Democratic Workers’ Party
The Democratic Workers’ Party (DWP) was founded by former members of the Revolutionary Socialists and other labor activists right after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
DWP’s main aim has been to defend labor rights and press for better working conditions. In addition to labor, party membership includes students and farmers. The party is experiencing an ongoing debate on whether its name should be changed to reflect the wide spectrum of its membership.
During Mubarak’s last decade of rule, Egypt witnessed a sharp increase in workers’ strikes, most notably the Mahalla Strike of 2006. That year, more than 20,000 textile workers went on strike in the city of Mahalla, one of Egypt’s biggest industrial cities, to protest management’s refusal to pay them a two-month profit bonus. The Mahalla workers attempted to initiate another mass strike in 2008, but their attempt was violently aborted after fierce clashes with state security forces. Subsequently, the entire city of Mahalla rebelled, and protesters started tearing down pictures of Hosni Mubarak.
The increase in labor strikes furthered the formation of independent trade unions as an alternative to state-dominated trade unions. Real Estate Tax Collectors were the first civil servants to establish an independent trade union in December 2008.
Additionally, workers’ strikes were essential in setting the stage for the January 25 Revolution. The growing wave of strikes after 2006 eventually led many opposition groups to focus their efforts on demanding an increase in the legal minimum wage from thirty-five EGP (no more than seven dollars per month) to 1,200 EGP. Their efforts ultimately led to a 2010 administrative court ruling upholding their demand, insisting the government implement the increase. The Egyptian government has yet to do so and only recently in June 2011 opted to increase the minimum wage to 700 EGP per month.
The DWP aims to be a voice for Egyptian workers who seek better pay and working conditions, as well as an improved social security program. Many workers who had been active in labor movement during Mubarak’s rule have joined the party together with members of the Revolutionary Socialists, a Trotskyite group known for its support of the labor movement.
Before the Revolution
The Revolutionary Socialists played a notable role in supporting workers’ strikes and demands before the January 25 Revolution. Originally established in 1995 by student groups active since the late 1980s, the Revolutionary Socialists has been influenced by Trotskyism and defines itself as an anti-capitalist group seeking to attain a socialist society through revolutionary change. The group believes this change should be global and should not be limited to any one country.
Though initially confined to university and intellectual settings, Revolutionary Socialists took to the streets during the second Palestinian Intifada and joined forces with the Egyptian Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Intifada. The Revolutionary Socialists have taken part in many coalitions since, and its members participated as individual members in the 2005 Kefaya Movement. And during the years preceding the January 25 Revolution, the group focused primarily on supporting the demands of worker social movements, particularly calls to set the monthly minimum wage to 1,200 EGP.
So far, the DWP has participated in all major demonstrations and sit-ins organized in Tahrir Square, including the three-week 8 July 2011 sit-in, which was forcefully dispersed on 1 August 2011 by Egyptian police, military, and security forces. The DWP continues to support workers’ strikes and the fight against the ban on labor strikes and demonstrations. Additionally, the DWP has supported several recent attempts to establish independent trade unions.
The DWP lacks a hierarchical structure, and is comprised of different committees. The Policymaking Committee is responsible for developing the party’s program goals and policy strategy with input from party members. The Public Actions Committee is responsible for establishing links with workers engaged in strikes in Egypt and supporting their demands. An Organizational Committee receives and processes membership applications. It also collects subscriptions and donations. The Media Committee is tasked with formulating public statements in partnership with the Policymaking Committee. It also manages the DWP Facebook publication, Sawt Al-Omal (Workers’ Voice).
The Organizational Committee is concerned with receiving and processing membership applications, and collecting subscriptions and donations. A Task Management Committee is responsible for overseeing and coordinating activities of the party’s affiliated labor groups, including groups active in factories or companies in various parts of the country. The Committee for Reclaiming Privatized Companies is responsible for collecting signatures in support of reversing the privatization of public sector companies. The committee includes several lawyers who are taking legal action relevant to this initiative.
