Trade Union Solidarity With Egyptian Workers


Quite a lot of Egyptian workers are now on strike, including workers on the Suez Canal and at the University of Cairo. The new independent trade union confederation is asking for messages of support. It would be fantastic if those of you who are members of unions could send them to reta.union.reta@gmail.com

Could you also send this to anyone else you know in unions.

Advertisements

8 responses to “Trade Union Solidarity With Egyptian Workers

  1. Will do – from an Essex-based GMB member.

  2. Back when the working class was so seriously abused (during the 1800’s with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution and on up into the Great Depression) unions were a really good idea because the workers needed a vehicle with which to force concessions from the many criminally inconsiderate Robber Barons. At this juncture I wish to point out that Andrew Carnegie, one of the biggest American industrialists ever, does not fall into this negative category. A Scottish immigrant to the United States (born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1835) who worked his way up from the bottom of the ladder to the very top, Carnegie was a major philanthropist, peace activist and anti-imperialist of his day. I don’t know how he treated his workers, but having been one himself I suspect that he was much more considerate to laborers than the majority of the industrialists of that era.
    Having digressed a bit from the topic of unions, I wish to point out that unions (ideally a good idea) have, to a large degree, soiled themselves (at least in the US) with mismanagement and greed. I have heard many a story from union members about how pleased they are that their unions have fixed it so that they can get paid so much for doing so little with little fear of being fired by company management. However, this rosy state of affairs has been backfiring on the unions because it has forced many an American company to do its manufacturing at less expensive overseas locations in order to compete with foreign competitors, with the result that many American union members are finding themselves unemployed. Union management has also often been under the control of organized crime (i.e. Jimmy Hoffa) and is usually unwilling to consider the grievances of individual members who express displeasure with the rulings of union management. Strong-arm tactics are often employed by union bosses against nonconformist members. Union management is famous for using member dues as donations to political parties without soliciting the approval of the membership. Because of the unions’ traditional support of the US Democrat Party, the Obama Administration has granted many unions exemptions to the requirements of the new Obama Health Care Bill.
    Hopefully many foreign labor unions aren’t as repugnant as their US counterparts. As you may have gathered I am not a union member and I would not want to be a union member knowing what I do about the behavior of US labor unions. I sincerely hope that this new Egyptian trade union confederation has got honorable intentions. I would hate to see the AFL-CIO and its ilk infiltrate the Egyptian unions.
    (How am I doing Chris?)

    • Steve

      Good to hear from you. Nice try but you’re not convincing me I’m afraid.

      However, I am sure many UK conservatives would share your perspective on trade unions – Apart from the issue of the link to organised crime which is I think a uniquely US/Italian issue.

      Your complaints seem to be summed in three quotes

      (i) “That they (union members) can get paid so much for doing so little with little fear of being fired by company management’.

      While it may be occasionally true that management is so weak that unions have been able to enforce a leisurely work-load and excessive pay, this is the very rare exception not the rule. For a hundred years a reduction in the working week and in onerous work-load was seen as a legitimate aim of the Left, including trade unions. Today the Washington consensus of neo-liberal economists have managed to paint this humanitarian objective designed to enhance human existence as somehow illegitimate! But I ask you why are only the rich entitled to fulfilment, leisure and autonomy? Without the labour of the poor the rich would not be rich. You seem to accept that business owners and their managers are entitled to exploit workers without the workers having any say in their own destiny. I fundamentally challenge that hierarchical notion of entitlement which is I believe a hang-over from our aristocratic and monarchist past in which certain men and their families were given hereditary power and wealth (by God) in order to maintain order. In a democracy it is not meant to work like that. Managers do not ‘deserve’ the power they acquire, it simply comes with the job. Managers are not ‘specially talented’ at wielding power, far from it. In my experience they tend to be ‘yes men’ who are successful not because of talent and imagination but because they do what they are told.

      (ii) “Strong-arm tactics are often employed by union bosses against nonconformist members”.

      Is the same type of strong-arm tactics the police use against peaceful demonstrators? Again I cannot speak for the USA but in the UK this is so rare as to be a negligible issue. It is true that when a majority of union members vote for some sort of action then all members of the union are expected to abide by the decision. Is this not how democracy works? If everybody who disagreed with a law passed by Congress decided to ignore it – and were allowed to do so – there would be anarchy. By joining a union one signs up to the democratic processes of that union. If you lose an argument it is not acceptable to stomp off and refuse to play any more.

      (iii) “Union management is famous for using member dues as donations to political parties without soliciting the approval of the membership”.

      In the UK and Europe the political levy is entirely voluntary and individual members have to opt-in to the scheme. I would also ask why unions contributing to political funds is different from companies doing the same? Companies are supposed to have share-holders just like unions have members. How many share-holders get to approve or disapprove of the political donations made by the managers of the companies they own? it’s one rule for the rich another for the poor yet again.

      (iv) “it has forced many an American company to do its manufacturing at less expensive overseas locations in order to compete with foreign competitors”

      This is perhaps the most important point you raise. In it’s first incarnation unfettered, unregulated capitalism led to the horrors of Dickensian London, the slave trade and colonial exploitation. Trade unionists and progressives fought to improve the working and living conditions of the poor and in the West largely succeeded but largely at the expense of their brothers and sisters in the colonised third world. After WWII the owners of capital realised that there was a huge disorganised and appallingly poor workforce that was available to be exploited in the good-old fashioned Dickensian manner. The result? Mass unemployment in the west and appalling urban squalor in the third world. The filthy slums of Rio and Mumbai are a testament to the horrors that rampant capitalism can inflict on living human beings. It seems a bit rich to blame organisations dedicated to improving the lives and working conditions of their members for this! Do the American corporations who would rather pay poverty wages to children in the third world rather than a living wage in US citizens have no responsibility in all this?

  3. Question for Xanavi23:
    I am thetwitster, I am an American living in Nashville, TN. Where in the UK is Essex and is GMB a labor union? Thank you. Your response is appreciated you all.

  4. Uh-oh you’re already off to a bad start. Near the beginning of your rebuttal you stated, “Your complaints seem to be summed in three quotes.” However, you went on to mention four quotes. Therefore, right off the bat we have – “the LEFT” -1, NORMAL EVERYDAY 0. (Attention to detail.)
    On issue #1 we are in agreement. I second your comments. I only say that in addition to demanding fair wages workers must also uphold their side of the bargain and deliver their best efforts while on the job.
    On issue #2 I basically agree with you again. I have never belonged to a labor union, but from what I have heard from people who have in one way or another had dealings with the American unions, members who dissent against union rulings can often expect retaliation in one form or another. The result of this is that members with views contrary to union leadership are intimidated into submission with the consequence being that constructive dialogue is repressed.
    On issue #3 I side with you. As a solution to this problem of “public” organizations supporting political parties, I believe that it shouldn’t be done. Instead it should be left to individuals to make their own private donations if they so desire.
    On issue #4 I believe that trade unions are necessary to counter the power of management and prevent abuses. However, unions have to be careful about abusing their powers. When humans get involved corruption can be expected. Since both management and unions are created by and run by humans misuse is a threat. Unions can go bad if the union leadership is up to no good.
    How about those Egyptians? So far so good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s