Here is some critical background information on key role of workers in recent Egyptian events. Stanford historian Joel Beinin confirms my view that the uprising has been in part a response to neo-liberalism and the authoritarian nature of politics that is associated with globalization. For more on labor and authoritarianism in the global economy see my book, From Che to China.
This makes the current international movement very different than what happened in Poland in 1980-81 or in eastern Europe more generally after 1989. In fact, Polish Solidarity was defeated by martial law and neo-liberalism unleashed in the 1980s and 90s.
But the Egyptian events come in response to two decades of neo-liberalism as Mubarak oversaw the dismantling of the state socialism of the Nasser era. As Beinin says about a minimum wage campaign by Egyptian textile workers:
“Raising the minimum wage is not simply an economic demand, it’s a political demand, because it is in opposition to the whole neoliberal economic restructuring project that has been proceeding very rapidly in Egypt, especially since the government that was recently deposed was installed in July 2004.”
A similar kind of neo-liberal reform process is underway in China as the authoritarian regime transitions from Maoist state socialism to property rights based capitalism. And workers there are also engaged in widespread job actions, so it is possible the events of Cairo could be echoed in Beijing and Shanghai. Indeed, there are reports the Chinese censored media and internet coverage of the Egyptian and Tunisian events.