Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series


– Workers in Morocco, Bahrain and Jordan, and especially Egypt and Tunisia, participated prominently in the Arab popular uprisings of 2011. They shared the outrage of
many of their compatriots over daily humiliation, abuse and torture by internal security forces, massive corruption in all spheres of public administration, the rising cost of living and the indecent chasm between the elites and the poor, deteriorating public social services and foreign polices subservient to the interests of the United States. Arab workers’ participation
in the uprisings was also shaped by decades of struggle against the restructuring
of the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa, guided by neoliberal
Washington consensus policies promoted by the
International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Western governments. Even when they did produce higher levels of GDP growth, those
policies led to the erosion of health, education and
other social services previously provided by the state, declining real wages, high
rates of unemployment, concentrated among youth,
the early retirement of hundreds of thousands
of public sector workers, the loss of job security
and social protections for many of those remaining at work, and increasing inequality. Women have been
disproportionately affected by the decline of public
sector employment, and experience higher
rates of unemployment than men because public sector wages and employment policies are relatively woman-friendly. For working people, therefore, the uprisings of 2011
were more than a rebellion to reclaim human dignity
against autocracy. Their concerns were expressed by slogans like (speaking in foreign language), first raised by the unemployed in Tunisia’s Gafsa phosphate
mining basin in 2008, and the emblematic chant
of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, (speaking in foreign language). So where are workers’
movements in this picture? Hardly anyone who commented about the Arab uprisings mentioned these sorts of issues. It was all about Facebook revolutions and revolution of the youth, and those things are true. I don’t discount those things. But there has always been, in certain Arab countries, a labor movement presence, and in some Arab countries, it’s been important, politically. So I’m gonna talk about
these four countries, mostly about Egypt and Tunisia, but especially because
we’re in the neighborhood, I’ll also say something
about Bahrain and Morocco. The unions have called a
general strike for next week, so I’ll say something about them, as well. These are the main
trade union federations. The Tunisian General Labor Union, it takes its acronym, UGTT, from the French, was established as part of the nationalist movement, aligned with the main independence party, the Neo Destour, but always autonomous,
and it has always had its own historical base of legitimacy, which was very important in 2011. In Morocco, too, the Moroccan labor union, the UMT, was affiliated with the Istiqlal Party, the main nationalist party. When the Istiqlal lost control of it, they established a new federation that they did control. Then the Islamist PJD, the Party of Justice and Development, established its own union federation. Then the Democratic Federation of Labour, established in 1978, was more independent of the political parties,
but it split in 2003, so you have this very, very gated scene in Morocco, which undermines what the
trade union federations can do in the political realm. In Egypt, when the Officers coup slash revolution came
to power in July 1952, they dismantled the plan to establish a trade union federation
that had been ongoing under the monarchy, and they banned trade union federations until after the Suez War in 1956, when the Arab Confederation
of Trade Unions came out strongly in support of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Then it became an embarrassment that Egypt didn’t have a national
trade union federation, so the state created one. From then until today, it is an arm of the state. It has no independence whatsoever. This, also, is critical to
its political functioning. Bahrain is close to Tunisia, but even more so, perhaps, because all of the founders and leaders of the General Federation
of Bahrain Trade Unions had been involved, since the 1960s, in nationalist politics,
whether as Arab nationalists or communists or Islamists, so this became another area, even though the trade union federation mostly stuck to trade union issues. It was legalized by the emir in 2002, and then actually established in 2004. The International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions, in their annual survey, noted that Bahrain is the exception in a
generally bleak picture in the Arab world. Now to understand what happened in 2011, we need to think about the shift in the regime of capital
accumulation globally. By that, I mean basically how global capitalism is organized. Towards the end of World War II, the Bretton Woods Conference met to plan global capitalism, led
by the United States, following the end of the war. The Bretton Woods Conference did several important things, establishing the
International Monetary Fund and the International
Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which
was subsequently renamed the World Bank. These were the institutions
that were gonna manage the global economy, based on the pegging of one ounce of gold to $35. Effectively, the United States dollar became the international currency, with the British pound as a poor second. That system, which was often called Fordism, Keynesianism, meaning Fordism, mass production, Keynesianism,
mass consumption. Other people called it developmentalism. That system worked pretty well for almost 30 years. The French called it
the glorious 30 years. But in the late 1960s, early 1970s, it met a systematic crisis. The United States could not pay for the Vietnam War and the war on poverty at the same time. Profit rates in American manufacturing began to decline in the late 1960s. President Nixon, in an effort to resolve these crises, de-linked
the dollar from gold on August 15th, 1971. From one day to the next, your American dollars were worth gold, and now they’re not, and they’re worth American dollars, and you trust the American dollar because
the American economy is strong, except that shortly thereafter, the American economy, along with most of the
other Western economies, went into a tailspin. From 1973 until 1982, there was a decade of slow growth, stagnation and high inflation, stagflation. This is not supposed to happen, according to neoclassical economics, but it did. In the Global South, there
was a parallel crisis, but of a very different order. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, when
they were established, promoted import substitution
industrialization and all of the other mechanisms that most countries of
the Global South pursued to try to start up national economies. But this import substitution
industrialization has limits, and those limits were reached. Consequently, stimulated
to a certain extent by the sharp increase in oil prices after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, there was a call for a new international economic order in 1974. The United States and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state at the time, in particular, determined that this had to be defeated
because the basic idea was the countries of the Global South produced mainly raw materials, and imported manufactured goods. Producers of raw materials generally were at a disadvantage, as they still actually are, in the global market, so they wanted to try to adjust the balance. New regime of accumulation,
capital accumulation, which some economists call
flexible accumulation, more commonly it’s called neoliberalism or just globalization. This was very directly a response to this decade of stagflation and an effort to defeat the new international economic
order, which did happen. Symbolically, the coming
of Margaret Thatcher to power in the United Kingdom, and Ronald Reagan in the United States, marked this shift. The economic theory behind the shift was known as the Washington Consensus, which was summarized literally in what John Williamson called
