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Contesting French Colonialism and the National State, 19401946
Malek Abisaab



Historical studies of Middle Eastern Arab women have largely ignored experiences of womens labor and working-class activism in theorizing about gender and nation. This article examines working womens militancy in the context of French colonialism and the national state in Lebanon from 1940 to 1946. The dominant narratives on labor and national struggles, whether in daily newspapers, in schoolbooks, or in academic studies, have offered little space for women, revealing the gender imbalance in the writing, or rather the unwriting, of their activism. By reinscribing gender into this history, the narrative of nation construction becomes less cohesive, challenged and undermined by class and gendered formations. Working women tied anticolonial struggle to labor demands, casting their roles not in terms of domesticity or pre-industrial images of motherhood, but rather in terms of waged work. Meanwhile, gender-specific realities, rather than membership in a union or the Communist party, shaped womens consciousness and collective organization in improving their conditions and experiences at the workplace.

n 19 May 1946, Lebanese tobacco workers at the Beirut branch of the Regie (a French-Lebanese tobacco consortium known as the CoInteressee Libanaise Des Tabacs et Tombacs, which held a monopoly of Lebanese tobacco) threatened to strike in three weeks if their company did not meet their demands.1 Anticipating a long struggle with the Regie and the government, the tobacco workers began organizing their ranks as they circulated a leaflet urging their fellow workers in all the branches of the company to support the pending strike. To punish organizers, the Regies management transferred one leader, Jean Tuwayni, from Beirut to Tripoli in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese government supported the Regies position, refusing to negotiate with the workers until they ended the strike and resumed work. With the encouragement of Saib Salam, the minister of interior, the Regie hardened its position, dismissing twenty-four workers.2 Only the leftist newspapers hinted at the fact that the workers agitating against the Regie were mostly women. Other newspaper reports that covered the 1946 strike indiscriminately referred to the workers in the masculine plural as `ummal. These newspapers did not describe, much less




analyze, the character and implications of this predominantly womens collective activism against the Regie and the state nor its larger meaning.3 Working womens activism in Lebanon in the 1940s did not impress itself on the awareness of journalists, unionist leaders, or scholars. This lack of recognition should not conceal the unwavering commitment of Regie women to the strike, many of whom were more militant than their male colleagues. More than a month later, the management of the Regie issued a memorandum calling for the workers to end the strike and promised to study their demands once they resumed work. The workers responded by occupying the factory and the central warehouse of the Regie in Mar Mikhayil to prevent the loading and shipment of cigarettes.4 When the Regie tried to open the warehouse, more than 500 women and men workers, organized into groups to block scabs and control the properties of the company, threatened to turn the confrontation into a bloody and costly battle.5 The government dispatched a large police force, which threatened, harassed, and arrested strikers. Meanwhile, the women workers at Mar Mikhayil formed the first strike committee and called upon their male colleagues to follow suit. Soon the two committees were combined into one. They chose a nearby church hall as the command room for their planning and activities and formed strike sub-committees to protect workers from arrest and forced labor. Potent ties of sociability emerged among women whose unity and assertiveness were observed and recalled by some journalists. In a rare account, Michele Azar, an eyewitness, noted that, journalists expressed their admiration for such organization and for womens strength, political awareness, understanding and intelligence.6 Although deference to men in political decision-making and conflict resolution was socially taught as part of a normative female gender role, these women acted against it, taking labor issues into their own hands and presiding over important phases of the strike. Significantly, the women exhibited little national paraphernalia during this phase and in later confrontations with the police, such avoiding the use of nationalist symbols to claim their rights as citizens. The Regie women organized the night and day shifts to guard the warehouse and prevent any shipping of cigarettes. The command room soon became a congregating place for many industrial workers, sympathizers, unionists, leftists, and students who expressed their admiration for the quality and level of involvement the female workers exhibited in the committees.7 Among the noteworthy women workers who led and participated in the strike were Josephine Ashqar, Mary Baltaji, Najla Dakkash, Rose Damuri, Lur Dib, Saada Hubayqah, Wardah Butrus Ibrahim, Jamilah Ishaq, Mary Khattar, Mary Jaja, Asma Malkun, Mary Mardini, Rafiqah Mujais, Bahijah Nahra, Latifah Rashdan, Jamilah Shahwan, and Afifah Thabit.8 Colleagues




