Since the spark of the Egyptian revolution in January 2011, issues of political party law reform, constitutional declarations, and the institution of free and fair elections have taken the lead in mainstream politics, and at times, relegated the role of organised labour to mere economistic agitation and disruption of an already ‘disrupted’ life, in the eyes of the Egyptian public. In contrast to mainstream depiction of the labour movement as a ‘single issue’ movement, this paper shows the decisive political role of labour struggles that took place both inside and outside the judicial and legal systems, in the years leading up to the events of 25 January. This paper identifies the diversity of tactics used by the labour movement, and its unique approach to legality – a defensive legality approach, where legality and illegality are both taken seriously as legitimate tactics of resistance. The defensive legality approach recognises the violence and coerciveness of the legal form, as well as the tactical potential of recourse to the legal system to defend the labour movement. The experience of Egyptian workers in the wake of the 25 January revolution reveals the politics and the limits of law, as well as the significance of tactically and defensively using the law.