the ten commandments. Here I’ve just put some of the more important ones. The key thing, in terms of workers and common people, more generally, was reducing and eliminating
commodity subsidies and reducing the government budget deficit and privatizing public sector enterprises. John Williamson, again, who was one of the architects and supporters of this program, wrote very openly in the 1980s, Washington “was essentially “contemptuous of equity concerns.” What does that mean? He and the others understood that these policies were
going to increase the gap between the rich and the poor, and sorry, that’s just
the way it’s gonna go. Now in the United States, people did not understand
what was happening. People understood this as the wealthy Arab oil sheiks are jacking up the prices and taking our oil and so on. There was a great deal of confusion in the United States. It’s only since the 2008 crash that Americans began to think of, oh, this has happened to us. In the Global South, people understand that it happened, but also,
there wasn’t necessarily a deep understanding of it. Now, obviously, there was
going to be resistance to this kind of a program. I’ll focus on the resistance in Egypt and Tunisia, which are the two countries that I’ve studied most closely. Anwar Sadat was actually one of the very first leaders
in the Global South to announce the change, which was called the Open Door Policy, shortly after the 1973 war. Nothing happened, though. He was hoping that lots
of foreign investment would come, and some came, but not a real big change until the fall of 1976, when a mission from the International Monetary Fund visited Egypt and said you have to cut :the subsidies on bread and other consumer items. Literally as this
announcement was being made on the Egyptian television, people started rioting in the streets. For two days, the regime
was on the brink there. This was one of the very first of 146 IMF food riots that occurred between 1976 and 1992, including two in Morocco, one in Jordan, two in Sudan, which I didn’t put up there. The IMF understood very clearly what was, if it happens 146 times, it’s clear that people have a
problem with this policy. In February of 2011, just as Hosni Mubarak was falling, the IMF issued a report that said that if global
inequalities worsen, as they were and have since then, there is a specter of civil war. Egypt was terrified of a recurrence of the bread intifada, and therefore went very, very slow until after the first Gulf War. As a reward for lining up
with the United States, the international financial institutions simply wiped out 50% of
Egypt’s foreign debt. $24 billion just gone like that. That enabled Egypt to implement the economic reform and
structural adjustment program that the IMF and the
World Bank were promoting. This included passing a law to enable the privatization of 314 public sector enterprises. Even more importantly, ultimately, a new labor law that legalized temporary contracts. What does that mean? It means you can be hired for a year, a month, a day, an hour under whatever arrangements the employer offers. You can’t belong to a trade union, which does give some
rights, even in Egypt. You have no social benefits. In Egypt, this is totally unlimited. Even in public sector enterprises, after a certain point, there were no new permanent appointments. That whole program was accelerated very dramatically when the
government of businessmen, headed by Ahmad Nazif, in which Gamal Mubarak was the major political figure, came into office. Here they all are at the
World Economic Forum. As you might expect, there was massive resistance to this, except that in Egypt, because the word strike could not be mentioned in the press until 2004 or ’05 or so, people didn’t know that
this was happening. Even after you could
mention it in the press, there wasn’t a good sense of what the dimensions of the phenomenon were. Here I put in red 2004
because that’s the year that the government of businessmen came into power. They came into office in July, and almost immediately,
the number of strikes and other collective actions by workers escalated very, very dramatically. Now all of these workers’
collective actions were undertaken without any authorization by the Egyptian Trade Union Federation. The federation supported exactly one of these strikes for this whole period. They were organized locally. Sometimes workers elected
a strike committee, sometimes they just worked with people that they knew. Yeah, there is kind of a
placement problem, but okay. There was a NGO called the Center for Trade
Union and Workers Services that was established in 1990. Kamal Abbas had been a steelworker at the Egyptian iron and steel company, and was fired for leading two strikes, and eventually established
this organization. He was advised by Youssef Darwish, a labor lawyer and former communist, but they didn’t organize any strikes or lead any strikes. They didn’t have the capacity to do that. We’re talking about an organization with a staff of four or five people. Certainly, they supported them, but they didn’t instigate any strikes. One of the most important strikes during this period was
not exactly by workers, but municipal real estate tax assessors. But this was important because, first, 7,000 of ’em, there were, all together, about 45,000 then, occupied the street in front of the Ministry
of Finance for a week, and they won a 300% wage increase. No strike wins a 300% wage increase. This was phenomenal. Egyptian workers saw, oh, yeah, it’s worth it to strike, and so they did even more. This is Kamal Abu Eita
in the picture there. Because the strike was so successful and the organization was so good, they were able, a year later, to establish the first independent trade union in Egypt since 1952, which was a huge event. Another big focal point
of workers’ resistance was Al-Mahallah al-Kubra, which is the site of the Egyptian spinning and weaving textile company, the biggest industrial enterprise in Egypt, and perhaps in
the entire Middle East. At one point, there were
45,000 workers there. In 2008, maybe 22,000. They had gone on strike several times before 2008. The strike committee, there they did have an elected strike committee, thought that they could organize a national general strike on April 6th. They couldn’t, they didn’t have that kind of a power, so there was actually no strike in Mahallah on April 6th. What there was, was a big demonstration, mostly of women and children, and you can see it in the
lower left picture there, and a riot by the Central Security Forces, which beat people up, in collaboration with their thugs, who literally threw fist-sized rocks at the crowd. They thought that if I stood in front of them, they would stop doing that, but, no, they did not, so I went away. There were no signs, no posters, nothing. It was just a spontaneous demonstration over the price of bread. The next day, which is the picture on the right, came a full-fledged attack on the regime. This is after people were
beaten up and killed. It was a very, very big deal. But this happened in a city that is dominated by workers, but this was much broader than workers, and the regime was quite scared of it. Another institution that was important, and I say this because
the trade union federation was all together absent, there were no trade unions
in any of these things, was the Egyptian Center for
Economic and Social Rights. Its director, Khaled Ali, actually ran for president in the first
presidential elections after Mubarak was ousted. Here he is in the middle
of a demonstration, which wasn’t all that big,
several hundred people, but in front of the parliament. Again, occupying space in downtown Cairo, making opposition known in a way that was not normal previously. Tunisia had a very similar trajectory. There was a period in the 1960s when Ahmed Ben Salah led what was called a Socialist Experiment. Then the International Monetary Fund, in alliance with large olive grove owners on the Tunisian coast said, “No, stop, “we’re not doing that anymore,” and it was over. Tunisia, even without any interaction with the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, began to adopt, earlier than Egypt, those