(of both sexes) described these women as salbin (steadfast), qabadayat (courageous), and mumayazat (extraordinary). One carried a knife to work, another allegedly had the physical power of a male boxer, and yet another gave her employers little rest. These womens unconventional social attitudes and protest styles earned them the laudatory titles of dare devils, and wild women. My interviews with numerous Regie men and women were replete with such depictions, expressed in colloquial Lebanese, carrying multiple political and sexual connotations. Their employers, in turn, denounced them as unruly and irrational elements of the tobacco workforce. Indeed, the womens actions challenged gender conventions by outpacing men in radicalism and appearing in the forefront of strikes public spaces usually accorded to men. A young woman worker recalled how energized and hopeful I and my female friends were. . . . We sensed the power of our unity and just defiance.9 The transgressive nature of their strike activism stirred up fears of male political marginality and sexual weakness, particularly among Regie manager and government officials. The advanced level of organization and cohesion among the Regie workers alarmed government officials, especially Saib Salam, the minister of interior, who ordered the police to open the Regie depot by force.10 The Regie management, meanwhile, tried to transfer a quantity of cigarettes from its Damascene plant to the Lebanese market, in part of efforts to isolate the Regie workers at the Beirut branch and deny the legitimacy of their demands. The Syrian workers, however, aborted the attempt and declared solidarity with their Lebanese co-workers. The company then dispatched a truck to ship cigarettes from its Bikfayya depot to Mar Mikhayil in Beirut.11 The workers, mostly women, surrounded the truck and shouted their readiness to die rather than allow the truck to enter the depot. The truck retreated from Mar Mikhayil to another depot at Furn al-Shubbak, where more than 200 workers, again mostly women, lay on the depot ramp, their voices reverberating to Let the truck pass over our bodies.12 The national police who escorted the truck tried to disperse the workers. Unarmed men and women rushed to prevent them from using their guns, only to find the police showering them with bullets. Forty minutes of random shooting by the police filled the street with bleeding bodies. Eighteen-year-old Wardah Butrus Ibrahim, one of the active women in the strike who had joined the Regie in 1944 at its Furn al-Shubbak branch, was immediately killed as her blood splashed over the body of her fianc, Sabi Khnaysir, who stood next to her.13 Lur Dib and Najim Hubayqah, a female and a male worker, were in critical condition while fifteen women and twelve men were wounded. The reports of Hotel Dieu, the hospital to which they were taken, reveal that some of the injured suffered permanent disabilities. Police bullets also hit several residents in the neighboring build-



ings. The police then arrested eight male workers and a woman worker. Memories of this confrontation shaped the psychology of the labor movement for decades. It radicalized Wardahs fianc.14

Re-inscribing Women into Narratives of Labor, Nation, and Political Change

The dominant narratives on labor and national activism, whether in daily newspapers, schoolbooks, or academic studies, have offered little space for womens input, organizational skills, or militancy. The male elites who produced these narratives overwhelmingly viewed the independence battles as the outcome of a national outrage at the arrest of the Lebanese president and government ministers in 1943.15 The nationalist male bourgeoisie, which spoke for an ambivalent Lebanese nation, was unable to resolve French paternity or project political maturity and cohesiveness.16 Early on, the independence men, as they came to be described, drew their legitimacy from a sense of republican moralism and paternalism, which was particularly insightful in delineating the states gendered approach toward its citizens.17 As historian Elizabeth Thompson stated, Even as nationalist elites chafed at the contradictions between republicanism and paternalism, constitutional guarantees of individual rights and legal equality among citizens clashed with the structures of colonial paternalism that extended far beyond government offices, where public resources were distributed so as to differentiate the relative power of citizens.18 A re-examination of the primary sources alongside the use of quantitative data and oral history reveals the gender imbalance in the writing, or rather the unwriting, of Arab womens activism. The literature on national and labor struggles has largely neglected working women and dismissed the dimension of gender.19 By reinscribing gender onto these narratives we can see how womens participation significantly shaped those struggles and we can cast new light on the story of nation and labor during the late and postcolonial period. A distinct feminist historiography offered one corrective to the official and elitist male accounts of Lebanons colonial history by bringing women into the story of national liberation and political activism, albeit from the perspective of nationalist bourgeoisie classes. This historiography tried to restore to the account of Lebanons independence the role of women in resisting French occupation.20 Feminist literature discussed how middleand upper-class womens involvement in the national campaign against French colonialism, especially through their organizing hunger strikes and championing the bread protests that spread between 1941 and 1943 against the French installed government of Emile Edde.21 Indeed, twenty-seven




