Below is the text (edited) of a translation of an Arabic CWI leaflet that will be distributed on May Day in Lebanon.
May Day - Workers need to build their own alternative!
May Day comes this year in the period before the parliamentary elections which, in fact, are more like a power-sharing agreement between ruling politicians. It is clear that all parties and candidates have the same programme, representing employers instead of workers. So, on May Day this year, living conditions are still deteriorating un Lebanon. Today, 75% of the local workforce are not covered by the pension system or by social security, and 40% of non-regular employees are not covered by labour laws, minimum wages or insurances they are entitled to. 45% of those “economically active” do not have jobs and 35% of Lebanese people were forced to migrate in search of work opportunities. The national debt is $60 billion, the highest worldwide, as a percentage of GDP. 90% of taxes and fees are used to finance the benefits of the rich. Rationing of electricity is still 8 hours per day, 15 years after the launch of the “rehabilitation” of the electricity sector and the spending of billions of dollars in processing and support. 70% of Lebanese people do not benefit from telecommunications services because of the high cost, which is one of the highest in the world, despite it being reduced recently. 50% of the price of gas is made up by fees and taxes, while the government does not provide any funding for a public transport system.
No wonder the last few months have witnessed industrial and trade union struggles in Lebanon. And no doubt the coming months will see further struggles that are likely to be on a bigger scale and escalated, as a result of the severe current situation, even before the country has been affected by the global crisis, which it undoubtedly will be. The Association of Teachers announced that it would escalate its industrial action into an open-ended strike, in conjunction with other steps to escalate their action, including a possible boycott of elections, if their situation is undermined. They stressed that it had to be coordinated with university professors and staff in the public sector.
MPs try to ‘escape’ class issues
The Council of Ministers finally approved the re-opening of parts of hospitals allowing patients to begin to receive co-operative medical insurance, which is public and part of social security. But this is only an attempt by the government to let off some steam, due to the state of public education. The crisis in education continues and promises have not yet been fully implemented. Likewise, the crisis of public transport in Lebanon continues, despite previous action by the unions. Each time the debate on the abolition of fees and taxes on gasoline comes up, MPs ‘escape’, deliberately breaking the ‘quorum’ of Mps needed for a meeting of the council. There is no doubt that unions will be moving into action, demanding an end to people being made responsible for the public debt and budget deficit.
Therefore, it is to be expected that the Lebanese government and House of Representatives will be facing movements of workers, with an escalation of demands to include many more sectors and areas. All the political parties have policies that do not serve the interests of workers and the poor but the leaderships of these parties are trying to escape from the pressure exerted by the trade union movement.
Such movements must be intensified, well-organised and co-ordinated. They must encourage participation between unions and representatives of workers in general, to involve the widest possible mobilisation, as the first step to building a unified workers’ movement against neo-liberal politics. Pro-market politics in Lebanon have divided and impoverished the working class. The main parties have not faced a consistent and decisive united workers’ fightback. The neo-liberal politicians resorted to war and domestic conflict to divide and rule for their own profit-driven interests. When a crisis threatens the economy or there is a risk of collapse, the pro-market politicians will try to force the working class to pay the price, as is the case in the United States and Europe today.
For a mass movement of workers to challenge capitalism and fight for a socialist alternative
The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in Lebanon calls on the trade union movement to build a mass movement of workers, with an alternative programme challenging capitalism and fighting for the building of a socialist political organisation that seeks to meet the needs of the public rather than private business interests. Such a movement in power will be able to develop public services, create new employment opportunities, and consolidate trade unions.
Opposition to high prices and calls for proper government funding to develop social infrastructure and state companies, such as the Electricity Company of Lebanon, and for the decent funding of public educational institutions and public health services, would be at the heart of such a mass movement. The development of the public sector, under the leadership of committees representing working people and under their control and management, would provide the masses with the benefits of industry, agriculture and services, rather than profits going to private pockets.
The workers’ movement in Lebanon is the only force capable of struggling on the side of Palestinian workers to improve their conditions and for the right to work and to join trade unions and political parties. It is also the only force capable of organising foreign workers to protect them from discrimination and to improve their working conditions, working hours, etc,.
CWI Lebanon demands:
- No to privatisation and for the full funding and development of the public sector
- For the escalation of the movement against neo-liberalism and for the adoption of a workers’ political programme
- For decent funding into public institutions and for the nationalisation of large companies, under workers’ control and management
- For the building of a political workers’ alternative to unite the masses against poverty and war
- For Socialism