The labour movement in Lebanon

Power on hold

Author: Lea Bou Khater

The labour movement in Lebanon narrates the history of the Lebanese labour movement from the early twentieth century to today. Trade unionism has largely been a failure, because of state interference, tactical co-optation and the strategic use of sectarianism by an oligarchic elite, together with the structural weakness of a service-based laissez-faire economy. The Lebanese case study holds wider significance for the Arab world and for comparative studies of labour. Bou Khater’s conclusions are significant not only for trade unionism, but also for new forms of workers’ organisations and social movements. The failure of trade unions reveals a great deal about Lebanon’s current political moment and how it got there, but also how events are set to affect future movements. The book challenges the perceived wisdom on the rise of the labour movement in the 1950s and 1960s and its subsequent fall during the post-war period from the 1990s onwards. What is perceived as a fall after the end of the civil war was merely the intensification of liberal economic policies and escalating political intervention, which had already been in place since independence in 1943. Hiding under the guise of preserving sectarian balances, the post-war elite incorporated the labour movement into the state to guarantee their command of the hollowed-out state. Beyond controlling the labour movement to avoid a challenge to the system, the post-war period was characterised by political forces, using the General Confederation of Workers in Lebanon (GCWL) as an instrument in their disputes over power, rents and benefits.

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