Yesterday, all branches of the Lebanese University (public), private and public schools, professional and technical schools, as well as the general administration participated in a teachers’ strike. About 100,000 teachers educating 1 million students. The strike was accompanied by a well-attended sit-in in front of parliament. Press coverage was mostly pathetic, consisting of a few lines (as in al-Nahar), discussing primarily Fatih al-Islam under the heading of the strike (as in al-Balad), or covering more of Bahiya al-Hariri, Minister of Education, than the strike itself (as in al-Mustaqbal).
No surprises there. The strike is not interesting because this time it is not “political,” in the only definition of “politics” that finds resonance in Lebanon. i.e. The teachers are not being used as a mule by one political party or other in the pursuit of larger goals, such as the vagaries of identity, resistance, or democracy. The demands are, simply, their wages and retirement plans.
Given that their demands are not “political”, do not expect Ghassan Ghosn, head of the General Labor Union, to come out in support. According to Ghosn, the Union “mobilizes according to a set agenda.” It would have been a more honest, non-roundabout justification to say “mobilizes according to someone’s set agenda.” In an irony of ironies, president Sulayman called upon Ghosn to put an end to the divisions and unify the efforts of the workers.
Do not expect Hizballah, defender of the weak and liberator of the oppressed, to shut down the country on their behalf either. Do not expect “their” parliamentary representatives to take up the issue (only one parliamentarian was at the sit-in). And do not be surprised that Nabih Berri, Muhammad Shatah, and Fuad Sanioura have not even deigned to reply when the teachers’ unions tried to schedule a meeting. Bahiya al-Hariri responded the day before the strike was planned. Everyone is busy with much more important things, like David Miniband, Jimmy Carter and whoever else constitutes the real, rather than imagined, constituency of Lebanese parliamentarians and ministers.
The most audacious justification for not joining the strike came from the Workers’ Liberation Front. According to `Ismat `Abd al-Samad, “The political situation is comfortable, let it continue like this. Why would anyone want to unsettle it?” Which makes for a very interesting argument since if such a strike was to take place when the political situation is unsettled, then it would be termed a “political mobilization.” Ihtarna ya qar3ah min wayn badna n-bousik! (You have confused us, oh, squash, were to kiss you from).
Although the teachers’ unions made clear that this move comes at a time when there is a unity government and, therefore, does not play into party politics, there have been countless self-serving moles calling their demands “political.” No one heeded these sabotage attempts as calls for the strike were answered across Lebanon — in the south and Beqa` as well as Tripoli, Sidon, Kurah, and Matn. There is nothing more threatening to the complacency of Lebanese politicians than these strikes when the sectarian divisions they build their popularity on are momentarily forgotten. The frustration is that in a mess of complex, contradictory, and multifaceted identities the Lebanese like to wear, when the only accepted and narrow definition of “politics” rears its ugly head again, only the sectarian identity comes to the fore.