Lebanon: Workers’ struggles cut across by Israeli invasion

Consequences of war and poverty will lead to future protests

The situation here, in one of the areas outside Beirut which has not been bombed so much is getting more difficult by the day. It must be a nightmare for those living in south Beirut and in the south of the country. Many people there are refusing to leave their houses despite the bombardment. They know if they become refugees then they will have nothing. There also have a certain pride in wanting to stand up to the Israeli regime’s military might.

For those who have fled the south, they are now being housed in schools opened for refugees. The Israeli Air Force bombed one of these schools locally using the excuse that the school was being used by Hezbollah guerrillas.

The Israeli Air Force has also taken to bombing trucks with food aid. Now whenever a car driver finds him or herself behind a truck on the road, they either stop immediately or swerve out of the way so they don’t get caught in any bombing that might take place.

Meat has run out here and yoghurt and milk are getting low in supplies. We can only have the generators on for two hours and then a two hour break because of the shortages of diesel.

The day the Israeli regime started to bomb Lebanon back to the Stone Age was supposed to be the first day of an all-out strike by electricity workers against the privatisation of their service. Such a strike could have developed into a mass movement, involving wide sections of the working class in a broader struggle against price increases, rising living costs and for an increase in wages to take account of inflation since 1996 when wages were last put up. Of course, the war cut across what could have been the potential for a united workers movement on class issues. Now those electricity workers who have not been killed are desperately trying to keep electricity supply going to hospitals and local communities.

But the planned industrial action was only one of many workers’ struggles and movements, some of which have been manipulated by the leaders of sectarian confessional organisations, and used by them to let off steam but all of which have shown the burning anger that exists amongst the working class and rural poor. This is due to the constant price rises and the privatisation of what little remains of the state sector. The majority of the middle class have been completely impoverished. I spoke to someone the other day, who said that his family used to be quite comfortable, with both parents having jobs. Now they are unemployed and they had to sell the family home in order to pay off debts and send their children to school and college.

The position for Lebanese workers is obviously far worse. People’s salaries are go nowhere near to covering basic rent, food and travel costs. The government has been trying to raise the price of bread for months now. This will hit the poorest most. The planned price rise was from 2000 Lira to 10 000 Lira. This led to huge opposition and anger. Michel Aoun, now leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, and a former right-wing nationalist populist military commander in the Lebanese Civil War, has recast himself as a popular mass leader. Aoun has spoken up on class and bread and butter issues. His movement organised a demonstration against bread price increases in early June which hundreds of thousands of people attended. As a result the government backed down immediately and withdrew plans to increase bread prices.

There also was a mass opposition against electricity price increases which was a preparation for further privatisation of the industry. In the south where Hezbollah is based and is widely supported mass opposition developed resulting in a mass boycott of paying electricity bills and instead people organised their own electricity supply. Due to the lack of a mass workers party based on all sections of the population no lead was given to generalising this movement. Propaganda was whipped up that because of the southern boycott workers in the North had to pay more for their electricity as a result. This had a tendency to divide a cross-community workers movement since the effect of the government propaganda was to say that the Shiah’s in the south were responsible for everyone else’s electricity going up in price.

However, these movements showed the anger that was there. The effect of the war will over time bring these issues to the forefront once again as the capitalists try to make super-profits on the back of the suffering of workers and young people.

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