After Deadly Food Riots, April 8, 2008. The word "strike" appeared just once but the article failed to include anything mentioning a "union" or labor conflict.
Food is critical. But the desire to earn a living wage to afford food is more fundamental to the Egyptian people. They don't want a handout from their leaders, they want the right to determine their own future by organizing an independent labor movement. That desire flowed into the streets of Egypt in a movement larger than the union effort but the history of worker struggles is a key part of the history of this revolution. On January 30, 2010, workers in Tahrir Square formed the Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions. The organization is separate from the official union and in full defiance of current labor law adopted by the Mubarak regime.
Why Fundamental Rights Matter
The Egyptian people didn't require any special training to know what they deserved. The ability to assemble, plan, organize, and attempt to effect change in a civilized fashion emerged before conditions became intolerable.
The workers in Mahalla didn't need a year at the Harvard School of Government to learn their rights. The desire was fundamental. No study of Maslow's hierarchy of needs was required to tell them that there was more than just survival at stake. They knew that meeting the basic needs required an exercise of the more fundamental rights of freedom of association and action in a society that respected their rights as citizens.
Finishing the Work
There are great powers and commercial interests lurking at the edges of this remarkable movement. The call for an "orderly transition" is just another form of paternalism. What is orderly? Time enough for Mubarak or his proxy to stay long enough to rig another election? Time enough for things to cool down enough to walk just a few steps forward rather than a revolution? Time enough for U.S. and European Union leaders to install a new leader to deliver what Mubarak did so well for 30 years?
The fundamental rights and the exercise of those rights by a sovereign people should be inviolable, particularly in a part of the world where the West claims that it is promoting democracy. The Egyptian revolution has at it's core, the demand for the elimination of a massively corrupt government and the opportunity to create an honest one in its place. That is a goal of people everywhere, a goal that will be met if those few obsessed with control for their own purposes would just step aside.
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