International Labour Day: many in Lebanon keep on working

Published May 1st, 2013 - 11:10 GMT
Many have to keep working through Labor Day holiday
Many have to keep working through Labor Day holiday

The nation will take a holiday Wednesday to mark Labor Day, but many of the workers who are being celebrated will turn up to their jobs as usual to keep money in their pockets and food on the table.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women work as mechanics, butchers, carpenters, builders and repairmen that keep the nation’s basic services running. For many of them who only manage to make slim profits, today is just another Wednesday.

“Every day I must make money,” said 55-year-old Mahmoud in the Beirut neighborhood of Zarif, as he worked on a car tire in his side street car repair shop.

Mahmoud said he has to clear at least $100 to keep his shop profitable, and closing, even for one day, would set him back.

“I don’t have a holiday,” he said.

Labor Day, also known as International Workers Day, celebrates the accomplishments of workers around the world on May 1. What that means to an average worker is open to interpretation.

“The holiday is important. It’s for every person who is working,” said Antoine Audi, who runs an air-conditioning store in Geitawi.

Audi says he views the day as an everyman holiday that celebrates the things that are essential in life.

“We eat, drink, sleep and work,” he said. “Without work we die.”

Others held the day in higher esteem. For the socialist- and communist-minded people, the day is meant to recognize the achievements of the working class and how that class may define society in the future.

“Tomorrow is a day against capitalism,” said 29-year-old Misak, who withheld his last name because he didn’t want his views to influence his repair and installation business. “It’s a point of view.”

Often eclipsed by free market-minded politicians and businessmen in the country, Misak holds onto leftist political leanings that emphasize the importance of the worker and class struggle.

“It’s more important than all other holidays,” he said. “Because of my politics, this is very important.”

As the anemic economy has flagged the decreased tourism and investment, due to national instability and the Syrian civil war next door, more workers than usual are feeling the belt-tightening effects of a tough business year.

Massive numbers of Syrian refugees flooding into the country have also pushed the cost of labor down.

The tough conditions have many people focused more on making ends meet than politics or holidays.

“I don’t celebrate Labor Day; I give the workers a day off so they will celebrate the day. But I open the shop to make a living,” 30-year-old mechanic Bassam Khalifa said outside his garage at a roundabout in Caracas.

“Being a laborer is good, but here in Lebanon, Labor Day is just a name, there is no actual feast. There are no celebrations in general anymore. The laborers are working to fight for their living,” he added.

Some trades by nature don’t get to celebrate the holiday, as their services are too important for the local community to do without.

Sitting outside their butcher shop in Hamra, members of the Sawwas family discussed how taking a holiday midweek just wasn’t possible.

“It’s not important for us, the butcher’s store is necessary for the area,” said 19-year-old butcher Yahya Sawwas.

People will flock to butcher shops, grocers, bakeries and so on tomorrow to stock up for lunches, picnics and dinners for the holiday, which is expected to be warm and sunny.

“There is no holiday here,” said Abdo Sawwas, 32.

The luxury of a day off is one that many just can’t afford.

Ahmad Noura, 19, who works in a repair shop in Hamra, puts it in stark terms. His manager won’t be giving him the day off and he knows he needs to keep working.

“There is work every day, how do you live without it.”

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