Making American Public Sector Workers Pay Instead of Greedy Corporates

In a bizarre, post-crisis turn of events, public sector activities, in general, and public sector workers, in particular, have become the targets of rightwing attacks in the US. Government spending is unsustainable it is being argued, and therefore, the public sector must be trimmed, by reducing jobs and slashing wages and benefits. It is indeed true that government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen sharply by around seven percentage points from 35 per cent to 42 percent (see Chart). But this occurred during the years after the crisis, when the government was pumping billions of dollars to bail-out the financial system that had speculated its way to failure and the firms that were damaged by the recession that ensued. It was the “subsidy” to capital rather than payments to workers that increased public spending to significantly higher levels.

It is to ostensibly address that problem, that the US House of Representatives recently approved a bill cutting spending this year by $61 billion. But the cuts don’t fall on the rich. Spending cuts, as is well known, fall heavily on social spending for the poor. Reduced social security for the poor and middle classes are the first consequences of austerity. But the impact soon goes further. It begins to adversely affect public sector employment and the benefits accruing to public sector workers.

At the moment, the attacks seem sharper in the states. In Wisconsin, for example, public sector workers are protesting an effort by Republican governor Scott Walker to reduce their benefits and limit their collective bargaining rights. Governor Walker wants workers to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, to roll back wage increases and limit the length of employment contracts. He also wants to bar most state and local government employees from negotiating on issues like benefits and work conditions. In addition, he is working to weaken unions by requiring them to face an annual vote to retain recognition, while pressuring workers to stop paying union dues and resign from union membership.

The reason for the attack is a budgetary deficit that is projected to touch $3 billion. The argument is that public sector pay and benefits are now way out of line with that in the private sector, necessitating some sacrifice on the part of these workers to redress imbalances in public finances. This is an argument that is being pursued in other states as well: New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Indiana among them. And these states see the standoff between the unions and government in Wisconsin as the test of whether they can get their own public sector workers to accept austerity to resolve at least partly their fiscal problems.

Budgetary shortfalls are not, however, engineered by workers. They reflect the fact that governments have not been able to keep revenues buoyant as expenditures rise. One reason is the increasing reticence of governments to tax their citizens and their proclivity to offer huge tax concessions, especially to the more well to do among them. This inability to get citizens, especially the rich, to finance through taxes the social services and infrastructure they benefit from is one among the many failures inherent in a neoliberal ethos that celebrates the market and the wealth derived by a few from its workings. Seen in that light the attack on public sector workers is not the solution to the public sector crisis, but a way of diverting attention from its real sources and origins.

This reasoning is supported by the fact that judging by relative circumstances, Wisconsin should not be a state that should consider forcing public workers to tighten their belts to resolve the fiscal crisis and release resources to support a recovery. The state’s deficits are nowhere near the top of the league table in the US. Its unemployment rate is, at 7.5 percent, below the national average. And, its pension fund is assessed as being relatively robust. Ideologically, the attack on the public sector in the state of Wisconsin originates elsewhere and not in a fiscal crisis.

The attack on public sector workers is not a marginal issue. Such workers in state and city governments and educational institutions total 19.4 million and account for close to 15 per cent of the workforce in the US. Their significance does not stop here. Over the last four and half decades, the unionised segment of the non-agricultural workforce has collapsed from close to a third to just above 12 per cent. Much of the decline has been in the private sector, which has managed to push workers out of unions. According to figures from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, in 2009, the number of unionised public-sector employees (7.9 million) rose above that of private-sector employees (7.4 million), even though public sector workers are a minority even in the non-agricultural sector. Attacking unions in the public sector is, therefore, a larger attack on collective bargaining.

That attack comes at a time when workers are at the losing end of a sharp shift in the distribution of incomes. Workers wages and benefits have stagnated in real terms in the US for a long time now. On the other hand, incomes of the super-rich have exploded. According to University of Massachusetts economists Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thomson, “during the economic expansion and Wall Street bubble years of 2002–07, the average incomes of the richest 1 percent of households rose by about 10 percent per year, more than three times that for all households. The richest 1 percent received fully 65 percent of all household income growth between 2002–07.”

