Labor Day 2002 provided yet another reminder of why the country’s labor movement remains unable to lead significant drives for improving the position of many employees and workers.
The General Labor Confederation marked the event with an indoor rally at its headquarters, under the patronage of Speaker Nabih Berri, earning criticism from several unions and confederations that object to the influence of senior politicians and various political parties in the GLC, at the expense of purely union-related issues.
Berri’s remarks during the rally included a pledge to stand against a government plan to replace tenured public servants with employees on a renewable, contract basis, which many fear will rob civil servants of job security and other benefits.
The fact that half a dozen government ministers, including several allies of Berri, attended the event only added to the confusion over whether the labor movement was firmly against government policies.
Also, Berri’s pledge on contract employment in the public sector was largely misdirected at a labor body that is mainly made up of unions from the country’s private sector.
Meanwhile, a group of several Communist Party-dominated confederations that fall under the GLC’s umbrella held a mass demonstration in Beirut at the same time as the GLC’s rally to underscore their claim that they represent the country’s workers.
However, the same confederations have held power in the GLC in the past decade and faced similar charges of subordinating workers’ issues to the requirements of the parties dominating these groups.
Both events, however, did manage to come together on the issue of the Palestine issue, and featured a stern warning by Berri that the Arab nation as a whole, and countries neighboring Israel in particular, faced an Israeli plan to expel Palestinians en masse across the border. Berri said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wanted to suffocate the Palestinians and bring thousands of Jewish settlers from various parts of the world to the Palestinian territories in order to do so.
He cautioned that Arab countries would not be safe from the repercussions of the Palestinian situation.
“I say it honestly that Jordan and Egypt cannot uphold their agreements with Israel should the Jewish state persevere with its intent to transfer Palestinians across the border,” asserted Berri.
He also denounced the failure of Arab countries to counteract pro-Israeli propaganda in the American media by promoting Arab media using Arab funds in the United States.
He emphasized that “one important dimension of Israeli aggression” was to rule out the possibility of Lebanon becoming a competitor with Israel.”