Finally, the media are giving token recognition to the fact that what is happening in Tahrir Square Cairo has been built on the backs of millions of Egyptian workers who waged 3,000 strikes over the past eight years. And that the April 6 Youth Movement took its name from one of largest coordinated strikes of several factories and work places in Mahalla, right outside of Cairo in 2008. When that strike was put down by secret police and military occupation of the factories, the wives and children of the workers demonstrated in Mahalla, also meeting with savage repression.
Since the beginning of current events in Cairo, the reporters have rarely mentioned that at the same time as the uprising in Cairo was taking place, larger gatherings of demonstrators in Suez were under violent attack from police and army. Apparently there are fewer affluent, bilingual protesters in Suez, and the revolt there is made up of lower-income, working people. Why haven’t NPR, BBC, Democracy Now, Al Jazeera, and our maverick liberal independent reporters gotten into Suez to interview people participating in these larger, more violently repressed demonstrations of working class protesters?
Today, with the announcement that thousands of workers in Suez were on strike, the liberal media were happy to report this, as though workers have been dormant, and just now decided to give their support to those in Tahrir Square. Of course, no one is reporting from Suez, so the televised attention immediately reverts to the dancing and singing in Tahrir Square, and reporters’ delight at seeing 1000’s of doctors “in their white coats” and lawyers “in their black robes” joining the festivities. Tomorrow, Democracy Now reports, professors will march from Cairo University to the square.
And what will be happening to the workers of Suez? Who among the corporate media or the so-called “alternative” press will venture out of their “comfort zone” to discuss with the workers of Suez and Alexandria the demands of the workers there for a decent standard of living and adequate wages, and…well, who knows what more they might be demanding, since hardly anyone interviews them. Apparently, they are not sitting around with their laptops or ipods, texting, tweeting, and checking out Facebook.
According to Evan Rohar of Labor Notes reporting on the Suez workers’ strike, “Egyptian authorities are beefing up security around the canal, claiming that Hamas and Hezbollah plan to dispatch saboteurs to aid the rebellion. Maybe they’re acting on real intelligence, or maybe they’re afraid of what the workers could do for themselves and for their revolution.” (“Suez Canal Strike Could Rattle Egypt’s Regime” 02/10/2011). Rohar makes the same mistake as many other reporters in stating that the workers demands are “economic” and “not political.” How can any American alive and aware today say that demands for higher wages, increased benefits, better working conditions, social welfare programs, and the right to organize and protest are not “political” demands. It is time for the false distinction between what is economic and what is political to end. The politics of today demand cuts in real wages, elimination of benefits packages, unemployment, and an end to workers organizing and striking. (See Get Your Wheelbarrows Ready! Capitalism in Crisis)
On Thursday, Mubarak announced again (this is the third time) to the thousands gathered in Tahrir that he will not resign until September. If and when Mubarak stands down, or if the Genius of Torture (Mubarak’s good friend and his “Vice President”) takes over, or if the military pulls off the threatened coop, what then? Do you think all these brave, idealistic students and professionals have anything to learn from the millions of workers who have organized 3,000 illegal strikes throughout industries and cities of Egypt over the past decade?
One articulate English-speaking Egyptian man interviewed today by the BBC stated his belief that nothing would really change in Egypt as long as the US and Israel continued to arm, train, and support the Egyptian military. When he accused the foreign media in general of being biased and ignoring these facts, he was quickly interrupted by the BBC reporter who made it clear that she and many of her colleagues would not agree with him.
I would go further and say that as long as the media focus on primarily interviewing professionals in Tahrir Square, and does not link up the actions there with reporting directly from Suez and other areas of Egypt where larger, less jubilant actions have taken place, they are complicit in isolating and dividing what should be a successfully coordinated movement, as is Obama in continuing financial support for the Egyptian military while praising “Egypt’s young people.” Both are singing the song of “democracy” while avoiding the underlying issues, and ignoring the experience, strength, and knowledge that has been gained through years of activism by unions and working people in Egypt. Nothing has really changed, and the truth remains THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED.
MARY LYNN CRAMER has degrees in the history of economic thought and clinical social work , as well as over two decades of experience as a bilingual clinical social worker. For the past five years, she has been deeply involved in “economic field research” among elderly women and men dependent upon social security, Medicare, and food stamps, living in subsidized housing projects. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org