same sorts of policies. Over the course of a decade, conditions of work and wages and so on deteriorated. On January 26th, 1978, the UGTT called for a general strike, which was very successful. The regime blockaded 200 of the leaders of the trade union federation
in their headquarters, and then arrested the lot of them, and completely repressed the trade union federation
until they realized, no, we can’t quite get away with that. Because Tunisia has a history of the regime negotiates with the trade union federation,
the trade union federation doesn’t let workers run amok. There’s a kind of give and take, and people understood that, no, you have to let some strikes happen because otherwise, people will not be able to blow off steam. Took ’em a while to recalibrate. In the meantime, there were bread riots on January 3rd, 1984. But ultimately, Tunisia did sign on to the same kind of economic reform and structural adjustment program. Tunisia was considered a star pupil of the IMF, even though all the economic indicators did not bear this out. But because of Tunisia’s historical colonial relationship with France, it was allowed to join the General Agreement
on Tariffs and Trade, it was allowed to join the
World Trade Organization. It signed an association agreement with the European Union in 1995, the first country in the
Global South to do so. Tunisia also adopted a new labor law which legalized temporary contracts, except unlike in Egypt,
where you could have an entire industrial establishment based on temporary contracts, in Tunisia, they raised the proportion of workers that could be employed on
these temporary contracts from 15 to 50%, and with 25 to 40% lower wages. As in Egypt, there were lots of strikes. The numbers are spotty and you probably can’t even read them, but the red is when the economic reform and structural adjustment
program was implemented with the repression, and so strikes decreased significantly. The green, for which I don’t have too many figures there, because the Tunisian government is a little bit dicey about how it issues these figures, or doesn’t issue then, these are mostly wildcat strikes, meaning not authorized by the trade union federation, but quietly backed by elements of them. You have in the range of three to 400-plus strikes a year, which in Tunisia is huge. All of Tunisia is 1/2 the size of Cairo, so this is a pretty big phenomenon, socially, in Tunisia. Those strikes, though, were mostly a day, two days, even sometimes a few hours, so within the regulation framework that had been long established. The one exception was an uprising at the Gafsa Phosphate Mining Company. Gafsa is here, in the center-west of Tunisia, a very remote, insofar in a small country you can be remote, but
it’s a five-hour trip from Tunis in a taxi, part of the country. In January of 2008, a list of new hires was published for the first time in a decade. It was clear that the list did not reflect scores on the competitive exam for hiring. That’s how things were done then. Immediately, demonstrations broke out, and there was a six-month-long rebellion which the regime could not control. This is the first time that the slogan “a job is a right, you pack
of thieves,” was raised. The Union of Unemployed Graduates, which had been established
only two years earlier, played a significant role because these were mostly white-collar positions that were at stake here. In the four phosphate mining towns, of which Redeyef is the most important, there were demonstrations and sit-ins and blocking of trucks and all manner of things that the regime
simply could not control until it came in with massive repression. Here is Adnene Hajji, who was then an elementary school
teacher and very beloved by the parents and the students, leading a demonstration. After Ben Ali was ousted, he became a member of parliament. What is the role of workers’ movements in the 2011 uprisings? In Tunisia, in Egypt, you have this massive social mobilization. In Egypt, with no institutional backing. In Tunisia, with some, but not a whole lot. We know that Mohamed
Bouazizi’s self-immolation is what set off the whole series of Arab uprisings. Not so many people know that this was not a unique event. There were dozens of self-immolations in the decade before. How come we heard about this one? Because the photos were uploaded to Al Jazeera, which put them on the TV the same day, and an explosion broke out. For a long time, long time, several weeks, everything was in the center-west, away from Tunis. Finally on January 6th, there was a demonstration in Tunis using the some slogan that was raised in Gafsa in 2008, “a job is a right, “you pack of thieves.” The loaf of bread here symbolizing the high cost of living. The solidarity
demonstrations were repressed pretty harshly by the security police, particularly in Thalah and Kasserine, where some 50 people were killed between January 8th and January 11th. Now as all of this was going on, the national leadership of the UGTT stood back, didn’t call for any strikes, didn’t organize anything. It was able to do this, but still retain its historic legitimacy, which in large part derived from the fact that the founder of the federation, Farhad Hached, was murdered by a French counterterrorism agent in 1952, and that’s considered a critical moment in the development of the national independence movement. Here is an organization, which, on the one hand, its top leadership is totally collaborationist
with the regime, but it’s the only organization in the country, aside from
the ruling political party, that has a nationwide network, which has a history of
political engagement, even though they were very suppressed, but which, because of the
collaborationist leaders, did not call any strikes of protests from the day of Mohamed
Bouazizi’s self-immolation until the day before Ben Ali departed. This is the headquarters of the UGTT. You can see all the general secretaries of
the union, historically. This is Farhad Hached there in the middle. Underneath the national
leadership, though, there were all sorts of
local federation leaders, of the federation of Gafsa, of the federation of Kasserine, or the sectoral leaders, so the federation of
secondary school teachers, of primary school teachers, who opened their offices to protestors and said, okay, here’s material to make banners, this is how you organize a demonstration, and were the logistical
backbone of the uprising. Here are some of the people. I think it’s important
to show their faces, show their names ’cause
they’re real people who are involved in this. Once Ben Ali was out of the way, the UGTT simply resumed functioning as it had in its early history, removed the collaborationist leaders in a normal Congress. They didn’t do it as a coup or something. They just, this is who we are and we’re gonna have
a democratic Congress. You guys are voted out. Some of the insurgent leaders, with a left political organization, were voted in. Bahrain is somewhat like Tunisia. The General Federation
of Bahrain Trade Unions, its leadership had been involved in the independence movement, they had a political background. The regime was more or less compelled to legalized the federation. When the February 14th
movement for democracy broke out, they did not lead it. They were not playing a
leading political role. But when the regime began to repress it, they did call for a general strike on February 20th. Then when the Saudis came in and the repression was even more brutal, there was a second general strike called from March 13th to the 22nd. The response of the regime
was very, very harsh. About 4,500 workers were fired. Many of its leaders were fired, especially the leaders who are sectoral leaders, nurses, teachers and so on. The Bahraini federation is unique in that it had women in the leadership. 13 of the 40 union leaders were women. It also included in its ranks migrant workers, which is very, I think it’s unique in the Gulf. The regime tried to undermine the legitimacy of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions by sponsoring a new federation, the Bahrain Labor Union Free Federation, whose initials nicely form the word bluff.
