After decades of political repression, the revolution in Egypt has made way for democratic reform. Yet this dramatic and unanticipated turn of events raises concerns that Egypt could get mired in lasting instability and conflict. Fostering democratic reform, promoting stability, and preventing conflict will require efforts on many fronts. But one essential task is reinforcing the country’s burgeoning trade union movement.
Trade unions are essential social institutions that serve multiple functions. They help broker the relationship between employers and employees, but they also mobilize workers to foster political participation as well as ensure that government policies are responsive to the needs of workers. Strong trade unions are essential for “just jobs,” or jobs complete with labor rights including the right to organize and collective bargaining, appropriate remuneration, social protections such as health care and pensions, and opportunities for economic mobility. Without just jobs democratic reform and stability in Egypt will prove to be elusive.
Egypt’s trade union movement is at an important juncture. Prior to the downfall of former leader Hosni Mubarak, the government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, or ETUF, was the sole trade union in the country. The right to form and join trade unions other than ETUF was heavily curtailed by the law. As the Mubarak regime came under attack during the revolution so did the ETUF. The ensuing transition made way for a proliferation of independent trade unions and a new independent federation composed of newly mobilized trade unions that were not allowed to exist previously.
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