Egypt cotton mills whir again after army, workers reach pact


The groaning industrial looms are cranking again inside the massive Misr Spinning & Weaving Co. factory in this gritty Nile Delta city famous for its textiles. Workers are streaming past army tanks and concertina wire to resume production of cotton and wool fabrics after a four-day wildcat strike.

That’s good news for tough-minded textile workers such as Kamal Mohammed Fayomy — and also for the military rulers struggling to keep Egypt’s economy from stalling in the wake of the national uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarakafter three decades of rule.

"Our most important demands were met, and we’re very happy for that," said Fayomy, 47, a burly electrician and member of a 10-worker committee that negotiated an end to the brief strike with the government this week.

Alarmed by a sit-down protest in an industrial town with a long history of labor defiance, military leaders had initially threatened to use force to stop the strike in the government-owned factory complex. Instead, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces quickly agreed to some worker demands without resorting to violence.

And that, Fayomy said with satisfaction, has given new hope to a labor movement long dominated by crushing government control. The military met a key worker demand and fired the plant director, who had been accused of corruption. Workers at the state-run plant also were given a 25% monthly salary bonus.

"And we got paid for the four days we were on strike," Fayomy said, beaming as he listed the government concessions.

The swift resolution of a potentially devastating strike was a reminder that labor unrest is a key issue facing Egypt as it seeks a return to normalcy after the chaos of the uprising.

"Let’s just say a political deal was reached. It was important to both sides," said Hamdy Hussein, a socialist who runs the communist party-affiliated labor advocacy agency Afak from a cramped office above a trash-strewn street here.