(audience laughs) It was an open effort to split the trade union movement,
which actually has succeeded. There were about 45,000 members of the Bahraini Federation before 2011, and now it’s pretty roughly equal, about 22,000 each. There in Bahrain, almost against its will, the trade union federation
did play a role, and paid a heavy price for it. In Morocco, the fact that there are these five competing federations was a big problem, but still, two of them, but especially the Democratic
Confederation of Labor, supported the February
20th democracy movement. The monarchy was very clever, and proposed a new constitution and all sorts of reforms,
which, ultimately, didn’t change very much. The king still retains
the lion’s share of power, but trade unionists won 1/6 of the seats in the legislature in the
parliamentary election of November 2011. Not a huge advance,
given the ultimate power in the hands of the
monarchy, but an indication that workers were a social force. In Egypt, after this more than decade of social mobilization without any institutional infrastructure, on January 30th, 2001, in the middle of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, at that point, three
independent trade unions formed the Egyptian Federation
of Independent Trade Unions, and they called for a general strike. Now an organization that just came into existence yesterday can’t call for a general strike. Nobody knows who they are, nobody’s gonna pay attention, and the general strike didn’t happen. Here is a very nice banner and so on, but they didn’t have any organizational apparatus, nothing like what the UGTT had in Tunisia. However, there were lots
of strikes in Egypt, both before and after Mubarak was deposed. If you see, February of 2011, 489 collective actions, many of them concentrated in the last three days
before Mubarak left. Then continuing all through the year. The low figure on the
left is my guesstimate of how many workers were involved. The high figure on the right is by political activists who tend
to exaggerate a little bit. But however you put this, this is huge, even by Egyptian standards. Strikes continued after
Mubarak was ousted. The ouster of Mubarak simply
encouraged the movement. There are all sorts of different estimates by different NGOs, but the order of magnitude is roughly the same. But after this decade and more of political and social mobilization, Egyptian workers were very weak. Only one trade unionist was elected to parliament in the elections right after Mubarak was ousted. That was Kamal Abu Eita, who ultimately became president of the Egyptian Federation of
Independent Trade Unions. But the federation itself was weak, and split in 2012. At one point, there were six different independent trade union federations. They divided over issues
of should we accept funding from the AFL-CIO, the American trade union federation, over should we be an NGO and how should we related to NGOs. There were also personality issues. Then the military coup of July 3rd, 2013, is kind of a red line because at that point, the regime gave license to private businesses to fire anyone who went on strike. Thousands of workers were arrested or fired for striking. By 2015, the private sector trade unionism was defunct, and the Egyptian Federation
of Independent Trade Unions was finished. In Tunisia, on the other hand, there was a very substantial presence of the workers’ movement
in the new parliament and in the political structure post-Ben Ali. Members of the trade union federation and members of the Chamber
of Commerce, UTICA, were involved in the formation of Nidaa Tounes, a political formation that I call secular fundamentalists. Feminists, former members of Ben Ali’s ruling power, former communists, all came together in Nidaa Tounes as basically anti-Ennahda, anti-Islamist. That’s their common point of platform, despite communists on the one hand and former RCD members on the other. This is the political lineup in the first Tunisian Assembly of the
Representatives of the People that was elected in 2014. But as you can see, labor is a substantial factor there. They are the third or fourth largest, well, if you count Adnene Hajji as part of the popular front, which he is and isn’t at the same time, the third largest formation
in the parliament. They gained something from participating in the uprising. The UGTT continued to
be politically active. They were calling a general strike on December 13th of 2012,
basically in response to Ennahda trashing their headquarters on the 50th anniversary of
Farhad Hached’s assassination. That was considered a sacrilege. The country was on the
brink of a civil war. Then they called it off, based on their intense spirit of responsibility to preserve the superior interest of the nation. That’s what their announcements. That is real. They did feel that responsibility. But then, apparently, members of Ansar al-Sharia assassinated two secular leftist leaders, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi. Just the other day, it was revealed that maybe Ennahda had something to do with that, too, or
elements within Ennahda. That ended the political process. There were huge demonstrations. The constitutional
assembly was deadlocked. The trade union federation announced that they are inviting
the political parties to a national dialogue, along with the Chamber of Commerce, the Bar Association and
the Human Rights League. Now this group was called the Quartet, but it was the trade union federation that was far and away
the leading factor there. Eventually, they won the Nobel Peace Prize for shepherding the
political process through to the ratification of the
constitution and so on. There is Houcine Abassi
in the middle there. The symbol of the preeminence of the trade union
federation in the process is that this is happening
in their headquarters. How do we know that? ‘Cause there are all the former federation leaders in the background. Tunisian Quartet, yes, but really, it was the trade union federation that is responsible for as much democracy as there is in Tunisia today, which is not nearly as
much as many people say. This was reflected in public opinion. This public opinion poll was taken before Nidaa Tounes was established in the spring of 2014. What it shows you is, in the green, that the trade union federation has more than twice as
much favorable rating as any of the existing political parties. All the existing political parties, the majority of the respondents had an unfavorable view of them, but the trade union federation, the majority had a favorable view of them. As in Egypt, strikes in Tunisia continued. The government stopped publishing strike statistics, so these statistics were somehow leaked by somebody in the Ministry of Interior to a Tunisian oppositional website. Maybe not the most accurate figures, but this is a large number for Tunisia for those years. After 2013, I don’t
have any number at all. More importantly, it
isn’t over in Tunisia. Ridha Yahyaoui was in line to get a job. Then when the list of people who were to be hired was published, his name wasn’t on it. He immolated himself, just as Mohamed Bouazizi did. This happened in Kasserine, which is also a remote center-west region of Tunisia. Then for five days,
there were demonstrations throughout the country. All of the places where
there are yellow dots had demonstrations. These signs that are, I think, from Kasserine, I’m not sure, show the social content both of the uprising in 2011 and the continuing social demand. The revolution of the young
confiscated by the old. We’ll never give up our
