Seven Mega Textile Company employees charged with riotous behaviour and assaulting the authorities among other charges have been granted an appeal hearing. The appellate court in Shebin El-Kom, Menoufiya will convene at 9pm on Saturday to review the charges. On Thursday, a group of their colleagues and workers from the neighbouring Shebin El-Kom Textile Company took part in a stand, calling for the exoneration of the seven who were arrested days earlier during a similar stand.
More than three hundred Mega Textiles workers on Tuesday were pursued through the streets of Shebin El-Kom and beaten by plain-clothed police. The workers were on their way to meet the governor of Menoufiya who had agreed to meet them and discuss their demands in order to facilitate an agreement between them and the Turkish owners.
The workers’ struggle
“The Turkish management treats us very badly. We have rights and we came to the governorate’s offices to demand them. We sought out the government’s help and no more,” stated Dina Mahmoud, a young employee who took part in the stand. The workers were all strikingly young. Many looked to be in their early twenties – fresh university graduates.
Mega Textile workers have gone on six strikes in the past four years – most recently in May. They are demanding a restructuring of their wages, specifically calling for an increase of the maximum insured wage from LE150 to 200, payment of the 15 per cent bonus, a daily meal, adherence to the eight-hour working day with a one-hour break and overtime pay for each extra hour of work. There have been many agreements and promises but little action.
Workers complain of low wages and poor working conditions, insufficient medical care, the management’s discrimination against them in favour of foreign workers – mainly Indian or Bangladeshi and the disproportionate employment of foreign workers who exceed the legally permitted amount of 10 per cent.
Activist Hisham Fouad of the Awlad El-Ard (Children of the Land) Centre argues that the actions of the company could be explained in three ways. First, the management doesn’t want a union in the factory. Second, the global economic crises has made it so that the company is seeking to slim down its work force. Third, there are talks of the Turkish owners trying to sell the company to Saudi investors who might wish to steer production in a different direction.
“The company is essentially trying to wear out the workers. They want to force some into early retirement and others they want to tire out till they quit,” Fouad stated.
Many of the workers have spoken of the company’s targeting of union members. The young Mahmoud states,”The 43 employees they prevented from entering the factory supported the union, but the company has prohibited the union from getting involving in any work related issues. They say that they will negotiate with the workers themselves and don’t need the union. The management has often said, ‘We don’t ask for anything other than the dissolution of the union and then we will implement all of your demands.’”
The struggle between the workers and the administration of Mega Textiles Company escalated recently, after the administration denied 43 workers, including the members of the factory union, from entering the factory on Monday 10 October.
Violence disrupts peaceful stand
“Why did we revolt in January? What was this revolution for? We came to demand our rights and they run after us with whips. What are we animals? Is this not abuse?” young worker, Mohammed Sayed, stressed.
On Tuesday, hundreds of workers held a stand in front of the governors’ offices.They were standing peacefully outside when a taxi sped towards a group of girls, ramming into one of them. Mahmoud describes the scene that ensued: “We ran to see one of our colleagues and found people descending on us with bats, sticks and whips. They looked strange to us: heavy set and intimidating. They were members of the police force, but they were dressed in civilian clothing. Afterwards we saw some of them in their uniforms.”
After the assault, seven, one girl and seven boys, were arrested.
Many of the workers had returned on Thursday, bruised and bereft of hope. Many held back tears and others could hardly summon up the nerves to speak.
This was not the first time they had been assaulted at the hands of their employers. On 5 October, Bedouin wielding automatic weapons terrorised the work force.
The fate of the girl rammed by the taxi also worried many. Distressed, Mahmoud stated, “Our colleague, the girl who was hit by the taxi, has been taken to hospital were she went into a comma. They had to transfer her to a [Shebin El-Kom Teaching Hospital], but we don’t know her condition.”
Thursday’s court session
Outside the courthouse, dozens of riot police stood underneath the stairwell. Police surrounded the courtroom’s door and security officers stood on the stairs leading to the chambers, denying entrance to journalists and textiles workers. Five witnesses were allowed into the courtroom. They all had their national identification cards taken away. None of the witnesses were allowed to speak, however.
Ibrahim Siddiq was of one of the five. “When I first went in I saw our colleagues behind bars. They looked pitiful. The girl looked so roughed up; the guard was holding her; she was in handcuffs. I wish I could have been in her place at that moment to relieve her,” he said.
Sayed, who also went to give his testimony, describes the scenes he saw: ““They were all crying inside the holding cell. The people who beat me up were standing inside the court room as well but this time as guards.”
Ten lawyers volunteered to represent the defendants, according to lawyer Abdo Mohammed. “The defendants were referred to the prosecutors office on Thursday. This referral to the prosecutors implies that were are still in the investigative stage of the process.”
When asked why the witnesses weren’t allowed to giver there testimony, Mohammed stated that the judge in charge of the session was an objections judge.
“So I asked to bring forward witnesses to present their testimonies in front of the prosecution, but it turned out today that the seven arrested employees were appearing in front of the objections judge who does not hear testimonies. Neither does he examine the defendants. Rather he looks into the police report and decides whether the accused should be held in custody or released,” he explained.
The seven have been accused of occupying the road, riotous behaviour, attacking the authorities, assaulting the taxi driver and vandalising his property as well protesting.
Mahmoud Abdel Nasser, the leader of the now nine-member union, was incredulous when he heard the charges: “They beat us and then they went and complained. They run us over and then demand recompense for the damaged taxi.”
The court’s decision
After hours of waiting the air was tense. A man walked out and whispered some words to the lawyer. As people began to pass the words around, the gathered workers grew very distressed.
The seven would remain in custody for 15 days. “They will be held in custody until investigations are completed,” Mohammed explained.
The workers soon took to the streets, seeking to drawn the attention of their community and highlight the injustice they all felt. Tensions peaked when two large riot police trucks pulled up, but within an hour, Mega Textile’s workers were promised an appeals hearing on Saturday. The governor wished to “rid himself of this problem,” according to one of the police officers in charge. Mohammed is hopeful that it might lead to the release of the seven.