T. Cliff

Workers in Egypt Battle Repression

(10 August 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 32, 10 August 1946, p. 3.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(The Militant is proud to here present the first of a two-part article on recent developments in Egypt by one of the best-informed and best-known authorities on the Middle East, T. Cliff. This first installment deals with economic struggles; next week’s installment will deal with political struggles in Egypt.)


The end of the war witnessed a tremendous straining of the social antagonisms in all the Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt.

Unemployment has increased to the figure of 300,000 in Egypt. This was caused by the cessation of all work in the military camps; the slowing down of industrial production for the army; the closing down of many industries due to lack of machines that had been worn out during the war; and the lack of materials for industry (these last two factors resulting directly from the imperialist subjugation of Egypt). These same factors resulted in a cessation of overtime work which had previously to some degree compensated for the rise in the cost of living.

At the same time the local capitalists are preparing to nieet foreign competition by cutting wages still further. In many industries in Egypt wages have already been cut 50 per cent in the last few months.

Militant Spirit

This attack of the capitalists has been met by the workers in a very militant spirit. One of the centers of the industrial unrest is the textile quarter of Cairo – Shubra el-Hama – in which there are about 15,000 workers. The strikes of these workers during the last few months were so frequent that some of the employers could see no way out of their difficulties but by closing down and transferring their industries to another place in ’ order to get rid of the militant workers.

But the workers were not so easily repulsed. In May they held a sit-down strike which developed into a barricade struggle. Throughout May and June the police arrested hundreds of workers and expelled the families of the arrested workers from the town, sending them back to the villages. Their attempts to keep the Shubra workers from meeting included an order prohibiting them from sitting in cafes.

As far as re-employing these workers is concerned, the Labor Department of the government declared that a pre-condition for this would be the signing of an agreement that the workers would not strike any more. The workers, whose wages before the strike had been very low (up to two shillings a day for unskilled workers; between two and six shillings for skilled workers) had no savings and their unions are of course very poor. Their sufferings during a strike are therefore extreme.

Sit-Down Strike

In the big Alexandria spinning mills of Filature Nationale d’Egypte, the employers tried to cut the wages. The delegation of the workers who came to negotiate was dismissed on June 25. As a result, 10,000 workers declared a sit-down 4md hunger strike which went on for a long time, after which many of the workers were arrested. The gravity of their conditions forced many to be transferred to the hospitals, which institutions refused to keep them when their lives became endangered through their continued hunger strike. (How the strike ended is still unknown.)

Another big strike broke out at the end of June in Kom Ombo Co., which employs 35,000 workers. To understand the terrible conditions of the workers here, we need but remember that when malaria attacked Egypt in 1944, 5,000 of the Kom Ombo workers died.

Another strike broke out in the Suez Co., which employs 3,000 workers. This company yields six million pounds in dividends every year, nearly half of which goes to Britain. This means that every worker on an average produces dividends of two thousand pounds. At the same time their average wages do not come up to 60 pounds a year. The strike encompassed the Suez Co. workers of Port Said, Ismaila and Suez.

Other strikes of oig dimensions took place in the Salt and Soda Works and in the textile center of Mahalla el-Kubra. The latter has 26,000 workers and 3,000 employees. The workers there have become organized during the last few months. The result was a murderous attack by the police which killed three workers. A general strike of all the workers in the town was declared and thousands demonstrated.

The position of the unemployed has meanwhile become unbearable. The workers dismissed by the army received compensation of ten days’ pay for every year of service. This means that every worker could hold on for a little while – at most two or three months. The Ministry of Social Affairs also made a grand gesture and granted two thousand pounds for the 300,000 unemployed – that is, about three cents per worker.

The results of the intensifying misery have been an increasing number of suicides; numbers of unemployed also break the law in order to go to prison to receive food and shelter. Outside of these individual cases, however, their spirit is still firm.

This was shown recently when police arrested 400 delegates elected to attend a congress of unemployed – and the congress nevertheless took place in hiding. The organization of unemployed is organically connected with the workers, being a part of the General Congress of Workers’ Unions in Egypt.

Last updated on 18 June 2021