right to development and employment, which is still the issue in Tunisia because in December of last
year, another Tunisian, Abderrazak Zorgui, immolated himself because he wasn’t able to manage with the income that he had, or didn’t have, ’cause he was unemployed. After he immolated himself, teachers and others went out on demonstrations in over 20 localities. Tunisia is still a social cauldron. The economic program of the IMF and World Bank, which is the same as it was before 2011, which they are trying
to impose on Tunisia, is absolutely not doing what it’s advertised to do. Similarly in Morocco, here I won’t go into the detail, but just to note that in Morocco, too, social protests continue. There is a call for a general strike on February 24th, endorsed by four of the five federations. Not all five of them because the Islamists won’t go along with it. But there has been, since 2011, continuing trade union
and other social protests. In Bahrain, some of the 4,500 people who were fired were rehired. There was a tripartite commission, composed of the International
Labor Organization, the General Federation
of Bahrain Trade Unions and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. They were supposed to figure out who can be rehired and
under what circumstances. Basically, the lion’s share of people weren’t rehired. The ILO sent a mission to Bahrain in the summer of 2018,
and they didn’t publish their report, which we
can take as an indication that it wasn’t so good. What do we conclude from this? First, let me make clear
that I’m not claiming here that trade unions and workers’ movements were the cause of everything, or even necessarily at all points the main force. Ultimately, what happened in Egypt was determined by the army. Tunisia doesn’t have an army that has been involved in politics in the same way that the Egyptian army has been, since 1952, and that made a huge difference. In Bahrain, also, it was determined by the army, except
the Saudi army (laughs) with American arms. If we come back to the trade union story, Egypt didn’t have any kind of independent or autonomous trade union structure. What emerged during and after the uprising was simply smashed. Now we have, under Sisi,
a praetorian dictatorship, in alliance with the United States, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, which is harsher than Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak combined. I have been in Egypt during all of their periods, and nothing was then like it is now. In Morocco, there is still the problem that the pluralism of the
trade union federation undermines collective action, but social protest continues. Not only the trade union protests that I showed you on the previous slide, but more massively, even. Hirak El-Rif, the Rif rebellion of 2016-’17, which is about Berber rights and so on, but also has a social component to it. In Bahrain, absolute monarchical power was restored, but using brute force. The trade union movement
was successfully split by the monarchy. We could even make a case, I would, I think, make this case, that the monarchy’s claim that the February 20th
movement for democracy was an Iranian Shia plot is the origin of the sectarianization of the region that we are seeing now. It’s just a small country and a mini example, but the Saudis intervened big time because they accepted that argument. Now we see its results. Nonetheless, the General
Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions remains active. They are being very cautious. They don’t engage in political activity, they’re very insistent on that, but their existence is a political fact. In Tunisia, social struggle is continuing, as I showed you, especially
in the center-west region. The UGTT remains engaged in politics, although its top leadership is playing the dirty game of splitting Nidaa Tounes and allying or not allying with Ennahda, and all of
the complicated things that are going on. Here are different outcomes for different kinds of labor movements. The main conclusion, besides the way things get differentiated
according to what kind of organizational structure there was before 2011, is it’s not over yet. The Arab uprisings have not been defeated. This is a generational project. The equilibrium that apparently exists in the region today is not stable and will not persist as long as either Ben Ali or Mubarak did. Thank you very much. – [Man] It’s an extremely detailed speech. I am from Italy. One of our sons, a few years back, went for a Ph.D in Cairo. Can I ask you if you
know anything about that? – Well, first of all, I know him. – [Man] Nobody knows– – Giulio Regeni was an Italian citizen pursuing a Ph.D at Cambridge University. His supervisor was a friend and colleague, Maha Abdelrahman, an Egyptian. He went to Egypt to study the independent trade union movement. He was a political scientist, so very contemporary. That emerged after 2011. All indications are that he was abducted, tortured and murdered by the Egyptian security authorities. Italy is Egypt’s fourth
largest trading partner, so Italy was very interested
not to break relations over this issue, but
the Egyptian authorities have stonewalled and they won’t conduct a real investigation. They totally rejected the notion that the security authorities
were involved in this, which even if they didn’t do it by their own hand, it
couldn’t have happened if they didn’t know about it. Most recently, the Italian authorities have announced that they reject the Egyptian explanations,
they’re insufficient, and they are going to pursue
an independent investigation. Where that will go, I don’t know. You may know more because you’re Italian and you follow the Italian news. – [Man] Do you think we should look into our country, not in your country, for the reasons? – I don’t think that the Italian authorities had
anything to do with this. Giulio Regeni did, as far as I understand, what I did many, many times in Egypt: go talk to worker activists, try to get a sense of what is happening. The Italian government
wouldn’t be interested in it, may not even have known about it because he’s coming from
Cambridge University, not from an Italian institution. I think every indication is
that the Italian authorities only became involved
after he was murdered. That’s as far as I know. – [Man] Yes. Welcome to Doha, professor. – Thank you. – [Man] What are the underlying reasons behind the establishment of trade unions in the poorer countries, such as the four that you have cited, and Bahrain, but not in the rich
countries, such as Qatar? – You answered the question
as you asked it. (laughs) If you are wealthy and you don’t pay taxes and your income is sufficient to live a decent life
and education is free and your children can go to university, you don’t need a trade union. If you don’t have those things, then you need a trade union. Even, the United States is a rich country, but workers had to organize to secure certain rights, security
of the employment, higher wages, safety conditions at work. I worked in an automobile assembly plant in Detroit for several years before I finished my Ph.D. The work was very dangerous. If we didn’t have a trade union, and we did have a strong trade union, the United Auto Workers, people would have gotten hurt very regularly. As it was, there were people who lost fingers and hands
because we’re working with these huge 20-ton presses that come down on a piece of steel and stamp it into a door. Your hand is in there, it’s gone. If you look at the thing, and it’s supposed to stop dead at the top, but no, sometimes it goes down. When that happens, it means the machine needs to be fixed. The foreman doesn’t wanna fix the machine because he wants to make his quota of however many hundred