Rather than tax these surpluses at the top of the pyramid to help resolve the crisis, the right has decided to shift attention to a small segment of the workforce they mistakenly claim is pampered. It is indeed true that the public sector is the standard bearer for the terms and conditions that constitute decent work. But that standard is not extravagant. For similar qualifications and experience public sector workers in the US earn less than those in the private sector. And even those terms have not been garnered with ease. Using the unavoidable public accountability of government, to sustain unions in the public sector, has ensured them. That union strength has in turn been used to win and retain better employment terms and conditions.

This points to points to the real factors explaining the effort to bash the public sector and its workers. It is part of an effort to weaken unions and dilute the standards to which private workers would aspire for. This would make stagnant real wages, deteriorating work conditions and high unemployment appear to be the unavoidable lot of the many, who will not have options to turn to and better conditions to look to and aspire for. Even when there is enough money to dole out concessions to the rich.

What is shocking is the context in which this occurs. America’s government has just poured billion of dollars to buy up worthless toxic assets, render banks that speculated their way to near bankruptcy solvent, and offer cheap credit to speculators who put their institutions and the country’s economy at peril, so that they can bounce back to profits and pay themselves big bonuses. The attack on public sector unions is only an effort to cover up these unjustifiable actions.

By CP Chandrashelhar/thehindu.com

Tom Morello Rages Against Anti-Union Bill at Wisconsin Rally, Denounces ‘Mubarak of Midwest’

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello spent Monday at the Wisconsin protests, performing acoustic songs at a rally and delivering a fiery speech to the thousands inside of the capital rotunda who are protesting Governor Walker’s attempt to end the right of state employees to collectively bargain.

“What’s happened so far might be the most inspiring 24 hours of my life as an activist,” Morello tells Rolling Stone. “I’ve never seen this kind of outpouring of unapologetic, steel-backboned support for union causes in the United States. The Madison police were delivering bratwurst to the protesters inside the capitol, and the kids were thanking them. It was unbelievable.”

At a freezing cold rally outside of the capital, Morello was joined by Rise Against frontman Tim Mcilrath, Wayne Kramer of the MC5 and Boston folk group Street Dogs. The show mixed classics like Neil Young’s “Ohio,” Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” and Morello’s driving acoustic version of Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio.” “No matter what Gov. Walker, the Mubarak of the Midwest, says, this land is your land,” Morello said before singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” “Never give up and never give in!”

If Governor Walker’s bill passes, it would effectively destroy Wisconsin’s civil servant unions; many fear that other Republican-controlled states would attempt to follow suit. “I come from a coal-mining town in central Illinois where everybody was union,” says Morello.

“For almost 30 years, my mom was a public high school teacher in Libertyville, Illinois. I grew up with a firm belief that the leverage we have as working people is through the union. It’s the only counterweight to the raw greed of corporate power. For the past 22 years, I’ve been a union man in L.A. as a member of the Professional Musicians Local 47.”

After the rally, Morello entered the packed Capitol rotunda, which had been occupied for the past week, grabbed a bullhorn, and made one of the most rousing speeches of the day. “This is what they do in times of economic crisis,” Morello said.

“They think people aren’t paying attention, that they can just sneak through this legislation that would rob us of decades, centuries of social progress. We didn’t pick this fight. [Governor Walker] tapped us on the shoulder and said ‘let’s fight.’ And now we’re gonna knock his legislative teeth out.”

Patrick Doyle/Rolling Stone


Strikes, Workers’ Protests Spread Throughout Egypt

Large numbers of workers in Egypt’s main cities staged strikes and street demonstrations yesterday for higher wages, better working conditions, and the removal of corrupt managers of state-owned enterprise promoted under former President Hosni Mubarak. The movement of the working class is developing in defiance of the ruling military command, which has stridently demanded an end to all industrial action.

The junta, headed by Mubarak’s henchmen Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, declared an unscheduled public holiday yesterday, apparently in an attempt to defuse the strike wave. The military also declared today a public holiday.

