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Is Labor Day celebrations ringing hollow in your country?

Labor Day was first celebrated in the USA and was led by women workers. The Soviet Union made this celebration a world event (for workers), which forced the USA to shift the day to November?

Even current Russia reverted to communist zeal during this year celebration.

The celebration was crushed in Turkey.

The women in Bangladesh led the celebration in an angry demonstration demanding better and safer clothing factories (last year, over 2,000 girls died under the rubble).

Hong Kong workers were demanding reduction in the proposed tax increase.

And what the Lebanese were demanding? Everything, even respect for the Syrian workers in Lebanon and domestic maids.

Samya KullabJustin Salhani published in the Daily Star this May 01, 2014

Lebanon Labor Day celebrations ring hollow

BEIRUT: Tailor Nabil Qassem makes 35-40 shirts a week, each one costing $50. The need to find his monthly rent of $1,000 will bring him into work on Labor Day, a national holiday falling on May 1 that is meant to honor workers.

Qassem, 40, has worked in his Hamra shop for the past four years. Before that he worked in someone else’s store.

Workers carry wood for burning ahead of Labor Day in Zahrani, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
Workers carry wood for burning ahead of Labor Day in Zahrani, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

Unlike the small businesses and informal sector workers who spoke to The Daily Star, Qassem maintains the importance of the holiday in principle, though he doesn’t plan to take the day off and celebrate.

For him, Labor Day “is just one of those holidays like Mother’s Day. … We have to make a living.”

Many private sector workers blamed the precarious security situation for their inability to make ends meet in the past six months. Their plight has highlighted the absence of a comprehensive social assistance plan from the government, especially for workers in the informal sector, who often live on unpredictable wages month to month.

“We are in a very bad situation,” says electrician Ghassan Bedran.

“In the last 6-7 months, business has been reduced 50%.

Bedran’s shop in Mar Mikhael, Beirut, brought in $10,000 per month last year. Now, it barely earns $4,000. “And they want higher wages,” he says, glancing at his handful of employees.

“If we give them higher salaries, we will have to close our doors.”

Bolstering the strength of unions to lobby for worker’s rights, such as the General Labor Confederation, would not make a difference either, the disillusioned Bedran says.

“All unions are political. They use workers and laborers for their own interests.”

Despite widespread disenchantment, gains for labor rights are looming on the horizon, especially in the area of social protection, according to the International Labor Organization.

Pension reform has long been a contentious issue, and last year – before the Cabinet was demoted to caretaker status – it was within reach for private sector workers, with a draft law devised by the government, the ILO and the World Bank.

Lebanon is one of the few [countries] that does not have a pension scheme for private sector workers in place,” said Ursula Kulke of the ILO.

Currently, Lebanon operates an end-of-service indemnity program under which retirees receive a one-off payment amounting to one month for each year worked.

The amount was deemed insufficient to cover monthly living expenses and family support upon death. The draft scheme, stalled after the government changeover, would transform lump-sum payments into a monthly pension, guaranteeing individuals social security for the remainder of their lives.

“We hope we can continue discussions with the minister of labor and other responsible people in the Cabinet so we can proceed and so that hopefully in the near future there can be a pension scheme that provides regular benefits and income replacement to retirees,” Kulke said.

Nevertheless, Kulke said there was a pressing need to secure those who are not covered by the National Social Security Fund. Though private sector employees are insured under the NSSF, those working for the informal sector have no insurance apart from ad hoc payments and government cash transfers.

“What we would like to see is the real establishment of a social protection floor for these people so they can enjoy minimum income security,” said Kulke.

“The government is trying to do much already, but it’s become a big challenge with the Syrian refugees.”

Former Labor Minister Charbel Nahas said politicians could better protect informal sector workers “by implementing laws and improving those laws.”

“Labor law and social security laws are not applied,” he told The Daily Star, citing the example of Spinney’s, a supermarket chain accused of penalizing their employees for trying to unionize, among other alleged infractions.

Spinney’s CEO Michael Wright took Nahhas to court last year after the former minister addressed the issue in the media and likened Wright to a “terrorist.”

Nahhas added that the creation of unions in the public sector and restoring the union movement was important to keep power out of politicians’ hands.

Meanwhile, in the bustling district of Burj Hammoud, jeweler Raffy Bablanian worries about how to keep his family business afloat.

It’s not just the loss of revenues due to the security situation that worries him.

“I learned how to make jewelry from my father 45 years ago, and I thought I would do the same for my son, but he doesn’t want to do this job,” he says despondently. Business is never okay these days, but Bablanian has found ways to manage.

