Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
Imagine the life of more than two hundred millions of unemployed people who have no income to spend on their families. Imagine the life of billions of ordinary employees who have no job security and might be deemed redundant anytime. Imagine the life of those older workers who cannot ask for a raise or get sick because their employers know that there are cheaper and younger foreign labors to replace them.
Unfortunately, this how most employees and workers live their lives. They live in anxiety from a cut in their wages or in fear of being dismissed from their jobs. They desperately try to hold onto their jobs because they know that neither their government nor their labor unions will protect them. In their quest for protection, employees now try to get fair treatment and job security from their employers, since their labor unions resigned from being the protectors.
On the other side, employers try to keep full control over their employees’ issues and claims. Employers always lobby to have more self-rule over most employment issues, such as setting of working hours, overtime, off days, sick leave and so on, to become more profitable. In simple words, they want to be free to govern all employment matters; and hence; to become the sole masters of the employment bazaar.
In the Middle East, where labor unions are allowed to exist, official authorities always try to play an intermediary role in order not to have demonstrations and strikes that could interrupt the economic cycle of the country. To that end, governments pull the strings and put pressure on labor unions to lower their demands and make concessions to the good of the economy—mostly, to the best interest of employers. However, in developed countries–where unionism is active, labor unions bargain with employers to protect the interests and further the rights of workers; but once employers deny their demands or they could not reach an agreement, workers simply strike and demonstrate to attain their claims.
In the last two decades, the materialization of labor surplus and absence of real labor movements have pushed the working class to become increasingly dependent on employers to secure their social and economic well-being. However, in reaction to the growing forces of the markets, and in order to offset their dependency on employers, labor unions of some developed countries originated a variety of advanced benefit programs. The main purpose of labor benefit programs, like employment services, medical insurance plans, retirement schemes, and other financial advantages, is to allow workers to take clear work decisions without being preoccupied with their living requirements.
In the Arab world, especially where there are suppressive or monarchic governments or one-party political systems, workers are not permitted to constitute independent labor unions or, at best, they are not allowed to demonstrate or strike freely. At large, Arab labor unions have failed to attain control over their employment issues mainly because they are subdued by oppressive political regimes or bought off by business magnates.
However, in some unconfined developing nations, workers unions and federations have limited influence over job issues. This is mainly because the progress of labor union movement is determined by the ability of the government to perceive the economic consequences and social aftereffects of neglecting or denying the demands of the workforce.
In Lebanon, for instance, though labor unions sometimes stand and win some of the workers’ claims. Yet, most campaigns were politically devised to contain labor demands or create some politically-based demonstrations to obstruct some new law or project. Most Lebanese labor unions and federations are somehow mobilized by the government or underhandedly ruled by the heads of political factions or sects; since almost all decision makers of labor unions are either followers or drum beaters of one political party or another. The executive board of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL) was selected and backed by a clique of leading politicians albeit that the appointment was methodically legalized and polished by a ballot scenario.
In addition, there are confessional considerations that have negative effects on the structure and leadership of Lebanese labor unions. For instance, most unions are governed by some institutional traditions or regulations to select their presidents, secretariat, and treasurers from within the same confessional sect of their forerunners, though, in few cases, Christians and Muslims do exchange positions at every term.
Warningly, the incoherent sectarian structures of Lebanese labor unions and its federations along with the current politicization of the CGTL will drive the labor movement to dissolution. This unhealthy labor environment is negatively charging the workforce, which could undermine any future development effort.
The CGTL comprises around 370 Lebanese labor union and 64 federation, which are collectively seen to be unprofessional and unproductive, since they never introduced any self-created welfare program or upgraded the installed employment benefits to improve the poor conditions of the Lebanese workforce—let alone their long record of incompetence to address vital issues, like public education, national social security, and medical care.
The Lebanese arena is stuffed with severe political, economic, and social problems. The dominant political and economic powers should be wise enough to end their ascendancy over the labor unions before late to let the unions represent the real interests of the workforce. Otherwise, the current politicized labor unions will crack and fall pulling the ruling authorities down with them to the unknown—probably, this savage economic system too.
For the sake of the country, politicians and unions should change their current rhythm before the foreseen waves of civil outrage take over.