Workers across many industries nevertheless mobilised yesterday, in both the public and private sectors. One BBC journalist commented, “There appears to be a whole series of mini-revolutions going on in the wake of the removal of Mr. Mubarak”.

The Central Bank of Egypt ordered that banks throughout the country be closed because of a strike by workers in the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), the largest state bank. Hundreds of workers demonstrated outside NBE’s headquarters, reportedly demanding that temporary workers be granted permanent positions. “It’s part of the revolution,” the bank’s chairman, Tarek Amer, told the Associated Press. “They believe that it’s an opportunity—if they had any complaints and demands—and that there’s a higher probability of getting them answered.”

Thousands of oil and gas workers employed by several companies are on strike and staged a protest yesterday in the Nasr City district of Cairo, outside the Ministry of Petroleum. According to blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy: “The workers have several economic and political demands, including putting an end to abusive management practices such as sacking workers who speak up for their rights, reinstating the sacked workers, raising salaries that roughly average LE400 [$68], establishing an independent union, impeaching the corrupt oil minister Sameh Fahmy, and stopping gas exports to Israel.”

Also in Cairo, hundreds of public transport workers demanded higher wages outside the state television and radio building. One of the workers, Ahmed Said, who has worked as a driver for 18 years, told the Guardian that more than half of his wages goes toward paying rent and he is forced to feed his family of five on the rest. “There is just enough money for food… If a child goes to the hospital and we have to pay for that, then me and my wife do not have a meal. This is wrong. How can Mubarak be worth so much and we have so little? Before, we had to be careful. We would be arrested. But now we can talk. We need food. We have been on strike four days. The army cannot stop us.”

Hundreds of ambulance paramedics demanding better pay parked about 70 vehicles in a row on a roadside along the Nile River in Giza district. Employees at a key Cairo traffic tunnel threatened to shut down the route if their wages weren’t raised. Several hundred people employed by the state Youth and Sports Organisation also demonstrated in Tahrir Square for improved working conditions.

Among other reported struggles, workers with state airline EgyptAir went on strike at Cairo International Airport and successfully demanded that the company’s head, Alaa Ashour, be removed. About 500 employees of the Opera House have similarly accused the organisation’s chairman of corruption and demanded his removal. Workers with the education ministry in Cairo’s satellite 6th of October City also protested yesterday, demanding higher wages, permanent contracts for temporary workers, and the removal of the ministry director.

The action was supported by several students. Kholoud Abdallah, from a secondary vocational school, told Al Ahram, “We have no books, no computers and we require these for study.”

There were also reports of continued strikes by textile, steel, and post office state workers.

Several hundred people also staged a demonstration outside the Mubarak regime’s official trade union body, the Trade and Workers Federation, demanding that the federation’s board be dissolved. Union bureaucrats inside the building reportedly exchanged volleys of bricks and bottles with demonstrators outside, before they were separated by soldiers.

Outside of Cairo, workers went on strike at the enormous Sukari gold mine, near the southern town of Marsa Alam. Near the Great Pyramids, about 150 tourism industry employees protested for higher wages.

The Associated Press also reported that in Beni Sweif, an impoverished city south of Cairo, “thousands demanded the distribution of promised state-built, low-cost apartments that are often awarded on the basis of nepotism”. Police admitted that local people have occupied 60,000 empty units of such housing in the provinces of Cairo, Beni Sweif and Qalioubiya.

Police officers demanding higher wages staged a provocative demonstration in Tahrir Square yesterday morning. About 2,000 anti-Mubarak protestors held a counter-demonstration against the widely hated police, but Al Jazeera and other media outlets were forbidden from broadcasting any footage from the square. This censorship appears to be part of the military’s effort to remove all the protestors from Tahrir Square and project an image of a return to “normality”.

Another mass rally, however, dubbed a “victory march” has been called for Friday.

The military council issued a statement yesterday demanding an end to the strikes. “Noble Egyptians sees that these strikes, at this delicate time, lead to negative effects such as harming the security of the country which causes disruption in all institutions and facilities of the state,” a military spokesman declared. “[Strikes] negatively affect the ability to provide for the needs of citizens and disrupt the process of production and work in state sectors … and they negatively affect the national economy.”

