Issue section: 

Unions - Mubarak

Don't bash the unions

I think Jemimah McFarlane is wrong to associate our trade unions with "the bosses" and to say that they "are part of the system/problem" (Feedback, Socialist Review, February 2011).

It is certainly true that some trade union leaders appear to side with the employers when faced with industrial disputes. However, things can and do change quite profoundly.

Take the case of my own union, UCU. When I first attended the Natfhe (one of the parts of UCU before a merger with the AUT) annual national conference in the early 1980s there was a "day off" so that delegates could take their wives on a variety of excursions. There were also "black tie" dinners, as many of the delegates were college/polytechnic principals and vice-principals.

By the end of the 1980s this had all changed and the bosses in our union were consigned to the dustbin of history as the Tories wooed them with "incorporation/privatisation" and the huge salaries they currently receive.

Today UCU has changed out of all proportion and the UCU Left grouping of socialists and left wingers has a significant influence and representation on the national executive.

I do not believe that UCU is untypical of the union movement today. People have woken up and want their unions to join the fightback.

Our unions are more important now than ever and the rank and file can make significant progress in a shift to the left. Characterising them as poodles in awe of the bosses does no one (apart from the bosses) any favours. It is a flawed analysis.

Roger Smith

Economics of dictatorship

The end of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt doesn't just herald the end of a brutal individual and his regime, it also marks the complete failure of neoliberal economics in the region.

In 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Stalinist dictatorships in Russia and Eastern Europe, Mubarak signed up to the "Washington consensus". In return for a hefty loan from the IMF, Mubarak began to restructure the entire Egyptian economy along neoliberal lines.

It meant subjecting his people to a wide-ranging privatisation programme in industry and agriculture, reducing food subsidies and dispensing with price controls on many basic necessities.

Neoliberals held up Egypt as a poster-boy. A 2008 IMF report declared that the Egyptian economy "continues to impress" via a "dynamic private sector".

The Egyptian economy was growing at a rate of 7.1 percent, attracting £13 billion in foreign investment in 2008.

Yet in 2009, 20 percent of Egypt's population were living in absolute poverty with 44 percent of the population surviving on less than two dollars a day. Food inflation had reached 17 percent as the price of bread and cooking oil spiralled up.

The official unemployment rate stood at 25 percent but was generally accepted to be far higher.

Sasha Simic