May Day (International Workers Day) 2010 comes at a time when the Lebanese power-sharing government is taking place between political parties that have similar programmes, all representing the employers instead of workers.
The history of May Day goes back to 1886, when 350,000 US workers held their first general strike in May, under the slogan, "Eight hours of work and eight hours of sleep and eight hours rest." Workers, both manual and skilled, celebrate this day as a day of solidarity and struggle for trade union and political rights, for peace, democracy and social justice, for socialism and for a better world free from exploitation, discrimination and persecution.
The workers, however, of the world, in general, and in Lebanon especially, greet the first of May this year with bitterness, frustration and anger in the light of the harsh living conditions which forces them to work long hours. They face ugly exploitation, seen in industrial and agricultural projects, and in the private and public sectors services.
Today 75% of the local workforce is not covered by pension schemes and social protection, and 40% of wage earners do not have a labour law that applies to them, no minimum wage and no social security. 45% of the economically active cannot find jobs in Lebanon and 35% of Lebanese workers have already been forced to migrate in search for work opportunities.
Sixty billion US dollars is the size of the state debt and is among the highest at the global level, in relation to GDP. Ninety per cent of taxes and fees are used to finance the benefits for the wealthy. Electricity cuts are still around an average of 8 hours per day after 16 years of the launch of the ‘rehabilitation’ of electricity supplies and after billions of dollars “spent” on installation and investment.
Seventy per cent of people in Lebanon do not benefit from telecommunications services because of its high cost, which is the highest globally despite having been recently reduced. Fifty per cent of the price of gasoline is made up of taxes levied by the government.
In the face of unemployment, poverty and social marginalization, workers look towards the current ‘Lebanese government’ and are desperately hoping it will start looking for solutions that alleviate suffering, but increasingly realizing that this same government is contributing to the difficult conditions and to this economic crises, civil conflict, unemployment and poverty.
The nightmare of injustice that can no longer be tolerated by the working class. Such working conditions, as is often the case under capitalism, are the result of the exploitation of workers by employers to profit from the unpaid labour of the workers. The rise in living costs, aggravated by the current economic crisis, is reflected in high fuel and commodity prices. Workers and employees are desperate for affordable living while regarding their ‘leaders’ with pessimism.
No wonder the past few weeks have seen trade union movements in Lebanon. No doubt the coming months will see further action stepped up as a result of the situation facing Lebanon’s workers, which is compounded by the effects of the global crisis.
Time and again, the Association of Teachers announces it is taking steps to escalate action towards a general strike. The struggle of the Association of Teachers is not important for teachers but it can also help the necessary co-ordination of action by all public sector employees. A movement of solidarity, to avoid the isolation of struggles in the face of attacks on the living conditions of workers in the public sector, is vital.
While the government hopes action by teachers unions will just let off steam, it is worried that the demands of movements will spread and increasingly provide workers with an alternative to the corrupt system. So any escalation of the movement is a development in itself, even if it is not linear and has some ups and downs. This struggle of teachers has shown that the policies of all the main parties do not serve the interests of workers and the poor. The leadership of the main political parties is trying to avoid the pressure exercised by the trade union movement.
The struggle needs to be intensified and co-coordinated between trade unions, with the participation of rank and file workers represented by the maximum mobilization possible. This would be a first step towards building the labour movement and to unite against neo-liberal policies which have long divided the working class. The ruling class has long resorted to wars and domestic conflict for its own interests and the profit-driven private sector. When a crisis threatens the economy or when there is a risk of collapse, it tries to force the working class to pay the price, as is happening in the United States and Europe today.
The CWI calls for activists in the trade unions to build a movement which can finally offer an alternative programme that challenges capitalism. We call for a mass socialist party that seeks to meet the needs of the public rather than private interests. We call for the development of public services and the public sector to create jobs. We fight to unite the trade union struggles against the continuation of high prices and for proper state funding, and for the development of social institutions and public utilities, such as Lebanon Electric Company, public education and the medical care system.
A state sector democratically run and controlled by representative of the people will provide us with the benefits of industry, agriculture and services, rather than giving the wealth into private pockets.
• No to privatization and for the development of the public sector
• To intensify the movement against neo-liberalism
• Build the workers’ movement and for working class unity
• For the public funding of public institutions and the nationalization of major corporations
• For the building of a unified political workers alternative against poverty and war
• The struggle for socialism and internationalism