To find someone in the family to carry on with the jewelry-making tradition in the age of “computers and iPads” is another challenge altogether, he says, adding: “You can’t fix lack of inspiration with a wage hike.”

 A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 01, 2014, on page 4.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2014/May-01/255006-labor-day-celebrations-ring-hollow.ashx#ixzz30U5poUe7
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb

“The weathervane” Jumblatt discusses current politics of Lebanon. Or maybe Not

Walid Jumblatt is the Druze warlord during Lebanon civil war that lasted 14 years. After his father Kamal was assassinated by the Syrian President Hafez Assad in 1976, Walid naturally inherited the traditional coat of leadership of his tribe.

Walid is a graduate of the American University of Beirut (AUB).  As the US began its preemptive war on Iraq, Walid sided with the US invading forces saying: “I’d rather be a street sweeper in New York than a leader in Lebanon”.

Somehow, Walid believed that the wind was strongly shifting on the US side and that it is urgent to ally with Bush Jr. against the Syrians and the Iranian… and the countless imaginary enemies that he think are vying for the leadership of the districts of Chouf, Alley, and Rashaya

Alex Rowell posted in Lebanon Now, on Nov.20, 2012: “Uncertain breeze in Moukhtara. Talking to Walid Jumblatt”

“As we shuffled into a lavish sitting room in his Ottoman-era mansion in Moukhtara first thing Tuesday morning, Walid Jumblatt’s day job was already underway. We joined what soon became a line of people waiting, for whatever purpose—requesting tuition fees for children, resolving a dispute with the neighbors in Clemenceau—to meet the Druze chieftain.

When Jumblatt entered, his tall, lanky frame stooped as he walked, his facial expression half-annoyed and half-amused, as though incredulous at having to deal with such banality.

After speedily acceding to a few requests, he ushered us into another sitting room, adorned with a floor-to-ceiling portrait of slain Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

The following interview was done with Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon Progressive Socialist Party (PSP):

In general, walking through the house feels like touring Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace. “But I don’t have the Bosphorus outside. Istanbul is a beautiful city. The only other city as beautiful, until they destroyed it, was Aleppo.” he replied (Referring to the latest round of fighting in Aleppo between the Syria regular army and the rebels)

Such was the tone for much of our conversation with the enigmatic Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader. His reputed political acumen—along with his less-flattering notoriety for abruptly switching allegiances—have earned him the nickname “the weathervane” .

The nickname as Michael Young explained: “a local leader whose every premonitory move is dissected by those trying to get a sense of Lebanon’s political winds.”

If that is so, there appears to be an uncertain breeze in Moukhtara today. For though Jumblatt tells NOW that he is “not March 8 coalition” (the current power) those in the March 14 coalition hoping for Jumblatt jumping ship once again to their side may well be in for disappointment.

There were reports over the weekend that the PSP is planning an initiative to ease internal strife and promote dialogue. Why did you decide to do this?

Jumblatt: We have an initiative parallel to the efforts of the President Suleiman who is calling for dialogue. We just want to help President Suleiman. At the same time we have consulted with Prime Minister Miqati and [Parliament Speaker] Nabih Berri.

We have to find a way to get out of this blockade where nobody is speaking with anybody, and the only way to reach that is launching an initiative. I hope it will succeed, I don’t know. I have charged my comrades in the party to go and visit all the political parties and actors possible, starting tomorrow, from March 14 to March 8 to independents.

Why did you not join March 14’s recent boycott of the cabinet?

Jumblatt: Why should I join them? I’m not March 14!

But you openly blamed Syria for the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan.

Jumblatt: Yes, and March 14 are blaming Miqati. Miqati did not kill Wissam al-Hassan. I’m sorry, I refuse categorically all the accusations of March 14 against Miqati.

The day after Hassan’s death, we saw PSP flags at the March 14 Youth rally.

Jumblatt: They have removed those flags. This is a small trap fixed by some idiots. We are not March 14. And I’m not March 8. I’m just in this coalition trying to fix up things as much as I can, taking into account the environment which is terribly sectarian, and some people don’t care, it seems. They’re just attacking here and there; they don’t care about the possible sectarian strife that could engulf Lebanon.

Which people are you referring to?

Jumblatt: Some high-ranking leaders. Because in this country everyone is becoming high-ranking, nobody is low-ranking.

What do you think of the Ahmad al-Assir movement?

Jumblatt: When the moderate Future Movement is absent, any vacuum is filled, so this is why Sheikh Saad [Hariri] should come back and lead what his father did: the moderate Sunni trend.

How are your relations with Hariri?

