Ghassan Ghosn became the seventh president of the General Labor Confederation Thursday, vowing that the troubled labor body would be “nobody’s tool.”
“Today’s victory isn’t of one group over another, but represents a victory for labor unity,” said Ghosn, the secretary-general of the Confederation of Air Transport Unions, after his election at GLC headquarters in Corniche al-Nahr.
The smooth, one-hour poll followed several days of intensive contacts that ended in the early hours of Thursday morning. Three candidates were persuaded to withdraw, leaving only 12 people for 12 spots on the GLC’s executive committee.
Nonetheless, the officials voted anyway, giving Ghosn and six other candidates all 47 votes, while five others received either 45 or 46.
Several dozen Internal Security Forces personnel were on hand in case GLC officials who contest the poll’s legitimacy showed up.
In the end, 27 delegates on the 74-member executive council stayed away. Allies of outgoing president Elias Abu Rizk said the vote is illegal while the Bank Employees Confederation opted not to take part in what it called a divisive poll.
GLC sources said that other council members failed to secure posts during the negotiations and opted to not show up.
Almost four years after being ousted as GLC president in a controversial election, Abu Rizk leaves office a second time, blaming government intervention in labor affairs for his downfall.
Abu Rizk left Tuesday for Geneva to attend an International Labor Organization meeting.
He and his allies are expected to lead an opposition GLC faction, and labor officials were quick to claim that Ghosn’s support of 47 votes should be compared to Abu Rizk’s last victory in 1999, when he received the backing of 31 out of 72 council members.
“With all the support that Abu Rizk had last time, such as Amal, the communists and all the other parties, he only got 31 votes,” said one official, predicting that Ghosn would enjoy a firmer base of support in the rocky GLC.
Delegates from the Labor Ministry and the Arab Labor Organization attended the poll, as well as past GLC presidents Antoine Beshara and Ghanime Zoghbi. The International Labor Organization did not send a delegate, as labor sources said the ILO’s Walid Hamdan was in Jordan and expected to arrive here only later in the day.
Saadeddine Humayde Saqr, who kept his post as secretary-general, called the last-minute negotiations “exhausting.”
“Last night I made a final call to all parties, urging them to participate in the elections,” he said.
Entering the executive committee for the first time is Hizbullah, represented by Usama Khansa of the Loyalty to the Resistance Confederation. Khansa echoed Ghosn’s pledge that politics would take a back seat to labor-related issues.
“It’s like the president said, the GLC won’t be part of the opposition or pro-government. We’re not going to be exploited by anyone.”
Khansa acknowledged that last-minute negotiations to ensure a consensus ticket were “tiring, since we had to persuade three people to withdraw.”
Seven out of the 12 executive committee members were re-elected to the body.
The new constellation leading the GLC is not radically different from that of the old committee, since Amal, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Baath retain their influence.
Exiting with Abu Rizk are his allies from the Communist and Progressive Socialist parties, mirroring their anti-Amal alliance in last year’s parliamentary elections in the South.
Despite Ghosn’s promise to keep politics at a distance, he mentioned three priorities in his victory speech: the first was support for the liberation of the South, which observers said reflected Amal’s continued dominance.
Ghosn pledged to involve the GLC in the economic reform process and defend workers against mass dismissals.
Besides Abu Rizk’s immediate allies, a group of five other GLC confederations that stayed away called the election a “true coup d’etat” and urged the authorities to retract their endorsement of the poll.
Beirut MP Michel Pharaon released a statement criticizing the “pre-determined results” and said there should have been “consensus” before the poll.
Labor sources said the stand resulted from Pharaon’s backing of GLC officials who did not get a share of the seats in the last-minute negotiations.