International Workers’ Day in Beirut 2011

Migrant Workers Task Force, together with Antiracism Movement and Non-Resident Nepali Association, organized the 2011 International Workers’ Day march through Hamra and Sanayeh in Beirut. The march was a rousing success, as nearly two hundred activists of varying nationalities took to the streets demanding Fair Rights for Migrant Workers and an end to Racism in Lebanon. The march took us through the western quarters of Beirut, where scores of onlookers were confronted with signs calling for Economic and Social Justice for Migrant Workers as well chants that derided the Lebanese state for its racist practices and called out in a clear voice, “Al-Sha3b Yorid Isqat al3ansouriye (The People Want An End to Racism).”

The March united activists of all stripes and of all origins- Nepalese, Lebanese, Filipina, Ethiopian, Bangladeshi, European, Syrian, Sri Lankan, Sudanese, and American- into a joint call for better working conditions in Lebanon. We began near St. Francis Church, at the beginning of Hamra St., where individuals drew slogans onto posters after some deliberation and created messages that reflected their personal demands for May Day in Lebanon.

We proceeded to lift our voices down Hamra St, through Hamra’s residential quarters, and then onto Sanayeh, blocking traffic the entire way. The festive mood was punctuated with chants proclaiming solidarity with all workers in Lebanon, irrespective of nationality, as well as calls for racist “Madames” and “Misters” to beware!

The mood turned sombre as we marched down a shady side street in Sanayeh, where we paused to remember Teresa, a Filipina domestic worker who had died after falling from an apartment onto the pavement. Her case, like hundreds of others of dead migrant workers in Lebanon, was never properly investigated by the police, and so to this day her friends and family still have no idea why or how she really died.

After a moment in silence in her memory, we continued marching, finishing in the face of the Ministry of Interior, the Lebanese Ministry that should be charged with investigating the crimes committed against migrant workers. As we lined up, holding placards for passerby to see on that busy street, the march ended to loud chants of “Libnen Dawle 3ansouriye (Lebanon is a Racist State).”

Hats off to all who participated and to those who coordinated! And with a message of solidarity to workers around the world who continue to fight to reclaim their rights, particularly those in Occupied Palestine!

See the full Flickr photo album here!

3 responses to “International Workers’ Day in Beirut 2011

  1. The beautiful march was organized by the NNRA and ARM also so it would be great to mention this too since it wasnt a MWTF event only as it sounds above. Last sentence is very cool.

  2. I was searching for images of Sanayeh in google, and an image of this march grabbed my attention. I’ve been living in Beirut since the day I was born, and only recently did I start to observe the society and realize how racist people could be here.

    Racism is in our everyday speech, whether in jokes, street expressions, proverbs or even cursing. It has become too integrated in our Lebanese vocab that we don’t notice it anymore while conversing. There are as many jokes as could be about Homsis (Syrians), the word Kurdi, at many times, replaces the word stupid, and the term “sirlankiyye” (Sri Lankan girl) is commonly understood as a migrant worker in a Lebanese home, regardless of the worker’s nationality.

    When I see these images, I can’t but thank NNRA, ARM and MWTF for making good use of the streets in Beirut. You have not only exerted efforts in making the city a better place for migrant workers, but you have also started what I would call a “Beirut-Self-Curing”. For freedom of expression is key to cure as much flaws in this city.

    Finally, my wish would be that that march reflects the muted voices of all migrant workers in the non-democratic countries in the region and the world.

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