Jumblatt: We are friends on personal terms but we differ on political issues. We speak occasionally.

Regarding Hassan’s assassination, do you think any Lebanese parties were also involved?

Jumblatt: I just accused the Syrian intelligence. Of course they have partners and agents here. But I’m not going to accuse a political party, like others did, because they don’t care if there is sectarian strife.

And I was very clear, just as with the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, that if Hezbollah has enough evidence that Hariri was killed by the Israelis, as Sayyed Hassan claimed at one point, then let him present this evidence to the international tribunal. I’m not going to accuse any party because my concern is that civil strife must stop.

So even if you have suspicions, you’re not going to voice them so as to maintain stability?

Jumblatt: I do not have suspicions. I am not a lawyer or a prosecutor. You have an international tribunal where people can go and present evidence.

If you believe the Syrian regime is killing senior Lebanese officials, then why do you support the “dissociation” policy (al na2e bel nafss)? Shouldn’t Syria be considered an enemy state, like Israel?

Jumblatt: Syria being an enemy state? Not at all, I’m sorry. This is a monstrosity.

We are accusing the regime, but Syria is Syria, Syria is our background, Syria helped us during the civil war, it fixed the balance inside Lebanon, it helped create the Taif Agreement, it supported the resistance. We have to distinguish between the regime and the people. And the army, which fought very bravely against Israelis during the 1982 invasion.

So the regime itself should not be considered an enemy?

Jumblatt: OK, if it is, then what? Tell me what can we do? This is the 19th month of the Syrian revolt and the whole international community is just doing nothing. They are watching Syria being systematically destroyed. It seems the “Friends of Syria” don’t care about Syria.

How can the Syrian conflict be ended?

Jumblatt: Well, if you have a solution, tell me. Just after the battle of Baba Amr (a quarter in south Homs), I called everybody in the West that I know—the British, the French—to help the rebels to get adequate weapons to shoot down helicopters. They said, “We can’t do it because it will end up in civil war.” And at that time, the civil war began.

How do you feel about the Druze in Syria?

Jumblatt: I’m concerned about Syria. The Druze are Syrian people. I don’t look at the sectarian aspect.

If there is no intervention in Syria, what happens?

Jumblatt: Nobody asked for intervention in Syria; just helping the Syrian rebels. Now it’s chaotic, because everybody is intervening in his own way, from the Arab world and from individuals, and now we have the situation whereby yesterday in Aleppo some so-called free brigades announced they don’t want to be part of the Doha Agreement, they have announced the “Islamic Emirates” in Aleppo.

This is the disorganized help of the Arab and Western world because everybody is sponsoring somebody else. And what’s the result? Total chaos.

Do you worry about a Sunni-Shiite war in Lebanon?

Jumblatt: When I say sectarian strife I’m speaking about some Sunnis and some Shiites. This cannot be solved except by sitting at a table and talking to each other. That’s it.

And if some in March 14 still insist that the weapons of Hezbollah can be delivered at any price? No. The weapons are a very sensitive issue, and these weapons should be part of the defensive strategy that is being elaborated by President Suleiman.

One day these weapons could be part of the Lebanese army, but that cannot be at the push of a button, we have to wait. I mean it took the Irish 20 years to decommission the weapons between Protestants and Catholics. Now, it’s a much more difficult issue in Lebanon.

You said recently that it will take a new Taif Agreement to resolve Hezbollah’s weapons. What did you mean by that?

Jumblatt: I was assaulted, directly by everybody, by all the excited people of March 14. I did not say that. Even if I said that, it was a slip of the tongue. [Laughs] (See note 1)

In that case, how do you advocate resolving the issue?

Jumblatt: You have to adequately address the Shiite community. You have to speak to them. But at the same time, some have committed a big error, because they have been ordered, by the Iranians, I don’t know, to go and fight inside Syria for the regime. But this is not their policy, this is the policy of Iran.

I hope that one day the Iranians will change and address the Syrian people and not the regime, because they are losing a lot of support for their stance. At the same time, some parties of March 14 also are arming the rebels, so the policy of [dissociation] should be addressed to both parties; to Hezbollah and March 14.

Regarding elections, is there an electoral law you favor?

Jumblatt: I’ve not been consulted by anybody. I just hear rumors that some high-ranking people want 50 districts, and others want proportional representation. I have not been consulted. I am ready to discuss to see. Because some people have already started fixing their Armani dresses to become president.

Do you feel the law needs to be changed?