This statement comes after an army official told Reuters that the military leadership intended to ban union meetings, effectively forbidding strikes. It stands as a sharp warning to the working class as to the policies the army hopes to ultimately carry out.

The military has been the central pillar of the Egyptian capitalist state ever since the 1952 Free Officers Coup. Under Mubarak’s IMF-approved “free market” measures, the senior command amassed enormous personal fortunes as the military appropriated vast swathes of privatised state industry and landed property. The workers’ movement for higher wages, jobs, improved living conditions, and democratic rights represents a direct threat to the army hierarchy’s lucrative interests, as well as an implicit challenge to the rule of the entire Egyptian bourgeoisie.

The latest developments underscore the military’s concern over the emerging movement of the working class in the final days of Mubarak’s rule. Mass strikes erupted February 8 and 9, continuing up until Mubarak made his televised speech on February 10 in which it had been expected he would announce his resignation, but instead strove to cling to power.

According to a detailed account published by Al Ahram, the dictator had intended to step down but was persuaded by his wife and son Gamal not to. When this threatened to provoke a further upsurge in the revolutionary movement, the military stepped in and seized power to try to maintain control over the situation.

Notably, none of the official middle class “opposition” parties—including the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed ElBaradei’s National Association for Change—has condemned the military’s threats against the working class. Striving to maintain illusions in the role of the army, these forces have urged an end to the demonstrations and strikes. ElBaradei and his colleagues are now preparing to enter the military regime.

Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague said yesterday that Egypt’s Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq told him that the current government would be reshuffled to include opposition figures by next week. While the successful elevation of these “opposition” forces would open up opportunities for the individuals involved, for the Egyptian working class it would signify no more than providing a civilian fig-leaf for the military government.

Prominent anti-Mubarak activists, Google executive Wael Ghonim and blogger Amr Salamahey, met with representatives of the military council. They were reportedly told that the army plans to rewrite the constitution within ten days—entirely behind the backs of the Egyptian people—and put it to a referendum for ratification within two months.

The military has yet to announce when it will deliver on its pledge to rescind Mubarak’s draconian emergency legislation. It has also remained silent on whether it will release the many political prisoners who remain in detention.

The Independent’s Robert Fisk asked: “Is this because there are prisoners who know too much about the army’s involvement in the previous regime? Or because escaped and newly liberated prisoners are returning to Cairo and Alexandria from desert camps with terrible stories of torture and executions by—so they say—military personnel.”

From WSWS

The Emerging Counter-Revolutions In Tunisia And Egypt

By Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

An arrogant pharaoh has fallen. Egyptians may be chanting that their country is free, but their struggle is far from over. The United Arab Republic of Egypt is not free yet. The old regime and its apparatus are still very much in place and waiting for the dust to settle. The Egyptian military is officially in control of Egypt and the counter-revolution is emerging. A new phase of the struggle for liberty has started.

The so-called regime-desired “transitional phases” in Tunisia and Egypt are being used to buy time in order to do three things. The first objective is to erode and eventually break the people’s popular demands. The second goal is to work to preserve neo-liberal economic policies, which will be used to subvert the political system, and to tighten the straightjacket of external debts. Finally, the third motivation and objective is the preparation of counter-revolution.

The Self-Selected Egyptian “Wise Men”

Unqualified figures are emerging, which claim to be speaking or leading the Arab people. This includes the so-called committee of “Wise Men” in Egypt. These unelected figures are supposedly negotiating with the Mubarak regime on behalf of the Egyptian population, but they have no legitimacy as representatives of the people. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, is amongst them. Secretary-General Moussa has also said that he is interested in becoming a future cabinet minister in Cairo. All of these figures are either regime insiders or agents of the status quo.

