Daily Archives: February 12, 2011

Egypt is not Poland – conservative thinkers wrong about labor’s role in Tunisia and Egypt

This commentary in the UK Guardian tells an important aspect of the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt that is not getting near enough attention in the US, namely that the 18 day movement that ousted Mubarak came after years of struggle and conflict with workers organizing a key factor.

But the article comes up short in its analogy with Poland.

As is now well known, the Polish Solidarity movement that emerged in 1980-81 was killed off by the imposition of martial law. (I was there in Poland in the 80s meeting with underground activists and saw the impact). What re-emerged in 1989-1991 as Stalinism collapsed was a far weaker organization unable to withstand the neo-liberal regime being imposed on a global scale.

In other words, the Polish working class was defeated not victorious over a twenty year period and thus it is not really an “appealing model” as the authors suggest despite the undeniable heroism and inspiration that the 1980-81 period provided the entire eastern European democracy movement.

In Egypt and Tunisia, on the other hand, the strike wave has emerged in the wake of the attempt to impose neo-liberal reforms. Thus, these new unions face directly not just questions of union freedom but of economic and political structure in their society.

And certainly if they do not move beyond what might be called “ordinary bread and butter trade unionism” they will once again find themselves under the yoke of global economic forces, but with new bosses who happen to use Facebook and Google.

But if the Egyptians and Tunisian workers can find a new voice, they may in fact provide an inspiration to Polish workers and workers around the world that resistance to the neo-liberal model of globalization can succeed.

It may be that the reason the authors do not reach this fairly straightforward conclusion and try to steer the Guardian’s labor audience back in time is that there is a conservative edge to their thinking – Lee, although a web designer for trade unions and editor of a website on union events, is a strong defender of some of the worst of Israel’s politics and was a supporter of the US invasions of Yugoslavia and Iraq, while Weinthal is a fellow at a neo-con think tank and writes for National Review Online.

Trade unions: the revolutionary social network at play in Egypt and Tunisia | Eric Lee and Benjamin Weinthal