middle- class women represented Lebanon in the Arab Feminist Conference held in 1944 in Cairo who upheld the goal of Arab nationalism and unity.22 These women worked in the parliamentary elections following independence, actively supporting their candidates.23 A gendered analysis of the 1946 strike, in contrast, illuminates facets of female political experiences and industrial labor that have been misrepresented or dismissed by earlier scholars. It confirms research on other workingwomen but shows that because they contradicted conventional wisdom, instances of womens militancy were seen and not seen.24 Working women also promoted a model of female radicalism at variance with upper- and middle-class women. The latter were dynamic in organizing protests and a nationwide campaign against colonial exploitation, particularly the establishment of the Regie monopoly in 1935.25 They rallied with university students around a unifying slogan chanting, A Bas le Monopole qui arrache dentre les mains du people la derniere resource nationale (down with the monopoly that took away from the hands of the people that last national resource).26 The Arab Feminist Union (AFU) also became active in calling for a nationwide boycott of tobacco. The bourgeois women who belonged to this union and their sympathizers tried to renegotiate female identity in nationalist terms and tied the welfare of the nation to that of women as mothers and family nurturers. The foundation of the tobacco monopoly caused the displacement of 1,500 to 3,000 workers in the old cigarette factories who engaged in several demonstrations and protests against the French. Everyday for a week, hundreds of tobacco workers took to the streets of Beirut, Damascus, and Homs in 1935, demanding work and indemnities for unemployment from the French authorities. In Homs, women workers clashed with the police who prevented them from meeting with the citys governor. Refusing to give up hope, working women unified their efforts preparing a list of demands to address to the colonial authorities through a woman delegate.27 Their style of public assertiveness was unconventional in that their struggles against colonialism were almost always tied to labor demands, and cast not in terms of domesticity or pre-industrial images of motherhood but rather in terms of waged work. More important, working-class women proved to be more prone to militancy in achieving their goals than bourgeois women. At the time when working women were forcefully changing their domestic roles, bourgeois women urged their sisters to force men to respect and value their domestic labor before even thinking of replacing men in the job market.28 Many bourgeois feminists identified schools and charity organizations as the only suitable domains for womens employment. Working women seemed to conform less to the nationalist ideal and aimed instead to elevate their status outside the domestic nexus as work-



ers and women simultaneously. As such, their nationalism had a character distinct from that of the bourgeois woman. The experiences of working women bring a new dimension to the story of nation because gender lies at the center of the image of the state. When told from the perspective of working women, the narrative nation construction is less cohesive and it is challenged and undermine by class and gendered formation. The women tobacco workers, like their male co-workers, questioned the state-defined national good and challenged the foundations of their new citizenship as it was construed and propagated from above. The states violence against the workers, particularly women, and the death of Wardah forced new realities. Indeed, the Lebanese state leadership aimed to prevent alterations in either the societys gender structure or its division of labor. In a society where men saw themselves as providers and protectors of women and children, brutality toward women was considered cowardly and reprehensible. Women were seen as weaker than men, who were endowed with the physical strength to engage and withstand armed attacks. Despite similarities in the rhetoric of working womens and mens militancy, the basis for their consciousness or radical action differed. Womens militancy was shaped by a number of factors, some in common with their male colleagues, some unique to women. First, the distinct labor arrangements and social structures in which working women were forced to operate shaped their radicalism. Second, the anti-colonial struggles during the 1930s and 1940s and the experience of citizenship under the young national state allowed women workers to transcend the local affiliations of village and family that often divided women and to embrace collective national identity and modes of negotiation. These gender-specific realities, rather than membership in a union or the Communist party, shaped womens consciousness and collective activism as women pursued labor goals. The Communist Party had a long history of involvement in the activities of tobacco male laborers. Some founders of the Communist Party, such as Fuad al-Shimali, Farid Tumih, and Faris Matuq, came from the ranks of tobacco workers in Bikfayya.29 During the 1930s, the Lebanese Communist Party tied working-class struggles to anticolonial resistance, calling for national independence, the abolition of the privileges of foreign companies, and the elimination of the two existing governments in Syria and Lebanon, which served the French. It also called for freedom of the press, especially with respect to the working class, and demanded the freedom of publishing, forming committees, protesting, and striking against employers. 30




