Labor and the State in Egypt: Workers, Unions, and Economic Restructuring

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Labor and the State in Egypt: Workers, Unions, and Economic Restructuring, by Marsha Pripstein Posusney. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. xii + 253 pages. Notes to p. 293. Bibl. to p. 312. Index to p. 327. $49.50 cloth; $17.50 paper.

Reviewed by Patrick Clawson

Marsha Pripstein Posusney tells a good story based on detailed research about the Egyptian labor movement from 1952 to the mid-1990s. Labor and the State in Egypt is delightful: a scholarly book that is interesting as well as deeply informative.

The author is careful to acknowledge the limitations of her research, especially that censorship and Egyptian government restrictions on researchers prevent her from compiling a fully accurate picture of the extent of protests at the factory level. In the absence of any better alternative, her account relies, more than is desirable, on comments by national union leaders. It is not always clear if the issues that most concerned these union leaders were also the ones that moved workers, or whether union leaders complained loudly about reforms that would have undercut their power.

Posusney's early chapters describe the creation (in the late 1950s and 1960s) of the state corporatist economy under President Jamal `Abd alNasir. While Nasir initially was hostile to the union movement, he later sought to incorporate labor unions into a unified structure strictly controlled by the state's upper echelon. Posusney shows that while these unions were ineffective at preventing frequent local disputes-and indeed the corporatist structure made almost inevitable concessions by management when such disputes broke out-the system kept the local labor protests from spreading, and thus tightly contained their political impact. She explores in detail the paradox that those most hurt by the strict centralism of the union movement (i. …