LABORING A DEMOCRATIC SPRING: THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF FREE TRADE UNIONS IN EGYPT

Authors


  • The son of immigrant parents from Iraq and Ireland, Emil P. Totonchi is an Associate Counsel with the Service Employees International Union, Local 1, in Chicago, Illinois. He recently graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he was a Peggy Browning Fellow at the Chicago Newspaper Guild and served as an Editor of the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal. He clerked at the National Labor Relations Board, the National Treasury Employees Union, Asher, Gittler & D'Alba, Ltd., and Burgess Law Offices. Totonchi previously worked for SEIU Local 1, for the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center in Jordan, and for the Land Center for Human Rights in Egypt. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, where he was a student labor organizer.

Emil P. Totonchi, SEIU Local 1, 111 E. Wacker Dr, Suite 2500, Chicago, IL 60601, US. Telephone: +001-312-216-1600; Email: totonchie@seiu1.org

Abstract

In what became known as the Egyptian Revolution, the country experienced sustained, widespread demonstrations to oust President Mubarak and the ruling of National Democratic Party. In post-Mubarak Egypt, Egyptians are attempting to reform radically their country. Decades of emergency laws, fraudulent elections, deprivation of the most basic of freedoms, and dire poverty have, in the absence of the right of workers to form independent trade unions and collectively bargain, caused industrial strife in Egypt. The essay contends that workers must have political space to express grievances and the ability to organize themselves, or instability in Egypt will persist and expand. Egyptian history has demonstrated that limits on the fundamental labor right to form a union have had adverse effects for the governing Egyptian elite and the country's stability. Therefore, as Egypt undertakes serious reform in government and in the law, the new Egyptian leaders must undertake trade union law reform enabling workers to form independent trade unions outside of government-administered institutions. A new trade union law that allows and encourages the creation of independent trade unions will help plant the seeds of democracy at the grassroots level and grant Egyptian workers a nondisruptive means to address their working conditions and to improve their families' livelihoods, thus paving the way to a more democratic Egyptian society.

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