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Egyptian workers catch protest wave, call strikes
Workers at steel, Suez Canal companies call strike.
February 9, 2011 11:24 by Reuters
Egyptian workers emboldened and inspired by more than two weeks of anti-government protests staged strikes and smaller demonstrations on Tuesday demanding higher wages and better treatment from their employers.
About a km (half mile) north of Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands gathered on Tuesday to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, around 300 Telecom Egypt employees waved banners and chanted for higher pay.
Protesters said the demonstration was not connected to Tahrir and was aimed at improving the lot of the mostly state-owned landline operator’s employees. But some of their chants, such as “we will not go”, are often heard in the square.
“Where is the company’s profit? We want our money. Where is our money?” one sign read.
Around 200 employees of the telecoms firm also protested in Suez, a port city where many complain they cannot find work or are paid too little for the jobs they do land.
Around 1,300 workers at a steel company in Suez declared an open strike over pay and about 2,000 unemployed young people gathered outside a petroleum firm to demand the company give them jobs.
Many Suez residents complain companies often pass over locals for the best-paid positions, adding to grievances that have fuelled violent clashes between protesters and police.
Around 3,000 workers in companies owned by the Suez Canal authorities and based in Ismailia and Suez went on strike over pay and conditions, but this did not affect Suez Canal operations.
Workers in canal-owned companies in Port Said will go on strike on Wednesday.
Two-thirds of the population are under 30, an age group that accounts for 90 percent of the jobless. About 40 percent of the 79 million population live on less than $2 a day.
Many Egyptians have taken part in political protests for the first time over the past two weeks, joining hundreds of thousands of their countrymen in demonstrations fuelled by rising prices, joblessness and perceived official corruption.
The street demonstrations entered their 15th day on Tuesday with hundreds of thousands gathering in Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia, Suez and other cities.
The blossoming of smaller protests and strikes on the sidelines might suggest the spirit of civil disobedience is catching on even among Egyptians who say they are not demanding that Mubarak leave immediately.
The embattled president has appointed his first vice president and a number of new ministers, as well as promising reforms such as constitutional changes and presidential term limits in a bid to appease the protest movement.
In Bulaq, a poor neighbourhood of Cairo where anti-government protesters battled riot police just over a week earlier, Mohamed Abdel Rahman, a 37-year-old clothing salesman, said he was ready to give the government a chance to keep its promises.
“If nothing happens, we’ll go back to Tahrir Square and we’ll stay there again. That’s no problem,” he said.
“But I know well that these people are good people. They’ll meet our demands and give people some rest.”
Down the street, a man with a black marker stopped to scrawl a more direct message in black marker on an army vehicle: “The march of the people does not stop at bends or curves”.
(Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed; editing by Michael Roddy)