New Orleans When the Organizers’ Forum visited Cairo in the fall of 2011 one of the most impressive people we met was Kamal Abbas, the long time director of the Center for Trade Union and Worker Services (CTUWS), based in Cairo. We visited him in his offices and were intrigued and inspired by the accounts of the struggle, hardship, and constant pressure that he and other advocates of an independent, non-state controlled labor movement shared with us.
In the aftermath of what so many of us continue to hope still promises a future of revolutionary change I couldn’t believe when I received a message yesterday from Constanza La Mantia, one of our delegation from Palermo, Italy, forwarding to me the fact that Eric Lee and Labour Start in the United Kingdom are preparing to launch a petition drive in protest of Abbas being sentenced to 6 months in jail. Her message this morning and a check on the Internet confirmed that even in the post-Mubarak period the effort to silence genuine voices of dissent and independence continues.
One of the clearest lessons we learned in Egypt was that this was not a Facebook revolution, but was a social upheaval triggered in no small part by workers desperate for change and living wages and initiating waves of strikes that the military could not quell. This kind of repression helps underscore that point.
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More of the story follows below:
A “misdemeanour court” in Helwan, near Cairo, has sentenced Kamal Abbas, general coordinator of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), to six months in prison for “insulting a public officer”.
That would be bad enough. But the public officer in question is one of the leaders of Egypt’s pre-revolutionary, government-controlled “unions!”
At a session of the International Labour Organization last June, representatives of the CTUWS and the new independent unions clashed with representatives of the state-run “Egyptian Trade Union Federation.” Abbas is supposed to have “insulted” the ETUF’s acting president Ismail Ibrahim Fahmy, because he criticised the role of the ETUF and rejected the idea it represents or can represent Egyptian workers. (See here for the CTUWS’s report.)