Amongst these self-chosen individuals also is the chief of Orascom Telecom Holdings (O.T.H.) S.A.E., Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Bloomberg Newsweek had this to say about Sawiri: “Most Egyptian businessmen are keeping low profiles these days. The protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square blame them for Egypt’s ills, and mobs have even trashed some of their properties. Yet Egypt’s most prominent mogul, Naguib Sawiris, chairman of Orascom Telecom Holding, the Middle East’s biggest telecome company is in Cairo fielding calls on his mobile phone, appearing on TV, and (as a member of an informal committee of “wise men”) negotiating with newly appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman about a gradual transfer of power away from President Hosni Mubarak. Far from discouraged, the billionaire thinks a more vibrant Egyptian economy may emerge from the turmoil.” [1]

The so-called “Wise Men” in Egypt are involved in bravado. To whom is the power “gradually” being “transfered”? Another unelected figure, like Suleiman?

What is the nature of the negotiations? Power sharing between an unelected regime and a new cast? There is nothing to negotiate with unelected despots. The role that the “Wise Men” play is that of a “manufactured opposition” that will keep the interests behind the Mubarak regime in place and also dilute the real opposition movements in Egypt.

Al-Mebazaa Given Dictator Powers while Tunisian Military Reservists are Mobilized

In Tunisia, military reservists are being summoned for duty to manage the protesters. [2] The mobilization of the Tunisian military has been justified under the pretext of combating lawlessness and violence. The Tunisian regime itself has been behind most this lawlessness and violence.

At the same time as the mobilization of Tunisian reservists, Fouad Al-Mebazaa, the interim president of Tunisia, has been given dictatorial powers. [3] Al-Mebazaa was the man that Ben Ali selected as parliamentary speaker of Tunisia and a leading figure inside Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDP) Party. Protesters peacefully tried to stop the members of the Tunisian Parliament from voting to grant dictatorial powers to Al-Mebazaa by blocking entry into the Tunisian Parliament.

The members of the Tunisian Parliament are all members of the “old regime.” Amid the protests, the Tunisian Parliament still managed to go forward with the plan: “Lawmakers eventually bypassed demonstrators by accessing the voting hall through a service door, the TAP news agency reported. In a 177-16 vote, the lower house approved a plan to give Interim President Fouad Mebazaa temporary powers to pass laws by decree.” [4] The next day, the Tunisian Senate would approve this too. [5]

Al-Mebazza can now select governors and officials at will, change electoral laws, give amnesty to whomsoever he pleases, and bypass all Tunisian state institutions through his decrees. The passing of the motion to give Al-Mebazza what amounts to dictatorial powers is an illustration of the facets of “cosmetic democracy.” This act by the kangaroo Tunisian Parliament is being passed off as a democratic act of voting, but in reality all its members were undemocratically selected by the Ben Ali regime.

The Generals of the Egyptian Military and Vice-President Suleiman are a Continuation of Mubarak

In Egypt, the commanders of the military have stated that they will not allow the protests to continue for much longer. The military leadership of Egypt are all heavily invested into the kleptocratic status quo of the Mubarak regime. Egyptian generals or flag officers are all wealthy members of the Egyptian capitalist class. Without any distinctions, the leadership of the Egyptian military and the Mubarak regime are one and the same. All key figures in the Mubarak regime are from the ranks of the military.

Omar Suleiman, the newly appointed vice-president of Egypt and the general who was the former head of the intelligence services of Egypt, has started to back-track on the promises made by the Mubarak regime and himself. The New York Times reported that “Omar Suleiman of Egypt says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders.” [6] Just days before Mubarak’s resignation, Suleiman has also stated: “He does not think that President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September [2011]. And he does not think [Egypt] is ready for democracy.” [7]

Battles have been Won, But the Struggle Continues…

The stakes are getting higher. The people of Tunisia and Egypt should be aware that the U.S. government and the European Union are politically hedging their bets. They support the counter-revolutions of the old regimes, but are also working to co-opt and control the outcomes of the protest movements. In another development, the U.S. and NATO are also making naval deployments into the Eastern Mediterranean. Specifically with Egypt in mind, this too could be meant to aid the counter-revolution, but it can also be used to intervene against a successful revolution.

