A much-awaited end to the long-running stalemate within the General Labor Confederation is expected Wednesday, when opponents of president Elias Abu Rizk plan to endorse new leadership elections.
But some labor officials say they fear that questions about the legality of the move and other undesired repurcussions will hinder a thorough reform of the labor movement.
Abu Rizk has failed to convene an executive council meeting for months due to his inability to secure a quorum.
His opponents, who speak for the majority on the executive council, have called for a meeting on Wednesday.
Labor sources believe that Abu Rizk will fail to show up, allowing the council’s eldest member, Tawfiq Abu Khalil, to chair the session and call for a vote for new elections.
Ghassan Ghosn of the Air Transport Confederation, said “the majority of executive council members called for Wednesday’s meeting on the agenda is the issue of continuing with a president who has resigned and is unable to convene meetings.”
After failing to win a seat in Parliament last year, Abu Rizk announced his resignation then retracted it, enraging his opponents within the GLC.
Ghosn dismissed speculation that GLC by-laws on ousting a sitting president were vague, saying that “in the absence of an article specifying the percentage needed, then the same absolute majority needed to elect should be able to vote someone out of office.”
Some labor officials indicate that their goal Wednesday is two-thirds of the council’s nearly 80 members in attendance, to give the expected ouster a definitive character.
George Hajj, who heads the powerful Bank Employees Confederation, is a critic of Abu Rizk but he awaits his confederation’s word on whether he should attend Wednesday’s crucial meeting.
“We’re against any coup d’etat that involves political elements, but we’re also against the (internal) crisis continuing,” Hajj explained.
“There will be a quorum,” he predicted, “but getting two-thirds will be difficult.
“In any case, it’s not a matter of substituting one person for another,” he said. “Yhe GLC’s by-laws need to be worked on, union activity needs to be organized, and the GLC requires a thorough re-organization.”
Speculation about the identity of the next president, labor sources said, remains rife.
If a potential successor to Abu Rizk is seen as too close to one of the parties that dominates the GLC, such as the Amal Movement, support for that figure could evaporate quickly.
Maroun Khawli, who is Abu Khalil’s deputy in the Mount Lebanon Confederation, said he would attend Wednesday’s meeting. But Khawli indicated that if Abu Rizk were voted out, the vagueness of the GLC’s by-laws would help the president claim that he was the victim of an illegality.
If the Labor Ministry backs the ouster, Khawli continued, Abu Rizk would be able to claim he fell victim to state interference in the labor movement.
“We face the possibility that we’ll return to the previous situation (in 1997-1998), when Abu Rizk led the ‘independent GLC’ as a breakaway group, following his loss in GLC elections,” Khawli said.
That period saw two rival groups, led by Abu Rizk and government-recognized Ghanime Zoghbi, claiming to speak in the name of the GLC.
Siding with Abu Rizk this time around, like the earlier split, are the Communist Party-dominated confederations and a handful of allies.
A group of five confederations that have sought to maintain ties with both sides will most likely not attend Wednesday’s meeting, according to George Alam, one of the bloc’s leaders.
Alam told The Daily Star that “we were told there is going to be a consultative meeting, and not a formal session.”
“If it’s just an informal meeting, we’ll attend,” he said. “But we’ll be meeting soon to gauge our position.”