The head of the General Labor Confederation has called for the widest possible participation in Thursday afternoon’s demonstration against “unjust and totally unacceptable” government economic policies.
GLC president Ghassan Ghosn told a news conference Wednesday that the labor body was “calling on all Lebanese, without exception, to take part in this demonstration.”
“The GLC has sounded the warning bell, O Lebanese ? heed the call of participating in your demonstration tomorrow, and we are with you,” Ghosn said.
Ghosn called on “mothers and fathers, university students, and anyone who is able to take to the streets to reject intolerable socio-economic conditions and a government policy that ignores the principle of achieving social justice and security for all.”
The protest is scheduled to begin in Barbir at 5pm and head for Cabinet headquarters at Mathaf. It was timed to coincide with the Cabinet’s weekly meeting.
Ghosn said the GLC leadership had given the government ample opportunity to respond to its demands, as demonstrated by several sessions of dialogue with officials and the private sector.
“But our initiative was misunderstood, whether by the economic associations or by the prime minister,” Ghosn said.
“We did not hear reassuring answers, and what we did hear was merely talk about the importance of continuing dialogue.”
A GLC delegation is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Rafik Hariri about four hours before the protest, to follow-up on earlier discussions.
Replying to reporters’ questions, Ghosn said the meeting with the prime minister “will not cancel the demonstration.”
Ghosn said previous sessions with Hariri had focused on two issues, namely reconsidering the government’s financial and economic policies, particularly regarding fees and taxes “that affect the widest possible segment of the population,” and involving labor representatives in all major decisions on economic policies.
While a LL3,000 increase in gasoline prices, ordered by the government earlier in the month, sparked wide criticism, the GLC said a range of policies were to blame for a less-than-encouraging economic situation.
“The government did not extend a decree for public sector transportation allowances to workers in the private sector,” Ghosn said, “As if they want workers to remain slaves of the state and the private sector as well.”
Ghosn said the government had prepared a draft law to “destroy” the National Social Security Fund, saying the legislation’s proposal to exempt firms from owed dues was an “obvious injustice” to those who had paid.
The system of capitalizing the NSSF, meaning allowing private insurance firms to take over the burden, will “do away with the concept of the NSSF as a means of social security for all Lebanese,” according to Ghosn.
“We’ve heard unconvincing answers” to labor questions about how to boost Treasury revenues, Ghosn said, citing poor fee collection by state-owned bodies and the government’s favoring privatization over reforming the bureaucracy as a way to shore up the public sector.
Ghosn said the GLC firmly “rejected” the government’s failure to boost the public education sector, as well as a proposed law on rents, which he said would represent a “new form of displacement, which in no way serves social security.”
On Wednesday, a GLC delegation met Interior Minister Elias Murr to discuss arrangements for keeping the protest peaceful, as support continued to build for what is expected to be the largest GLC-led demonstration in recent years.
A national labor conference held at the GLC’s headquarters voted to endorse the leadership’s call for a demonstration.
In Tripoli, labor unions loyal to the Baath Party and former Premier Omar Karami met to issue a joint statement that urged heavy participation in the protest.
Electricite du Liban’s employees’ union also called on all employees at the company to take part in the demonstration, decrying the rise in gasoline prices and the “crisis that workers are facing.”
The executive council of the Public School Teachers’ League met to discuss a range of grievances and also encouraged its members to show up for Thursday’s demonstration.