Friday, January 26, 2007

People's strike defies Lebanese regime

By Bill Cecil
Published Jan 25, 2007

Lebanon’s working class showed its power Jan. 23. It shut the country down.

Factories and transportation came to a halt as unorganized workers, youth and the unemployed joined union members in a general strike called by the National Opposition and the General Confederation of Labor. Masses of protesters blocked the country’s main roads and highways with concrete blocks and burning tires.

At least three people died in violent attacks by sectarian gangs organized by supporters of the U.S.-backed Siniora regime. Over 100 were injured, some by bullets. The strike united Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Maronite and Orthodox Christians, and Druze workers in defiance of the unconstitutional government’s attempts to provoke sectarian strife.

The strike paralyzed Beirut and was almost completely effective in the South, including the cities of Saida (Sidon) and Sour (Tyre), and in the Bekaa Valley. But it was also effective in parts of the North and the Shouf Mountains, where pro-regime parties have their social base.

The strikers are protesting an “economic reform plan” the Siniora government wants to impose on Lebanon. The plan includes social service cuts, privatization of electricity and telecommunications, and a huge sales tax.

The regime is trying to please international bankers and Western governments that are holding a conference on Lebanon’s $45 billion debt in Paris later this week. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the conference would be a “huge show of support” for the Siniora regime.

The labor movement supports the National Opposition movement’s demand for a representative national unity government and early elections. Nearly half of Lebanon’s population joined in opposition demonstrations in Beirut in December. Since then, Opposition supporters have been camped in a tent city in central Beirut’s two main squares.

On Jan. 22, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, general secretary of Hezbollah, a leading opposition party, called on all Lebanese to take part in the strike. He accused the regime of trying to retain power by provoking Sunni-Shiite civil war. Hezbollah is based among Shiite Muslims, Lebanon’s largest and poorest group. But it has wide popular support because its forces defended Lebanon against last summer’s U.S.-funded Israeli invasion.

On the evening of Jan. 23 Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, another leading Opposition party, declared the strike a success. He said the Opposition would soon announce the next steps in its campaign for democracy. People’s Movement leader Najah Wakim also hailed the strike as a success and said the movement would not retreat in the face of the regime’s threats of violence.

Leaks have revealed the Siniora regime encouraged the 2006 Israeli attack in hopes of destroying the Lebanese Opposition. Israel’s defeat caused Israeli army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to resign last week.

Lebanon’s workers are defying not only the Siniora regime but also its masters in Washington and on Wall Street. The U.S. corporate media gives little coverage to the people’s struggle in Lebanon—it challenges the racist stereotypes of the Arab world they spoon-feed people in the U.S. But events there are of grave concern to the oil company government in Washington.

In December the Bush regime directed the CIA to launch operations against Hezbollah. The Pentagon has been arming and building up Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, which are controlled by Siniora. The Siniora government has been afraid to use the regular army to attack the Opposition, which represents the majority of Lebanese.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Burns reiterated U.S. support for the Siniora government against the Lebanese people’s movement. For Washington, support for Siniora is not only a matter of imposing pro-Wall Street economic policies on Lebanon. It sees a national unity government in Lebanon as an obstacle to its plans to launch war against Iran and Syria.

The White House, the Pentagon and Wall Street are clear whose side they are on. Labor, anti-racist and anti-war forces in the U.S. should stand in solidarity with the people of Lebanon against the Bush regime’s attempts to crush their struggle.
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