Thursday, May 1, 2008

Worker's Day

There is no doubt in my mind that Al Akhbar is the best newspaper in the Arab World, and NOT because it tends towards the Lebanese opposition. Today's issue, on May 1, Workers' Day in Lebanon (not Labor Day as many in the Lebanese government would want it to be. This is the day we celebrate workers, not work!) was very rich. I will only cover a few items, all in Arabic (but some of the resources are in English):

1. In the local political news, ma7alliyat, Rana Hayeck writes about the history of the worker's movements in Lebanon, starting with the 17th century rebellions of Jabal Amel against the Shihab, through the Kesrwan communes, all the way to the sectarian divisions that have plagued the worker's unions of modern Lebanon.

2. In the economy page, Rasha Abu Zeki nails it again: a great report on the people who actually earn the minimum wage: $200. This is an issue of contention because the hawks in the successive Lebanese governments have always denied the fact that there are people who earn minimum wage in Lebanon, and have hidden behind this argument to refuse to raise the wages. Rasha interviews 3 people from different ages and family conditions, and the stories they tell are dramatic. The main point is: to live in Lebanon, families need closer to $800 a month, so increasing the minimum wage to $260 isn't going to do much. People are supported by the remittances of relatives working abroad. Note that the $60 increase has not been approved by the government in spite of the increase in cost of living.

3. News from Egypt: The president gave an address to a carefully chosen 1000 or so workers. His message was unclear: he said there will be a wage adjustment, but the government has approved nothing of the sort. There are rumors that this may be a strategy to diffuse the May 4 demonstration (planned concurrently in Egypt and Lebanon). In another item, the people of Dumiat, a low-income resort town on the Nile estuary are demonstrating against the implantation of a Canadian fertilizer factory ($1.2 billions project by Agrium, see linked Reuters update). The company had apparently obtained all the necessary permits, but the (poor) people do not want it in their backyards and ruining their children's health. Will they prevail? Here some news about the project (in English) from an Egyptian blogger.

4. A (long) article (and this is only part 2) by Ernest Khoury about the anthropologists working for the US army in the Human Terrain System Project (HTS). Here's the statement of the American Anthropological Association about the HTS program.


Ms Levantine said...

Rana Hayek's article is interesting but it has a couple of flaws.

On the historical part, she falls in the Kamal Salibi trap, namely projecting the present on the past. Reminds me of our history professors repeating al tarikh be 'eid nafsaw.

The popular revolts of the 18/19th century had many causes, sectarianism was not one of them.

Sectaruianism appeared in Lebanon at a latter date. Ussama Makdissi has a good book on the topic.

In modern times labor mvt depends on agri. and industry. Agriculture in Lebanon is too fragmented, and industry plays a small role in the economy.

The influx of non-unionized Palestinan and Syrian workers also made it difficult for Lebanese ones to be effective.


Leila Abu-Saba said...

I had to read in the New York Times, a paper published 3,000 miles away (4200 KM) about worker actions in my city, Oakland. On May Day the whole West Coast port system was shut down by a one-day union strike to protest the war in Iraq. The union points out that spending on the war means no money at home for schools and healthcare.

Then the Times also featured an article about a teach-in at schools in Oakland - they spent May Day leading discussions on the way the Iraq war affects our schools - we are out of money in California and they want to cut teachers.

I blogged the links at

US corporate media is as controlling and manipulative as any Soviet-era national press organ. I don't know why the Times chose to cover these actions.

At least here's one sign of hope - the reporter Philip Weis has started a Nakba watch on his blog, Mondo Weiss. He has discovered the Nakba, and to his shock he has learned that the mainstream media ignores Palestinian authors, even scholarly, award-winning ones, when they write about the Nakba! But he believes a tide is turning in opinion in this country and he has been documenting the changes, both in public meetings he attends and in the media.

It's entertaining to see Mr. Weiss' shock and frustration at US media self-censorship.