By any measure January and February have been extraordinary months. Within several weeks two dictators, who were feted and dined for years by their Western sponsors, have been overthrown. In Egypt the events have caused commentators to talk about a period of ‘democratic opening’ and a ‘wave of popular politics’. In both revolts, it has been the involvement of the trade unions that has made the decisive difference. The strikes in Egypt, in the second weeks of the protests, in mines, public institutions and universities helped to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak left office.
There are two elements of these extraordinary revolts that need to be remembered. In the UK we have been fed a series of myths about the Arab world. We were told that democracy was a pipe-dream in the Middle East and that change could only come through armed intervention from the west. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have proved otherwise.
For trade unionists in the UK there is another myth. For year’s trade unionism has been derided as old-fashioned and impotent as a force to change the world. Instead we were left with the pessimism of declining trade union membership and the sense of quiet resignation to privatisations and restructuring. On a global scale we can see the importance of organising in work places, for both the immediate defence of our jobs, but also for wider democratic demands.
In the months ahead, as Egyptians and Tunisians, continue to struggle to maintain the momentum of their movements, and the demands of their revolution Unison members should be ready to provide solidarity for their struggles.