The DWP is currently focusing on activating enough workers groups across the country in order to hold internal elections and form a Founding Committee, which will contain five members from each location.
While there were disagreements within the party on whether or not to participate, the party ultimately decided to boycott the upcoming legislative election process. Kamal Khalil, a key DWP political leader, told Jadaliyya/Ahram Online that the party does not approve of the current political environment in which elections are scheduled to take place because emergency and anti-strike laws remain in effect, while thousands of civilians still face military trials. The DWP is one of two leftist parties that decided to boycott the parliamentary poll, the second being the Egyptian Communist Party.
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Relationship with Other Political Parties
The DWP cooperation with other political parties is limited. But it has close ties to trade unions and like-minded social movements, notably the Independent Federation of Trade Unions, Popular Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and the Revolutionary Socialists.
Stance on Salient Issues
Economic Policy, Social Justice, and Labor
The DWP calls for a minimum wage of 1,500 EGP per month and a maximum wage of 30,000 EGP per month for state employees and workers. It also calls for all state pensions to be at least 1,200 EGP per month and adjusted regularly with inflation. The party also seeks to establish a national scheme for unemployment benefits of at least 600 EGP per month and is also involved in promoting independent trade unions.
The DWP also supports nationalization, without compensation, of all public sector companies sold to private investors below market price—whether foreign or local. The party further calls for nationalizing companies crucial to agriculture, including companies involved in the production and distribution of water and the production of seeds and fertilizers. It also calls for an abolition of all outstanding farmer debts.
The DWP opposes health-care privatization projects and supports the nationalization of all major hospitals. The party calls for free health care and education for all Egyptians and urges a substantial increase in Egypt’s health-care budget.
The DWP is committed to the equality of all individuals irrespective of religion, gender, ethnicity or race. It supports a constitution that upholds a civil democratic state that protects the economic and social rights of all its citizens.
Military Trials and Strike Laws
The DWP opposes the military trials of civilians, the emergency law, and the law criminalizing strikes, demonstrations, and sit-ins. It has participated in several protests against these practices and laws, and has signed statements denouncing them.
The DWP calls for annulling Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and for Egypt to regain full sovereignty over Sinai. The party opposes normalization with Israel and any form of cooperation with that country.
Media Image and Controversies
Although the DWP stands for what can be labeled as socialist ideals, many workers within its membership refuse to be labeled as such. Thus, the party does not officially identify itself as a socialist party.
A heated debate took place within the party’s membership on whether it should boycott the upcoming elections or not. While most workers wanted the party to participate in the elections, the “Revolutionary Socialists” wing” inside the party favored a boycott. The party ultimately decided to boycott the poll.
Haitham Mohammadein is a revolutionary socialist, a human rights lawyer affiliated with the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and a member of the Independent Federation of Trade Unions.
Kamal Khalil used to be a student activist and member of the January 8 Organization, a Marxist group active during the 1970s which later merged with the Communist Labor Party to form the Labor Party in 1983. He was arrested for instigating unrest during the 1977 bread riots.
Khalil joined the Revolutionary Socialists in 1990, then resigned after the organization split into two different groups: the Revolutionary Socialists and the Socialist Renewal Current. He says that he resigned to make room for younger activists to take on leadership positions. Khalil is also one of the founders of the Kefaya Movement and a member of Democratic Engineers, a political group active with the Egyptian Engineers’ Syndicate.
Khalil is known for his leading role in street demonstrations and was arrested by state security more than fifteen times. He participated in several anti-war and anti-Zionist initiatives and demonstrations.
Born in 1949, Khalil holds an engineering degree from Cairo University.
A founder of the Democratic Workers Party, Kamal Al-Fayyumi has been a worker at the Mahalla Textile Factory since the age of eighteen. He participated in the 2006 Mahalla Strike and subsequently represented workers in negotiations with the General Union of Textile Workers. Al-Fayyumi was one of the organizers the6 April 2008 General Strike, which led to his abduction and detention by the Egyptian State Security Investigation Services.
[Developed in partnership with Ahram Online.]
From Jadaliyya Editors:
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