Beinin and Lockman address the idea of the working class in Egypt starting from 1882 under the British rule to the Nasser era, and how they tried to fight for basic rights that they should have.
The book tried to test what were the constraints and problems preventing trade union movements that were starting because of class classifications and if these problems and constraints were overcome, the most important argument presented is that if the workers are organised and have collective action they would really make a change in egypt. The book is divided into two parts, the first one was written by Beinin and the second was written by Lockman. The first part of the book explains how the labor movements started up until 1942 and how the workers in fields like railways and large factories started small unions and some strikes; the second part of the book The book mentions how organisations, communism and islam and even monarchs contributed/helped workers get their rights. The working class earn their wages from factory owners who own the factory and all the equipment that the workers use and the products they produce as well based on this Beinin and Lockman argue that workers need to have collective action; meaning they need to be organised and know their needs and fight to have their needs met. Beinin and Lockman believe that capitalism was the main contributor in the creation of social class, however they argue that capitalism didn’t shape the conscious of workers and how they would act and that the workers fighting for their rights started because of a long struggle and failed attempts in creating a successful labor unions and failing to have their demands met. Workers slowly learned how to organise labor unions and gained political parties to support and help with their demands but were in constant failure due to many reasons; Beinin and Lockman highlight as one of the problems the idea of “paternalism” where there was a struggle between the elites and the working class to have control over trade unions, and another problem was that all the major political parties wanted control over labor and this showed how important and powerful labor workers were by the 1940s.
Communists supported the independent workers movement and the muslim brotherhood were more paternalistic and restrictive of their independence. The book shows the relationship between class and nationalist politics, and highlights how the labor contributed in the making of modern egypt. The movements of the workers received support from the nationalist parties and later received support from the wafd until late 1930’s however world war two changed this, by 1942 industries expanded and the number of workers increased greatly and the wafd even though they supported the movement they lost control and the communists and the muslim brotherhood were rising which caused massive strikes between 1946 and 1948 but were ended by laws that were imposed. By the end of the revolution in 1952 pretty much everything was controlled by the government and the workers didn’t have a chance to form any political movement or take any action but the most important thing is that after that wages were better and the working conditions improved, Beinin and Lockman show the problems that the workers faced during the 1940’s and how they were becoming powerful yet were stopped and taken control off and this supports their argument that the working class has a potential in making change in egypt if they have collective action and become organised.
“The working class retains a potential for mobilization and collective action which will insure it a part in shaping Egypt’s future” (Beinin, Lockman: 1987)