Kristian Takvam Kindt
is a researcher at the Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies. He holds a BA in Arabic and MA in sociology from the University of Oslo. The role of trade unions in the Egyptian transition was the topic of his MA thesis. He has worked and studied in Egypt in 2009 a...
Trapped outside politics: Egyptian independent unions’ democratising dilemma
Kristian Takvam Kindt, 17 July 2014
Currently the independent trade union movement is one of the most active forces in Egyptian civil society. Since the 2011 revolution, on average three strikes per day have been organised. The demands are workplace specific, such as for higher wages, rather than for overall structural changes, however. Can these independent trade unions play a positive role for democratisation in Egypt? The report argues that the independent trade unions make important contributions to democratisation at the local level through increasing workers’ sense of agency, democratising industrial relations from below and creating a space where people from different ideological affiliations can work together. However, the weakness of the national federations of independent unions, the lack of a legal framework fully recognising freedom of association and the unwillingness of workers to bring their concerns to the national level impair the unions’ impact as pro-democracy actors. The dilemma facing independent trade unions is that they have to move from the local to the national level if they are to become more significant democratising actors. Doing so, however, risks alienating their base, destroying their depolarising potential, increasing the risks of co-optation and hence threatening their very existence.