The events in Tunisia and Egypt have proven wrong all the false assumptions about the Arab peoples. The Tunisian and Egyptian people have acted peacefully and intelligently. They have also proven that the assumption of an advanced political culture in Western Europe, North America, or Australia is merely utter nonsense used to justify repression of other peoples.

NOTES

[1] Stanley Reed, “Egypt’s Telecom Mogul Embraces Uprising,” Bloomberg Businessweek, February 10, 2011.
[2] “Tunisia calls up reserve troops amid unrest,” Associated Press (AP), February 7, 2011.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Kaouther Larbi, “Tunisia Senate grants leader wide powers,” Agence France-Presse (AFP), February 10, 2011.
[6] Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, “In Egypt, US Weighs Push For Change With Stability,” The New York Times, February 8, 2011, A1.
[7] Ibid.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG).

 

Egypt: Working Class Moves to the Fore

During the past few days a steady stream of reports has confirmed the increasingly decisive role of the Egyptian working class in the struggle against the Mubarak regime. While the mass assemblies and clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo have been the focal point of media coverage, the growing wave of working class militancy—in the form of protest demonstrations and strikes—will have a greater impact on the course of events.

In the industrial community of Kafr al-Dawwar—a historic center of working class militancy—hundreds of silk and textile workers participated in protests over inadequate pay and bad conditions. In Helwan, a Nile city south of Cairo, 4000 workers from the Coke Coal and Basic Chemical Company announced a strike.

While demanding higher pay, permanent contracts for temporary workers, and an end to corruption, the workers also declared their solidarity with protestors in the capital. In another significant protest action in Helwan, 2000 silk workers participated in a demonstration that demanded the removal of their company’s board of directors.

In the city of Mahalla, located in the Nile Delta, 1500 workers protested the late payment of wages and bonuses. In another struggle in that city, hundreds of workers at a spinning company participated in a sit-in demanding action on over-due promotions. In Quesna, also located in the Delta, 2000 pharmaceutical workers went on strike.

More than 6000 workers employed by the Suez Canal Authority in Port Said, Ismailia and Suez staged sit-ins to demand adjustments in their pay. Also in Suez, 400 workers employed by the Misr National Steel Company initiated industrial action.

This movement of the Egyptian working class began long before the mass protests in Cairo that began during the last week of January. As documented in a study by Professor Joel Beinin, a specialist in the history of the Egyptian labor movement, the developing strike wave “is erupting from the largest social movement Egypt has witnessed in more than half a century. Over 1.7 million workers engaged in more than 1,900 strikes and other forms of protest from 2004 to 2008.”

Ironically, the growth of labor militancy has been, for the sclerotic Egyptian regime, an unwelcome consequence of economic growth during the last decade. This growth has been fueled by the massive inflow of international capital into Egypt during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Foreign Direct Investment increased from $400 million in 2000 to $13.2 billion in 2007-08. Egypt is now the largest recipient of FDI on the African continent. Between 2004 and 2007, the annual rate of GDP growth increased from 4 percent to 7.2 percent.

But the benefits of economic growth have been confined to a small section of society. Despite strikes that have occasionally wrested concessions, the overwhelming mass of the working population is mired in poverty. Moreover, the regime has responded to the rising challenge from the working class with escalating brutality and repression.

Now, in the context of a nation-wide mass movement against the Mubarak regime, the decisive question is the role of the working class in deciding not only the fate of Mubarak, but the nature of the regime that arises from the ongoing revolutionary convulsions.

From WSWS

Top Down Takeover Of Egypt’s Revolution

The revolution in Egypt erupted like all revolutions do, from the bottom up. It was unemployment and high food prices that propelled working and poor people into action. Now, the media reports that the “opposition” in Egypt is a group of well-to-do folks who have very little in common with the poor of Egypt.

This top down takeover of the revolution is being engineered with the support of the U.S. and European nations, the same allies of the dictatorship that lasted three decades. If this elite group of Egyptians manages to gain power, they’ll soon find themselves confronted with the real opposition of Egypt, the overwhelming majority of working and poor people.