doors it is an hour. I’m concerned ’cause I was there for, also, political reasons. When this would happen, I would say, “Foreman, you have to stop the line.” He would argue with me. I said, “Okay, call over
the union representative” because he’s there in
the shop, on the floor. He had to do it, and the
union representative said, “Stop the line.” Okay, here we are in the United States, the richest country in the world, the middle of the 1970s, and we still have to
do this sort of thing. Okay, so in Qatar you
don’t make automobiles, and that’s not an issue. Maybe those kind of safety
questions don’t arise. They certainly arise
on construction sites. There is the issue of the health and safety and wages and living conditions of construction workers, in particular, as we are preparing
for the 2022 World Cup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that kind of an effort here if it isn’t totally repressed. – [Man] You identified labor issues and economic issues as motivating factors
in the Arab uprisings. You said a minute ago that these uprisings aren’t over. Qatar has some initiatives, youth empowerment initiatives, to try to involve with job creation, job training, that sort of thing. Are those likely to be,
in your view, effective in terms of addressing some of those economic and labor challenges that you were describing? More broadly, how are
those programs received by trade unions and by the indigenous labor movements in these different countries? I don’t know how familiar
you are with Silatech or any of the government programs here, but I’d be interested in your views. – An admission, this is
my first time in the Gulf. I’ve been here for three days. I don’t know all that much about the Gulf. Qatar is exceptional,
though, in several ways. First of all, the
majority of the population aren’t citizens, so all the kinds of initiatives that you described, if they are done successfully, they may very well solve problems for Qatari citizens, but the majority of the workforce are not Qatari citizens and they are not recipients
of those initiatives. Their issues still remain,
and they are unaddressed because it is illegal for them to organize themselves collectively and act in their collective interest. Qatar is exceptional, at some level, with regard to the government’s treatment of its citizens, but it’s normal with regard to how non-citizen workers are treated. There is no place in the capitalist world where workers have been permitted to
organize trade unions where they didn’t do it. The reason is that
there is a contradiction between the interest of capital and the interest of labor. That’s just what capitalism is. Capitalists want to make more profit. One of the easiest ways to do it is to pay workers less. The balance of power is
tilted towards capital, so workers organize themselves. This is in the nature of things. Sometimes, say, the New
Deal in the United States, where both state governments
and the federal government tilted towards labor, conditions improved and trade unions became stronger, there were still strikes. There were strikes in the
middle of World War II. Truman wanted to
nationalize the coal mines because there was strike
in the coal industry. The contradiction
between labor and capital doesn’t go away even when capital is compelled by the government to be nicer to workers. – Over here. – [Woman] First of all,
thank you very, very much. It’s always been an ambition of mine, since I was an undergraduate,
to have the opportunity after reading your work to hear you speak. Thank you to Georgetown
for organizing this event. You truly have a very
distinguished speaker– – Thank you.
– Amongst us. I was struck when you were speaking about the response of an number
of the trade unions to the events of 2011. I was stuck by the fact that you said that at first they stood back, even though they had the organizational capacity. For me, what struck me was that there seems to be an obvious parallel with the response and the reactions of Islamist movements across the region in some of those very same countries, in Egypt and Tunisia. I’m not going to ask you
to comment on the parallel. What I would like to ask you is what do you think that this tells us about the level of resilience of authoritarian regimes, during that period and
post the Arab uprisings? – At one level, if we use
political science language, the authoritarian regimes were resilient. In Egypt, as it turns
out, super resilient, although transformed. But that’s, perhaps, not the best way of understanding what happened. In Egypt, you had the full force of the Obama administration, not the Trump administration, the Obama administration, behind Mubarak. Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, is announcing the regime is stable and Mubarak has to lead the transition. They send the former ambassador to Egypt, who now is working for
a public relations firm, one of whose clients is
the government of Egypt, as a special emissary. On his way back, he didn’t even wait ’til he got back to Washington, but in Germany, stops,
gives a press conference and said Mubarak is the only one who can solve the problem. He has to stay in power. It’s not just the authoritarian regime in Egypt that was resilient. This was the full backing of the United States. In Tunisia, similarly, except that France played the role. The French foreign minister announced that she thought that Ben Ali should be more repressive against the pro-democracy demonstrations. She had to take it back because that wasn’t very nice, after all, but they actually offered to send troops. The French love to do that in their former colonies. There, too. Yeah, the regime was strong, as Mubarak’s regime was, maybe strong is not the right word. Bulky. It had a heavy weight over society. But the West, the E.U., in
the case of Tunisia, led by France, and the United States, in the case of Egypt, the Saudis, backed by the United States using American arms,
in the case of Bahrain, this is part of what is called authoritarian resilience. It’s the global context for Arab authoritarianism. It’s not that the Arabs are somehow innately authoritarian. There are forces in the world that support Arab authoritarianism. – Speak to the mic. – [Man] Thank you, professor. My question is related
to the ongoing upheaval in Sudan. Actually, when you are talking, there are a lot of features resembles what is happening in Sudan. I think the difference in Sudan now, there is a professional federation is guiding this upheaval in Sudan. The unique thing about it is that we don’t know the leadership of this federation until now. There’s only one person who was arrested by the security apparatus of Sudan. The spokesman is in Ireland. But in the meantime, there’s a credibility in the Sudanese society on regard to this. My question is that do you know the (speaking
in a foreign language) the National Islamic Front, National Salvation revolution in Sudan, there were able to fragment
the political parties. Political parties couldn’t
confront the regime. They couldn’t implement a strategy to topple the regime. But there are a lot of talk now about the possibility of
success on regard to this. My question is that from your studies, from
those four countries, what are the main strategies or strategies that, advocated by those federations, that led to the toppling of those regimes? – Do you mind if we collect
a few questions and then? – Sure.