Jumblatt: Of course, one day we have to fix up a modern law, but to do that you have to fix up a modern Lebanon, and to fix up a modern Lebanon, my father spent 19 years trying to do it, and he failed to deconfessionalize the system. I mean we are not even able to fix the civil marriage issue, which is stupid. We oblige the young Lebanese people to go to Cyprus, to Istanbul, to Paris, but here we don’t allow it because the clerics, Muslim and Christian, are against it. They have privileges; they get money to separate the people.

Going back to elections, if we assume the 2009 law is used again, you will likely win in Shouf and Aley, so the question on many minds is whether you will align with March 8 or 14?

Jumblatt: I will align with myself for the time being. I stick to my own belief that we have to fix up a kind of middle ground to avoid this terrible division between 14 and 8.

Do you foresee any changes in Christian districts?

Jumblatt: I have no idea, I don’t work on statistics. They work, they are obsessed with statistics. Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea are obsessed, I really don’t care. My concern is how to deal peacefully with each other.

After Hassan’s assassination, do you fear assassination yourself?

Jumblatt: I have never spoken about myself, like others, who like to speak about themselves, and to have bodyguards and huge convoys. Like my father, I have relied on destiny. I am here just because I like it.

So you’re not more or less afraid than before?

Jumblatt: I was never afraid. When you get afraid like others you get paralyzed mentally.

Do you think the Gaza conflict might affect Lebanon?

Jumblatt: No, Gaza just proved once again that the arrogance of Israelis can just be destroyed, [like] when the Israelis invaded Beirut in 1982. This myth of Israeli superiority is again buried by the rockets of Hamas, by the people of Lebanon, seven times. So it’s a myth, but what can we do, this state is based on a big fallacy supported by the West.

One day, the West will discover that the huge amount of money they spend on Israel is just a catastrophe. Because only a peaceful solution based on two states can—maybe—reach some stability.

I think maybe it’s too late, because now with the settlers there’s no space for two states.

So you prefer a one-state solution?

Jumblatt: Well this was an intellectual approach by people like Edward Said, but consider now the right-wing tendency of most Israeli society and the absence of the peace movement, except one wise guy, he’s a friend of mine and we correspond with each other, Uri Avnery, and I always read his articles and send comments. Amos Oz too, and Amira Hass, she’s excellent. But Israel peace movement, which demonstrated in Tel Aviv after Sabra and Shatila genocide and which caused Sharon’s downfall, is no more.

You wrote this week that Gaza could lead to a “new status quo.” What did you mean?

Jumblatt: After the 1973 war, came the Camp David agreement, which separated Egypt from the Arabs. But now Gaza is fixing up a new formula. The inner land of Egypt is Gaza, and the Egyptians are always concerned about the fate of Palestine. So Gaza is defying the old order.

Same thing in Golan, one day the ceasefire agreement of 1973 will be changed by [whoever] comes in control of the Golan Heights. Lebanon will also have a new status quo [once] we get back the Lebanese occupied territories of Shebaa. Israel is no more safe from its surroundings. Later on, I hope that King Abdullah will fix up reforms. But the surroundings of Israel have changed. Fortunately that’s good.

Are you worried about the rise of Islamists across the region?

Jumblatt: No, not at all. We cannot change the Arab world. Do you want somebody to convert them? To what?

We have to take into account the rise of Islam, be it Shiite or Sunni, and try to see the future and develop, not only culturally but economically.

We have so much wealth in this Arab world spent stupidly on buying weapons or treasury bonds.
We can have our own development in all the Arab world.

This interview has been condensed and edited. Justin Salhani contributed in the questioning.

Read more: http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=458843#ixzz2CysHYeNT

Note 1: The weathervane is famous for his “strategic slip of tongues” that he terms as “La7zat takhali“, a way of asking forgiveness for wrong and faulty political directions. Walid Jumblatt changes his political positions as he feels that his local hold on power is threatened. For example:

1. After the Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005, Jumblatt named the Assad regime with all kinds of monstrous fish and recanted a few years later as he found out that Syria is still the most influential regional power in Lebanon.

2. When Bush Jr. invaded Iraq in 2003, Jumblatt claimed that “I’d rather be a street sweeper in New York than being a leader in Lebanon…” . Jumblatt thought that the winning power in the Middle-East was definitely the US, and then recanted when Israel was defeated in the preemptive war of July 2006.

3. Jumblatt excited the government to crack down on Hezbollah’s ground communication lines in 2007 and demanded peace and forgiveness as Hezbollah invaded the branches and arm safe-houses of his party and the Hariri clan movement (The Future) in Beirut…

The only other warlord that displaces Jumblatt in faulty strategic political decision is Samir Geaja, whose decision brought calamities and disaster to the Christian communities…


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