Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
Imagine the life of unemployed people who have no income to bring in to their families. Imagine the life of those 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 believe that they can have cheaper foreign labor 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 their 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 all 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 have a freehand over all employment matters and be 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. 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—obviously, to the best interest of employers. However, in many developed countries, where there are reliable labor unions, though they bargain with employers to protect the interests 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 refined benefit programs, such as employment services, medical insurance plans, retirement schemes and other financial advantages, to allow workers to have clear work decisions away from 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.
However, in some unconfined developing nations, workers unions and federations have limited influence over job issues. This is because the progress of their 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 their claims. Yet most of those successful campaigns are politically predesigned to contain or create some situation—recall May 7, 2008 demonstrations, for example. Most Lebanese labor unions and federations are somehow mobilized—not to say ruled—by the government or heads of political factions, since most of decisions-makers of the federations are either followers or drumbeaters of some party. The executive board of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL) was selected and backed by some leading politicians albeit that their appointment was methodically legalized and polished by a ballot scenario.
In addition, there are confessional considerations that have unconstructive 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, Christian and Muslim do exchange positions at every term.
Warningly, the incoherent sectarian structures of labor unions and its federations along with the current politicization of the CGTL will drive the labor movement to its dissolution. This unhealthy labor environment is negatively charging the workforce to which it could undermine any future development effort.
Most Lebanese labor unions and federations (around 370 union and 64 federation), of whom the CGTL is constituted, are collectively seen to be unprofessional and unproductive. This, however, is because they have never introduced any self-created welfare program or upgraded the installed employment benefits to improve the poor conditions of the workforce—let alone their long history of mismanagement of issues like inflation, 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 right away so that they can represent the real interest of the workforce. Otherwise, the current politicized labor unions will crack and fall pulling the ruling authorities down— probably, this savage economic system too— to the unknown.
For the sake of the country, consider change before the foreseen waves of civil outrage take over.