LaborTalk for February 4, 2011

Mubarak Supporters Attack Protesters;
U.S. Insists Egypt’s Despot Leave Now

By Harry Kelber

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decided to reject the demands of millions of his country’s citizens and the urging of U.S. President Barack Obama that he step down now. Under his orders, legions of his supporters staged violent, concerted attacks against his opponents who were demonstrating peacefully in Tahrir Square.

Mubarak’s loyalists used clubs, chains, knives and firebombs to attack the protesters, while the army stood by, taking no position for either side. By 9 p.m. on Wednesday, government officials said that about 600 people had been wounded and three killed in the day’s battle; more than 150 people had died in the week of violence, according to human rights groups.

As the crisis moves toward a final showdown, a great deal will depend on the attitude of the army. Protesters have been heartened by the refusal of soldiers not to shoot at them. But Mubarak has close ties with Egyptian generals, whom he may persuade to use force to clear Tahrir Square of demonstators. The Egyptian generals have for years had close working relations with the American military.

Mubarak may also be counting on the exhaustion of many protesters, who, for the past week, have gone without much sleep or the ordinary needs of a normal life Many may feel that they have won enough concessions from Mubarak to call a halt to the mass demonstrations and are ready to return to their homes.

U.S. Policymakers Face Tough Decisions

What worries the White House is Mubarak’s elected replacement after he leaves the presidency. Will a newly-elected Egyptian president be friendly to the United States? What will be his relations to other countries in the Middle East, whose peoples may be contemplating a similar rebellion against their autocratic oppressors? How will the United States preserve its dominant position in the Middle East? How will the U.S. loss of a major ally like Egypt affect the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations?

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We are pleased to report that Egyptian unions are forming a new labor federation, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, which will represent workers in more than a dozen industries and enterprises.

The federation also plans to set a date for a nationwide general strike for democracy and fundamental rights. Many people believe the labor demonstrations in the past two years played a significant role in giving Egyptian citizens courage to stand up against the government.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka commented: “The people’s movement for democracy in Egypt and the role unions are playing for freedom and worker rights inspires us and will not be forgotten.”

The Egyptian unions were the recipients of the prestigious George Meany/Lane Kirkland Award in 2009 for outstanding labor activity under difficult conditions. The new labor federation will replace the Mubarak--supported labor union.

It is hard to predict how the Mubarack drama will play out, but two things are certain: Egyptians will never forget the taste of freedom and democracy during their fateful week in Tahrir Square, and Egypt will be a new country with a transformed population that is hoping for a bright future.-- Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on February 8, 2011 and on our two web sites and on