The US-backed government in Lebanon is attempting to crush a popular revolt over electricity shortages and rampant inflation.
Pro-government gunmen belonging to the right wing Lebanese Forces killed one man last Sunday when they opened fire on a small group of protesters in the poor southern suburbs of Beirut.
The killing sparked angry protests and confrontations with the Lebanese army. A further seven people were killed – many believe by troops – as they protested against the gunmen.
The killings are a desperate attempt to thwart a growing opposition movement to the government of Fuad Siniora and his ruling March 14 coalition.
Since the summer a series of spontaneous protests have broken out across the country.
These protests have taken place mainly in the poor Shia Muslim areas south of the capital and the Christian areas of east Beirut. Demonstrators dragged burning tyres to block the main arteries in the capital.
The protests last Sunday followed a national strike called by transport workers and farmers on Thursday of last week.
Trade unions are demanding a threefold increase in the minimum wage to off-set rampant inflation.
The unions called the day of action following mounting pressure from below. The construction workers, timber workers, printers, health workers and the maritime union all supported the call.
They are demanding “a living wage, freedom and an end to the unjust policies of the government”.
The strike is seen as a direct challenge to neoliberal policies that are part of an “international aid package” following Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
Siniora tried to paint the strike as a “plot by Syria and Iran” to undermine the sovereignty of the country. His government has been rocked recently by reports that he signed a secret deal with George Bush to set US military bases up in the country.
In the early hours of Thursday morning thousands of troops flooded into Beirut to “stop rioting”.
Soldiers were used to break up demonstrations and pickets. Fearful of a repeat of the shooting dead of five metal workers in a similar protest several years before, the unions called off a planned demonstration.
But across the country groups of workers and farmers blocked roads with burning tyres.
In the poor villages peasants and farmers cut the main roads, the southern suburbs of Beirut ground to a halt, and in the east of the capital empty streets signalled that the majority had heeded the call for the strike.
The government continues to be paralysed after failing to agree a new president with the opposition – led by Hizbollah and the mainly Christian Free Patriotic Movement.
Left wing activist Bassem Chit spoke to Socialist worker from Beirut.
He said that “attempts to portray the strike as a ‘Shia uprising’ have been disproved by the widespread support shown for the strike in Christian areas and some Sunni Muslim areas on Thursday. This is a workers’ revolt.”