– Answer all of them. – Let me just answer this
one because this is quick. Your question contained more information about Sudan than I can give you. I’ve never been to Sudan. Of course, what’s
happening in Khartoum now is part of the picture, absolutely part of the picture, but I can’t say any more about it than you already did. – We’ll take a few questions in a row. One, two and then three there. – [Man] Thank you for your talk. Would it be fair to say that there has been a historical distance between Islamist movements and labor, trade union movements in the Middle East? If that’s the case, what would you say about that? – [Woman] Thank you,
professor, for your lecture. I actually come from a
journalistic background, so my observations of Egypt are strictly journalistic. I had the chance, during the revolution and slightly after, to observe, let’s say, the labor movement or the people who were involved with
the trade union movement. One of the things that I would see is that for me, these people were very disconnected with, let’s say, the general labor in, let’s say, the workers of Egypt because in Egypt, like in the majority of the Arab world,
there’s a huge percentage of the economy that’s gray economy. A lot of these people who work in Egypt, they’re not really employed in these big factories where organizing is very straightforward. On many occasions, I could see these people coming in into a situation with very dogmatic
understanding of things. They were very much stuck into this socialism theory or dogma that, I don’t know, I connect in my country, I’m from Bulgaria,
former Istanbul country, I connect with a past era, like we’ve gone beyond that. I feel like specifically in Egypt, I don’t know about Tunisia, Bahrain and the rest, but I feel like in Egypt, these people really behind
times on their thinking. – Who are these people
that you’re talking about? – [Woman] I saw, for example, a photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy
in your presentation. I think he was one of those people. I talked to some people from the revolutionary socialists. – This is 200 people. This is 200 people in a
country of 80 million. They have no weight whatsoever. – [Woman] Okay, so this is my observation. You can respond to it. – Hossam el-Hamalawy
is a good photographer. That’s why his name is on
the photo, but otherwise. – Over here. – [Man] Thank you for your presentation. I have two questions. The first one, the profile since 1945 that you made of the way that the national capital
instituted itself, it seems to me that you put it in a vacuum. It was a popular system. You described the capital as if it was no other, like the Soviet Union, China and all the rest. How did they react to the IMF and the World Bank and all this? If you could expand on that, and how it did reflect on Egypt and other countries. My second question is, and it’s related, that you didn’t address, you addressed the regimes and their
international network and how they are manipulated by international capital
(mumbles) and all this, but you presented the unions as an insular unit, how these unions were connected globally at that time. Is, or did you find, any coalition or structural relations with unions from Egypt, from Italy, from China or any other? – Let me, let me. I’m not gonna be able to remember. You raised the question about
trade unions and Islamists. The question is valid not only about trade unions. Politics in most of the Arab world has been polarized between the authoritarian regimes
and the Islamist opposition. In most cases, the trade union federations, certainly in Egypt, absolutely, lined up with the authoritarian regime against basically the rest of the country, but insofar as the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists, or
the main opposition force in Egypt, or Ennahda in Tunisia, against those Islamist forces. This is, in a way, the dilemma of the Arab world. If there is going to be democracy in the Arab world, there will have to be some modus vivendi between Islamists who
will accept the rules of democratic process, and secularists who will accept the rules
of democratic process. Any force that says that the other has to be eliminated, that’s a formula for authoritarian continuation, over and above the fact that the United States and other external forces are in favor of it. Really, I didn’t understand
your question at all because in Egypt, in Egypt, no trade unionists participated, no official trade unionists, participated in this whole strike movement for the 12 years before
Mubarak was ousted, or in the years after Mubarak was ousted. The Egyptian Trade Union Federation is an arm of the state. It has zero to do with workers, zero. Everything that happened happened as a result of local initiative. Then some people, like Hossam el-Hamalawy and other political characters, came along and said, oh, we could have a socialist revolution. That was never gonna happen. Hardly any workers thought it was going to happen. Some people who were journalists and who belong to the
revolutionary socialists or some other organizations, because they were journalists and because they were good journalists and because they reported on the strikes for years and years, like Mustafa Basyuni. He lived with workers in Mahallah and sat in with them and so on, and other places, as well. Yes, people trusted him. That didn’t mean that they thought there was gonna be a socialist revolution of that they supported his politics. That was simply irrelevant in Egypt. Trade unions, as trade unions, were simply not part of the movement. They were opposed to the movement. They, in fact, attacked demonstrators in Tahrir Square. To your question, capitalism didn’t end
because the Cold War ended. Capitalism is still capitalism, and capitalism is built
on the contradiction between labor and capital. That’s just the way it is. Even the International Monetary Fund, in their February 2011 report, more or less acknowledges it, but not in the language that I’m using it. Whatever happened in China or Russia or Bulgaria or whatever
during the Cold War, it’s not relevant to this story because what you saw, especially in Egypt and Tunisia, was classical class struggle. That’s not the terminology that people think is scientific, but that’s what it was. It continues, as in the demonstrations in Kasserine. Now is that gonna resolved in a socialist revolution? I don’t know. I think probably not. Anyway, I’m not a
prophet, I’m a historian. I can only tell you what
happened in the past. That’s not my point. I know Hossam el-Hamalawy pretty well. That was his point, but he was wrong, and now he admits he was wrong. I’m just describing a social movement that emerged out of this contradiction, in which the international
financial institutions and the United States government were actively intervening on one side, the side of authoritarianism and the side of global capitalism. Did any of these trade unions have international connections? Yeah, of course, they did, but they played no role in this situation, in this story. The Egyptian Trade Union Federation still, I think, even until very recently, belonged to the World
Federation of Trade Unions, which was the trade union federation that the communist bloc set up. It was opposed to the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions in the Cold War. Now that the Cold War is over, the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions, which was infiltrated by
the CIA quite heavily, changed its name so that past would be forgotten. But it wasn’t forgotten because that was one of the reasons for the split in the Egyptian Federation
of Independent Trade Unions because the American Federation of Labor, Congress of Industrial Organizations, AFL-CIO, has an international
