Millions of Egyptian workers are to elect on 20 August their representatives for the unions' pyramid-like structure. Just to explain briefly: At the bottom, there are el-Legan el-Masna3eya (Factories' Committees). Those voted into the committees get the chance to run for el-Niqabbat el-3amma (General Unions). Then members of the General Unions form the leadership of the trade unions' body, al-Itihad el-3am li-Niqabat 3ommal Masr (The General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions).
Both the Muslim Brothers and Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) are planning a big electoral battle. The Brothers historically never enjoyed influence in labor unions (not to mention their notortious 1940s mass strike-breaking), but it seems this time they are determined to enter a new arena after they were denied competition in the local municipal councils elections.
It's hard for the NDP to let go of its control over the highest two levels of the unions' echelon: The General Unions, and the General Federation, which tend to include probably the worst elements of union bureaucracts (Non-NDP activists can still make their way, though, to the General Unions, but not the federation which forms the tip of the union bureaucracy's pyramid-like structure.) The regime depends strongly on the union bureaucracy for mobilization. Those buses that were shipping in the "NDP supporters" to electoral posts last November to rig the vote in the provinces, were carrying no ones but poor public sector workers, mobilized by the union bureaucrats, who are closely affiliated with the NDP.
The "mass demos" that the NDP mobilizes, whether to cheer the president's visit to some town, or to protest the Iraq war in the Cairo staduim in February 2003, where also mobilized by the unions.
In the past, the General Federation played a crucial role in mobilizing (together with the Arab Socialist Union, the NDP's grand daddy) mass pro-Nasser demos following the 1967 defeat, and in countering the January 1977 "Bread Intifada"... providing the successive military regimes with an arm inside the working class, and with a vital tool for pro-government street mobilization.
If there is, as many believe in Egypt, a family power succession scheme in brewing, then our elite cannot afford letting go of these labor unions, in order to ensure no troubles happen in the factories or the industrial centers.
Still, the Factories Committees and (to some extent) the General Unions are good playing grounds for socialists and anti-NDP activists, since the Factory Committee, is lowest-ranking entity on the labor unions hierarchy, and tends to be more independent than the leadership of the General Federation and the General Unions. The Factories' Committees are also more inclined to reflect the workers' mood in times of crises, and led on several occasions unlicensed strikes.
The left is preparing candidates who will run in these elections. Candidates from the radical left will run in some factories. Independent anti-privatization activists are expected to receive the support of the left if they run against the NDP in factories where the radical left is not pitching candidates.
There is still a debate,however, within the left over the stand towards the Muslim Brothers' candidates, taken into consideration the groupâ€™s leadership does not oppose the privatization scheme, but rather suggests slight reforms to it, embracing free market economics.
It seems there are two conflicting views among the leftist factions now: One, sees the Brothers as a "regressive force," when it comes to working class issues; arguing for countercampaigning, or at least refraining from supporting the MB candidates wherever they run. But, the second favors to handle the Brothers case by case, i.e., giving selective support for some Brotherhood candidates (in factories where the left isn't running) who are ready to run on an anti-privatization program (there isn't a consensus in the MB over privatization, but the group's leaders have made clear statements in support of a "non-corrupt" privatization. There are however MB members opposed to privatization, and they come mainly from lower middle class backgrounds) realizing well that the Brothers are expected to get a good share of anti-NDP protest votes.