Egyptian workers join revolt

CAIRO — Thousands of workers throughout industry, education and transportation joined Egypt's popular revolt Wednesday by staging strikes or protests that raised the specter of a general strike, an ominous sign for U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

In Cairo and hardscrabble towns across the country, working-class Egyptians went on strike, demanding higher pay, better conditions and Mubarak's ouster, and there were reports of violence in at least one provincial town.

The government announced a 15 percent pay boost for public servants earlier this week, but some workers who joined the protests Wednesday said they couldn't be "bribed" out of joining the uprising. More labor unrest is expected today, in solidarity with the huge crowds that have occupied Cairo's main square and are now expanding to the parliament and other strategic sites.

"These are now the same demands that the Tahrir Square protesters are calling for because the workers have realized that this current regime will never fulfill their goals," said Kamal el Fayoumi, a factory worker and organizer in the city of Mahalla el Kubra, a hotbed of labor activism for the textile industry. "The regime has to go."

Workers "were motivated to strike when they heard about how many billions the Mubarak family was worth," said Kamal Abbas, a labor leader. "They said: 'How much longer should we be silent?' "

Egyptians have been infuriated by newspaper reports that the Mubarak family has amassed billions, and perhaps tens of billions of dollars in wealth while, according to the World Bank, about 40 percent of the country's 80 million people live below or near the poverty line of $2 a day. The family's true net worth is not known.

"O Mubarak, tell us where you get 70 billion dollars," dozens of protesters chanted in front of the Health Ministry.

Arabic-language satellite TV channels reported as many as 200,000 workers were on strike Wednesday, a figure that couldn't be verified. Much of the information about strikes was disseminated via bloggers and on social networking sites without attribution.