Lebanese Factory Women: Patriarchy and Class

To the extent that the national and local media reported on the 1946 strike, they treated it as an aberration of gender roles and female images. The state, embodied by Minister of the Interior Salam, found this sensibility an attractive device to defend himself and discredit the workers, accusing them of disloyalty to the nation and the fulfillment of foreign rather than native aspirations. He spoke of the disruption to the national economy that would result from the continuation of the strike and invoked the collective wellbeing by glorifying the national identity of the Regie, which, as he noted, contributed 95 percent of its profits to the public treasury.31 His avoidance of discussing womens involvement in the strike underscores the potency of the gender dynamic in shaping the public response to its approach to the conflict. Working womens leadership roles in the strikes threatened the patriarchal and class-based structures of the Regie and the government. These threats also found resonance in Lebanese society in which tensions between pre-industrial values and new modes of living, brought by the encroachment of new patterns of urban industrial labor among peasants, were high. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Syrian (which included Lebanese) women featured prominently in several handicrafts involving the manual fabrication of silk, cotton, and wool products. Much of the textile manufacturing was done in homes, which were closely tied to cultivation work among rural families where women played a crucial role.32 Women also invested extensive efforts in preserving and preparing food provisions for their extended households, including such staples as wheat, lentils, chickpeas, onion, garlic, dried figs, raisins, olive oil, olives, oregano mix, sugar, tea, tomato paste, soap, and preserved fats. Thousands of women combined homework for the textile industry with agricultural work. Women comprised one-third of textile workforce in 1890. In Mount Lebanon, around 12,000 women helped their families through their work at silk mills and thousands more, usually older and married, raised silkworms at home.33 As such, women added a critical source of income to the household. The growing demand for silk and the fluctuations in the European silk market initiated central changes in the above labor patterns and in womens socioeconomic experiences. Women gradually emerged as the most suitable workers for the exploitative market, featuring no less than 12,000 women in the silkworm manufactures during the late nineteenth century. But instead of achieving upward mobility, women occupied the lower ranks of production as reelers and combers and received one-half of a mans wages. The silk factories where women worked were in the same region of their homes. Thus, women resided with their families and experienced direct patriarchal supervision. Lebanese society resisted a pub-



lic and relatively independent image of a factory woman as reflected in popular literature that idolized the tranquil, dignified ambiance of the countryside and collective female work, be it in agriculture or in cottage industries.34 In his 1894 article, Women and Trades, Muhammad Jamil Bayhum, a prominent writer, warned against the threat to society and national harmony, from the increasing participation of women in paid labor, particularly at the mills and manufactures.35 Mitri Qindlaft, claimed in a 1913 article, Women and the Factory, that monotony and poisonous dust emitted by factory machines caused miscarriages and psychological imbalances in women, which could lead to alcoholism and undisciplined nightlife.36 The bias against paid female labor also had class content. Akram Khater, a Lebanese scholar, noted that The shame that was imposed on these young women because of [factory] work became so much a part of the peasant culture that the father or mother who wanted to scold a daughter would say, Are you going to behave like a factory girl?37 It seems reasonable to suggest that such statements characterized the middle and upper class families, or working-class families that continued to find benefit from their daughters and wives work on the farms, rather than the growing ranks of paid women workers. In the late nineteenth century, shortly after women joined the silk factories in Mount Lebanon, the Maronite (Catholic) archbishops Tobias Awn and Jaja objected to the sexual intermingling of men and women in the factories and expressed their concerns for the sexual honor and ethical conduct of working women. A number of factory owners were forced to hire pre-pubescent girls between ages eight and thirteen, or build a barrier between women and men at the factory and provide them with separate doorways. The church also insisted that family members accompany women to and from the factory.38 By the 1930s, the mix of agricultural and cottage labor among women changed due to the rise of the textile factories, which robbed the women of homework through the cottage industry. In 1922, 17,000 women out of 79,000 peasants pursued seasonal and part-time jobs to provide additional income to their families that derived from tending the land. An additional 22,000 peasants, likely all women, worked as domestic servants. The dislocation in mens and womens work patterns and opportunities during the 1920s had important implications for peasant and urban female labor and gender relations. Peasant women, who worked as domestic servants, became a dominant and stable source of support for the whole family. Women who took urban jobs lost ready access to sources of income from cottage trades and kitchen gardens. Among urban families, men who lost their work as artisans to factory workers ceased to be the familys main bread winner. These altered divisions of labor may have created tensions about mens gender identity and relations to women. As Thompson noted, the cultural




