BEIRUT: The General Labor Confederation suffered a major moral blow Thursday when most businesses, schools and workers refused to observe its call for a strike.
Most independent labor unions as well as associations of school teachers and bank employees were even very critical of the GLC leadership’s tactics.
“We have no trust left in the leadership of the GLC,” Hanna Gharib, head of the Union Coordination Committee that represents various associations of public and private teachers, told The Daily Star. “The strike was a debacle because the GLC has repeatedly failed workers and has allied itself with the government and the economic committees since the negotiations over the wage increase last December.”
Despite condemning the GLC, Gharib said few public school teachers took part in the strike in a bid to “defend unity of labor actions.”
Maroun Khawly, head of the General Labor Confederation Union, a GLC rival group, echoed Gharib in a statement issued Thursday. “The GLC has lost all its credibility and is now a burden even on the political sides that continue to sponsor it,” he said.
Georges Hajj, head of the Federation of Bank Employees, told The Daily Star bankers have also completely boycotted the strike because of a lack of trust in the GLC. “Despite the rightful demands conveyed by the strike, the conduct of the GLC over the past few months has prompted us to no longer participate in any of their protests,” he said. Hajj said the GLC had failed to coordinate demands with bank employees, who are in tough negotiations with lenders over the renewal of a collective contract.
Abdel-Amir Najde, head of the public transportation unions, said his group would continue to work independently of the GLC. “The drivers did not participate in the general strike and we will continue to prepare for our strike on May 24,” he said, dismissing the possibility of coordinating protests with the GLC.
GLC head Ghassan Ghosn told The Daily Star the general strike had been a warning to the government, admitting that several sectors had failed to heed his organization’s call. “This is a warning strike and it is true that some sectors did not adhere to it ... but the majority did, particularly in the public sector,” Ghosn added.
He said that public institutions, including the offices of the National Social Security Fund, Electricité Du Liban and water departments, closed for the day.
Employees at Rafik Hariri International Airport also embarked on a two-hour strike from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in response to the general strike. Seven flights scheduled to land or depart were delayed and air traffic resumed at around 1:30 p.m.
A very small minority of workers and employees in the private sector, which constituted the majority of Lebanon’s working force, joined the strike as most businesses remained open across the country. Meanwhile, private school buses picked up students from their homes, and banks remained open for business. Meanwhile, traffic in Beirut was much like regular working days, although several taxi drivers parked their vehicles on the left-hand side of the Dora Highway to protest against high gasoline prices.
The Daily Star and the National News Agency reported a largely normal work day in areas across Tripoli, Zghorta, Hermel, Baalbek, Mount Lebanon, Koura and south Lebanon.
Fifty percent of public schools went on strike in the southern coastal city of Sidon while all private schools remained open. But the city’s meat and vegetable markets, where most gatherings usually take place during strike days, were open as people went about their business as usual.