Who are these upper-crust oppositionists? Middle East journalist Robert Fisk explains:

“[the oppositionists] include Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, … the Nobel prize-winner Ahmed Zuwail, an Egyptian-American who has advised President Barack Obama; Mohamed Selim Al-Awa, a professor and author of Islamic studies, … and the president of the Wafd party [a tiny political party], Said al-Badawi…Other nominees for the committee…are Nagib Suez, a prominent [super-wealthy] Cairo businessman… Nabil al-Arabi, an Egyptian UN delegate; and even the heart surgeon Magdi Yacoub, who now lives in Cairo.” (February 4, 2011).

What is the task of this committee? Al-Jazeera reports:

“The committee — which was formed last night… proposed that vice president Omar Suleiman [the head of the brutal secret police] preside over a transitional government, and that he pledge to dissolve parliament (whose lower house was elected just last year) and call early elections.” (February 4, 2011).

Are these oppositionists so naive to believe that a “pledge” from a snake like Suleiman is worth anything? Is this a man that any respectable person should be negotiating with?

And herein lies the problem. There can be no smooth “peaceful transition,” as Obama and other politicians would like to see, unless nothing in Egypt changes. This is because the ruling political power in the country, the National Democratic Party (NDP), has extremely deep ties to the rich and powerful in Egypt, backed up by both senior military officials and the U.S. government foreign aid program, which enriches various sections of the NDP. The New York Times explains:

“Since the revolt, the military has surged to the forefront, emerging as the pivotal player in politics it long sought to manage behind the scenes. The beneficiary of nearly $40 billion in American aid during Mr. Mubarak’s rule, its interests span the gamut of economic life — from the military industry to businesses like road and housing construction, consumer goods and resort management. Even leading opposition leaders, like Mohamed ElBaradei, have acknowledged that the military will have a key role in a transition.”

To summarize, U.S. aid to Egypt has been the lifeblood of the dictatorship and the ruling party associated with it, while leading opposition figures have no interests in confronting these powerful interests, only removing their current figurehead. The opposition group that plans to negotiate with the NDP must know that any agreed to middle ground will be unacceptable to the majority of Egyptians, since the NDP will work to maintain their own privileges and wealth.

If the ruling party stays intact, then so will the ruling security apparatus, which will eventually steer the wheel of history backwards again. The party of the dictatorship must be crushed and dismembered, so that real democracy can have room to grow. The official “opposition” has no interest in doing this, because they have no interest in real change.

What would real change look like? It would require a drastic departure from the free-market policies that have been implemented for years, including privatizations of state run industries, lowering taxes for the rich and corporations, eliminating regulations, subsidies, and tariffs, etc. These policies were required by the IMF and World Bank, U.S.-led institutions that created in Egypt what exists in the U.S. — an incredible gap between rich and poor.

None of Egypt’s “respectable” opposition are mentioning these policies, because many benefit from them.

If an anti-Mubarak, pro-free-market opposition gains power, they will collide immediately with the majority of working and poor Egyptians, who want a change in the above policies that brought about their misery.

The only opposition group that is expressing the economic demands of the people seems to be the newly-formed Egyptian Federation for Independent Unions, which broke away from the government dominated unions to demand that a “… a minimum wage no less than 1200 LE, with a yearly raise proportionate to inflation; guarantee workers rights to bonuses and benefits according to work value, especially work compensation for those facing work hazards.”

and:

“The right for all Egyptian citizens to fair social security including the right to health care, housing, education ‘ensuring free education and syllabus development to cope with science and technology evolution,’ the right for all retired to decent pensions and benefits.”

It is demands like these that will decide Egypt’s future the day after Mubarak is gone. This will require a complete transformation of Egypt’s political system, including its economic policies that are intimately connected to the billions of U.S. foreign aid. It will also require that Egypt’s poor and working class develop a clear vision of what they want in order to avoid being led astray by enemies acting as friends.

By Shamus Cooke/www.workerscompass.org

Egypt: Obama Groping In The Dark

The events of the past week in Egypt took the Obama administration by surprise. It did not foresee the mass revolt against Washington’s longtime asset, Hosni Mubarak. Even as tens of thousands of workers and youth were defying police violence last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was vouching for the stability of the regime.