Solidarity Center. They supported, but not actively and not in any organizational way, the independent labor movement in Egypt. They engaged me to write, in 2010, a report on the struggle
for labor rights in Egypt. I don’t play a role in Egyptian politics. I wrote a book. (laughs) I talked to workers, I interviewed people. I did what Giulio Regeni was doing. I wrote a book, and they published it. Did that play a role in the 2011 popular uprising? I doubt it. A few hundred people,
maybe, read the book. It was translated into Arabic, of course. It was mainly to let the rest of the world know about the poor conditions of most workers in Egypt and to try to mobilize support for them. Once Mubarak was gone, some of the activists in
the labor movement thought, oh, that’s a good thing, in part because they knew me and they trusted me and so on. Others said no, we don’t want anything to do with any American anything. Even if they did trust me personally, they were not happy that the Solidarity Center sponsored this little book that I wrote. Did that play any role? I don’t think it played much of a role in Egypt, but there was a big fear of the CIA, for good reasons. The CIA has not been a good actor in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Tunisia is very different because Tunisia, as I said, has this long tradition, from a decade before
independence from France, of a relatively autonomous trade union movement, which
has nationalist legitimacy in its own right, which, after being repressed
by the Bourguiba regime, had to be quiet, but under the surface, there were all of these local things going on that couldn’t
be totally repressed. That’s a very different
dynamic than Egypt. Yeah, the UGTT was a member of the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions, Tunisia was aligned with the United States in the Cold War, but that played no role whatsoever. That didn’t mean that
they didn’t go on strike, that didn’t mean that they didn’t oppose the policies that the
IMF and the World Bank supported in Tunisia. They did. Did they fight hard against them? No, because they would have been smashed. But they tried to maneuver in their situation. Bahrain, before 2011, was like Qatar. It wasn’t as rich as Qatar, but it’s not a poor country. The shape of the trade union movement was very different, and also
very much determined by, as I said, the fact that its leadership had four decades of political experience before the trade union
federation was formed. Those people played a role in the struggle for independence against the U.K. and they were involved
in all sorts of things. Morocco is also its own very different story, so part of what I’m saying here is these are not all the same things. Yes, workers in these countries, and in many, many, many other countries in the Global South, rebelled against the policies of the Washington consensus, but the outcomes were not necessarily the same at all. Because I am arguing that this process is not
over in the Arab world, we still don’t know what the outcomes, ultimately, will be. – We have time for, we’ll take two more questions, so
here and here, and then. – [Man] Thanks, also, for your talk. I’m really glad we got you over. Just a very quick question. I realize you’re talking
about very separate, different contexts, but
I’d be interested to know what kind of relationship
the workers’ organizations had with religious communities
and religious language? I’m not talking about Islamists. I’m talking about religious communities. – This is a very local thing. Workers in Egypt, in industrial towns like Helwan and Mahallah al-Kubra, Shibin El Kom, voted for the Muslim Brothers in the parliamentary elections in the Mubarak era, when they were free
enough for that to matter. The last ones were not. They didn’t vote for them because they were Muslim Brothers, or even because they supported the Muslim Brothers. They voted for them ’cause they’re the opposition. I get that’s the problem. If those are the
possibilities of politics, Mubarak or the Muslim Brothers, well, we’re not having democracy then. In Tunisia, there is a similar dynamic. You can draw a line in the middle of the country, and the majority of the population south of that line votes for Ennahda, and the majority of the population north of that line,
except for one province in the corner there,
votes for Nidaa Tounes. Do all the people in the south and southwest of the country, are they all Islamists? No, they are not. They are voting against Tunis. Tunis has ignored them, discriminated against them. If you talk to intellectuals in Tunis, they thought those people are barbarians. They’re your country people. But, no, they have no regard for them, so, of course, people fought against them. Again, there won’t be real democracy if those are the two possibilities. If people in Tunis would
actually pay attention to what the people in Kasserine are saying and try to actually do something about it, then we could have a more
democratic situation. – Last question. – [Man] Last question, and thank you. It’s sort of a future question. It’s sort of your insights
towards the future on a particular subject. Related to the new formations of employees, contract employees, freelance employees, which we’re seeing emerging
a lot in the region. Also, new sectors, particularly in the knowledge economy, which we see many governments sort of subscribing to this as this is the future, in that sense, and operating new sectors. Do you see trade unions
being able to operate within this emerging new environment? – Not yet. First of all, knowledge economy, that’s been promoted in Egypt since the Mubarak era. It’s very difficult to
have a knowledge economy where close to 1/2 the population is functionally illiterate. The educational system in Egypt, from kindergarten through Ph.D, is simply dysfunctional. People do not learn how to think. When I taught at the
American University of Cairo and I’m assigning, to MA students, critical responses to the readings. A pretty bright Egyptian guy, he’s just writing
summaries of the readings. I give him a B-. How comes and he says, “Professor, “I never got grades like this. “I always got As. “Aren’t I doing the summaries
of the readings correctly?” I said, “The summaries
of the readings are fine, “but that’s not the assignment. “The assignment is to engage critically “with the readings.” He says, “You mean I should criticize “something a professor wrote?” I said, “Yeah.” He never thought that he
had permission to think. If this is among the very best Egyptian students, and a student at the American University in Cairo, what about the rest of the country? We won’t have much knowledge economy in that kinda situation. Yes, there will be an elite, and there is an elite in Egypt, in Tunisia, certainly in Bahrain, who are totally integrated,
digital economy, everything, but that’s not gonna solve the problem of mass unemployment. Even in the United States, it doesn’t. The high-tech doesn’t have deep social roots in the way that, say, in the 1950s and 1960s one out of every six
jobs in the United States was in or related to
the automobile industry. High-tech is nothing like that. If it doesn’t work in the United States, it’s not likely to work
in the Global South. Until now, high-tech is very individualistic and anarchistic and libertarian in its philosophical orientation. That’s not an environment
that is conducive to trade union organization. Trade union organization is based on the recognition that we
have a collective interest. It doesn’t mean that we’re all the same, but that there is the employer, and there is us. High-tech doesn’t have, it’s not trade union friendly and it’s not labor friendly. Even people, I come from Stanford, even people who are paid 100,000, $200,000 a year, they
are brutally exploited. They work 80 hours a week. How can they have a?

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