(Photo: Wat Stearns)
One of the most underreported stories about the pro-democracy movement in Egypt was the role of labor unions in the demonstrations, many of which were protesting against neoliberal right-wing economic policies just as much as they were protesting against the Mubarak dictatorship. During the uprising in that country, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka praised the role of organized labor, saying, “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, as tens of thousands of union members and other Wisconsin residents are taking to the streets to protest against Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) attempt to abolish collective bargaining rights for most public workers, a leader of Egypt’s largest umbrella group of independent labor unions is praising the Wisconsin movement. In a videotaped statement, Kamal Abbas, the General Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services, tells the Wisconsin protesters, “We stand with you as you stood with us.” He says “no one believed” that the revolution against the Mubarak regime would succeed, yet they were able to bring the dictator down within 18 days. He encourages demonstrators to stay strong, saying, “Don’t give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights”:
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. [...]
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.
Last week, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) said there are “similarities” between the movements in Egypt and Wisconsin, in that “that people are wanting to be heard, and they are taking direct action.” Additionally, Ian’s on State Street, a pizza place near the Wisconsin capitol building, has been taking orders from Egypt for Wisconsin activists. While the actions that Walker and Mubarak are taking are far from directly analogous, many demonstrators have taken to drawing satirical comparisons. Following Walker’s threat to call in the National Guard to deal with a labor strike, activists launched the site Mini Mubarak, humorously comparing the governor’s threat to the actions of the now-resigned Egyptian autocrat. (H/T: Michael Moore)