The United States is heavily invested—politically, economically and militarily—in the Mubarak regime. Its reluctance to dispense summarily with the dictator is not an expression of sentimentality. Rather, the United States fears that the too rapid ditching of Mubarak will undermine the confidence of other dictators on the CIA payroll in the reliability of Washington.

However, in the final analysis, Mubarak’s fate is a secondary matter. Of incomparably greater concern to Washington is the survival of the Egyptian military and security services upon which capitalist rule depends.

At the moment, the Obama administration is concerned that an attempt to use the army to crack down on the protests could lead to the military’s collapse. It is not certain that the troops can be relied on to shoot down citizens on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and other cities, which might be the only way to save Mubarak.

US policymakers are haunted by the precedent of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Washington had not prepared a political alternative to the Shah, and the Iranian military cracked beneath the pressure of the revolution. The result was the loss of a critical client state in the Persian Gulf.

The policy being developed in Washington has, in the short term, two aims: to shore up the Egyptian military and intelligence apparatus—hence the appointment of intelligence chief and former general Omar Suleiman as vice president—and to prepare a political alternative to Mubarak if his removal proves necessary. But any replacement sanctioned by Washington will be nothing more than a puppet providing pseudo-democratic window dressing for a new military regime.

One candidate for the job is Mohamed ElBaradei, who is being promoted by the US media. A trusted representative of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, ElBaradei flew to Egypt from his home in Vienna last week for the explicit purpose of heading off a revolutionary overthrow and rescuing the bourgeois regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, has agreed to back ElBaradei as it makes its own bid for patronage from Washington.

In a series of television interviews on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clearly indicated the basic outlines of the counterrevolutionary strategy being developed by the White House. She avoided calling for Mubarak’s resignation while refusing to commit to his continued rule.

In line with the Obama administration’s cynical calls for democratic reform in Egypt, Clinton made the ludicrous statement: “We continue to urge the Egyptian government, as the United States has for 30 years, to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and begin to take concrete steps to implement democratic and economic reform.” [Emphasis added].

Of what has this 30-year crusade for democratic reform in Egypt consisted? Plying Mubarak with $35 billion in aid, overwhelmingly military, and lauding him as a staunch ally in the wars against Iraq, the defense of Israel and the “war on terror.” Not only has the US colluded in the regime’s murder and torture of political opponents, it has used Mubarak’s intelligence agencies and police as torturers-for-hire in Washington’s policy of kidnapping and “rendering” alleged terrorists.

Clinton added, “And we have to make the distinction, as they [the Egyptian army] are attempting to do, between peaceful protesters whose aspirations need to be addressed, and then those who take advantage of such a situation for looting and other criminal activity.”

Here Clinton is already distinguishing between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” forms of protest—the former being those that do not challenge US interests and the latter being those that do. She is laying down the political and pseudo-moral framework for justifying future mass repression.

Washington is aware that whatever government it sponsors will not end the political crisis in Egypt. It is impossible for any capitalist regime to meet a single one of the social or political demands of the masses—for jobs, an end to poverty in the cities and countryside, and the abolition of the brutally repressive police agencies.

Nor will a bourgeois regime end Egypt’s alliance with Israel, which has been an essential component of the country’s strategic role in the Middle East since the trip of President Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s predecessor, to Jerusalem in 1977. The venal Egyptian bourgeoisie is too complete an appendage of American imperialism to carry out such policies.

The Obama administration’s strategy, therefore, is to prepare the military, behind the façade of a phony “reform” administration, for a future brutal crackdown on the working class. One can be certain that behind the scenes, the Pentagon is conducting a detailed inventory of every regiment, brigade and branch of the Egyptian military to determine which forces can be relied upon.

The burning issue confronting the revolution is political leadership. The American ruling class is well aware of this fact. In an interview published Saturday, Jon B. Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said, “As in Tunisia, the protests appear to represent a largely leaderless movement with no clear agenda and no way to seize power.”

It is this political vacuum that American imperialism and its clients in the Egyptian ruling class seek to exploit.

From WSWS