The following is the text of a CWI May Day leaflet that was distributed on this year’s Beirut May Day demonstration. The event took place just days before a call by the leadership of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (GCLU) for general strike action on 3 May. This indicates the developing class anger of working people against the ever rising cost of living and also the potential to build cross confessional working class unity. But just hours before the general strike, the scale of the industrial action remains unclear. This is due to the highly skeptical attitude of many workers towards the GCLU leaders, who are widely regarded as corrupt and always ready to compromise workers’ needs and demands. Just a day before the proposed general strike, the GCLW said that the strike may be cancelled if the price of fuel is "reduced". The more independent unions have expressed solidarity with the strike call but have insisted on going ahead with their own strikes as they have other and more demands.
A report of the strike action on 3 May will follow.
May Day comes this year with a wave of protests and strikes by workers and trade unionists. Most notably, the electricity company workers and full-time and contractual teachers in state schools and colleges and state hospital employees.
The May Day demonstration comes at a time of unbearable high living costs, an increase in gasoline prices, a reduction in the weight of the bundle of bread, a 10-40% increase in private school fees and the threat by private hospitals to stop receiving patients on social security.
Recent figures show a 450 billion Lebanese Pounds (LP) deficit in the National Fund for Capital, accumulated as a result of years of illegal payments out of the end-of-service Retirement Compensation Fund. The annual deficit of the Social Security Fund for illness and motherhood reached 50 billion pounds in 2011.
As usual, feeling pressure from below and in an attempt to show itself as representing its rank and file membership, the leadership of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (GCLU) made an empty call last week, via the media, for a general strike in early May without building for such an action. This confirmed to the majority of workers who are already looking to their so-called union with distrust, that their corrupt management represents the interests of employers.
Lebanon is going through a period of upheaval [which is also] sweeping the region and the world. Europe is faced with the specter of unemployment and the threat to its social security, which the working class has fought to build over decades. In Portugal, Spain and Greece, governments are trying to save the capitalist system, but keep facing obstacles. This shows that this crisis is not a passing one, but a crisis of the capitalist system that has become a burden on humanity, in general.
In Arab countries, governing regimes were forced to change the faces of their representatives in order to save themselves in the face of popular revolts against high unemployment and dramatically increasing poverty, as well as the repression of freedoms, such as the right to expression and to organise.
Revolution in the Arab world
Workers and youth have been the fuel of revolution of the Arab world. The masses of workers and young people have moved into action, raising slogans against corruption, the theft of public wealth and tyranny, [which is] evidence of the growing hostile mood against the existing economic system, neo-liberalism. We are witnessing today, millions in the region, and the world, getting active against the ruling class, as they look towards a more just system.
In Lebanon, the economic situation does not differ much. The government is detached from the problems and concerns of workers and the poor. At the same time, the number of unemployed is rising day after day, public services are almost non-existent, and there seems to be no solutions for the Lebanese working class.
Today, about 75% of workers have no pension systems or social security. Migration is the only option for an increasing number of young people and public debt is more than 60 billion USD - although the real figure is unknown. There seems to be no solutions to the problem of electricity cuts and there is no limit to the ever-increasing fuel prices. The poor are dying on the door steps of hospitals.
The last increase in wages was a sign of the fear felt by the ruling class of a potential independent workers’ movement developing and of class action breaking out and threatening its system. The ruling class, therefore, bypassed this by increasing prices, as some commodity costs rising between 40 and 50%. Today, more than ever, there is a need for class action against corruption and the domination of capital. It is time to build an alternative party for the masses of workers.
The Committee for a Workers International (CWI) in Lebanon calls and struggles for:
• The building of a united workers’ movement that is independent from the corrupt class and the parties of capital
• Wage increases matching the high prices of living and housing
• An end to job losses and of companies forcing workers to work extra hours
• Health and social security to all workers, for social benefits to the unemployed, and pensions to retired workers
• The building of militant unions independent from the corrupt GCLU leadership
• The nationalisation of the major banks and companies under democratic control and management of workers’
• The funding and development of public sector companies, such as electricity and water
• The restoration and development of public transport
• Workers to be employed in the vacant positions in understaffed state institutions
• The right of migrant workers to organise in the unions and to fight for workers’ rights
• A workers’ alternative to the policies of greedy capital and for the building of a mass workers’ party
• The socialist transformation of society