Kamal Abu Eita by Hossam EL-Hamalawy
Dozens of Egyptian workers’ and human rights’ organisations have rallied to support Kamal Abu Eita, president of the independent tax collectors’ union after officials from the government-sponsored unions launched a legal case against him. Workers involved in key strikes, including the Mahalla textile workers, Tanta Flax and Linen Co. workers, Suez Fertilizer Co workers and Cairo bakery workers joined human rights activists in condemning the case against Abu Eita.
“The harassment of the property tax collectors’ union and its president, Kamal Abu Eita is not only an attack on the tax collectors, but an attempt to deprive all Egyptian workers of their right to organise their own unions”, they said in a statement released by 49 organisations on 15 September.
International unions have added their voices in protest: the international union federation Public Services International also sent a message in solidarity with the tax collectors’ union.
Abu Eita was summoned for questioning by the state prosecutor on 8 September following a complaint by Faruq Shehata, head of the government-sponsored banking union which is part of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF). He was released pending further investigations after a two-hour cross-examination.
Although Egypt has signed up to international conventions protecting workers’ rights to organise without state interference, the existing trade unions - with the exception of the newly-founded tax collectors’ union - are controlled by the government. The union leaders are almost all senior members of the ruling National Democratic Party.
In addition to the tax collectors, teachers, textile workers, bakery workers and postal workers have challenged the official unions, at first demanding the replacement of corrupt officials but then resigning in their thousands in protest at the ETUF’s failure to support their struggles for better pay and conditions.
Speaker from the Egyptian Tax Collectors Union at Marxism 2009
The tax collectors’ national strike of 2007 led to the founding of the first independent union in December 2008, which now has won the support of more than 40,000 out of 50,000 Tax Authority employees. The new union’s members have found that their subs are still being deducted from their pay to fund the official union, while activists in the independent union have faced constant harassment from the authorities for collecting union subs.
The legal attack on Abu Eita comes after the independent tax collectors’ union staged a one-day strike in August in protest at the Minister of Finance’s decision to allow the state-controlled banking union to administer a new social welfare fund for Tax Authority employees. The independent union led a successful campaign for the creation of the fund.
Abu Eita remains defiant in the face of the legal threats: “I’m ready to be imprisoned all my life for establishing an independent union in Egypt”, he told a local newspaper.
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