emphasis on a mans ability to support his family . . . likely compounded the crisis of paternal authority at home.39 At the state level, legislation pertaining to womens waged work, whether during French colonial rule or in independent Lebanon, reflected patriarchal gender biases and a spirit of paternalism. The French colonial government issued its first legal document on labor relations in 1935; two years later it promulgated a new law to regulate the employment of women and children in industrial plants.40 This law was the basis of the 1946 postcolonial labor code, which defined hiring practices, duration of work, salary, and dismissal from work for women and children.41 The laws prohibited women from working in factories that manufactured explosives, melted iron in chemical ovens, and in textile dyeing. Officials pointed to the legitimate hazards, such jobs might pose for womens reproductive health. The government offered no clear rationale for prohibiting other types of work. It prohibited women from driving machines with big engines or engaging in alcohol production.42 In 1948, the state issued new laws prohibiting women from working in the evening or at night except in a family business or in food handling jobs, where products could decay quickly.43 Women professionals in the fields of music, theatre and art, however, were exempt from such laws. This gender-class bias was mixed with patriarchal protection. In 1946, the state emphasized the centrality of the mother-child relationship and its contribution to familial and national cohesion, thus decreeing that women receive a forty-day maternity leave with full pay and preventing employers from accepting their return to work before a month. The laws also preserved mens preponderance in waged work and preference for womens separate domestic roles. In 1951, state laws gave women, but not men, the right to end a labor contract instantly upon marriage but not in cases of illness or childbirth. Women received less recognition at the workplace and fewer vacations and promotions.44 In retrospect, the states project of turning colonial subjects into national citizens, manifest in the body of its laws, faced clear contestations from gendered lower-class models of nationalism deemed unorthodox by the bourgeoisie and the state. In the process of citizen-subject formation, the state promoted gendered constructs of the public and the private, which had direct implications for women and gender relations. Although we do not have any censuses covering the gender composition of the Regie during the 1940s, we know that between 1954 and 1987, more than 40 percent of the Regie workers were women.45 Oral history and data on factory work in Lebanon allow us to estimate that almost half of the tobacco workforce in the 1940s was female. The Regie had an internal class structure that distinguished between workers and employees. Employees were white-collars professionals and administrative staff and



were almost exclusively men drawn from wealthy and influential Lebanese families of Muslim and Christian backgrounds. Workers were the bluecollar; the lowest and most unskilled ranks were predominantly women of mixed religious backgrounds.46 Unfortunately, we cannot calculate the percentages of single and married women. Despite the lack of training opportunities, some women learned to run the machines through careful observation that forced the Regie to move them up in rank as skilled laborers.47 Fatimah Nahli, a Muslin Shiite women worker who joined the Regie in 1957, reflected on the poor training on the machines, if any, women received at the workplace and the personal initiatives they took to develop their skills. She noted that, I was briefly instructed on how to run one of the major manufacturing machines but I was not seriously trained to control all its functions or correct dysfunctions. But one day, when the machine broke down, I decided to try and fix it myself without calling the engineer. For over year I had watched what the engineer did whenever we faced such a problem. Then I drew a basic diagram of the machine, its basic parts and mechanical movement on a long sheet of paper, which I hanged on the wall next to the machine. I also put together a short manual for the names of the tools and their proper use. Since that time, I never called the engineer for help or reported any mechanical failure to my superiors. One day the engineer was greatly surprised when I fixed a problem in one of these machines, which he himself couldnt!48 The department of al-Farz (sorting tobacco leaves) primarily recruited young women who worked for a few months, were discharged after the completion of their tasks, and were rehired the next year on the same temporary basis. This practice prevented them from accruing the years and experience that would turn them into permanent workers. The state reinforced these practices through legal procedures that denied the discharged workers any rights.49 Most temporary working women did such manual tasks as leaf sorting, which continued to be central to the manufacturing process despite mechanization. The Regie perceived these tasks as a natural extension of pre-industrial female labor on tobacco farms. Unlike several food and clothing factories, which lost much of their female labor force after mechanization, the tobacco industry continued to rely on a substantial female presence.

Popular Echoes and Social Recognition of the Strike

The Regie defeated the 1946 strike, but not without cost to the company, which set off a chain reaction across the country. On 28 June, the




labor movement called upon Lebanese laborers everywhere to stop work for ten minutes as an expression of their solidarity with the tobacco workers in Beirut and to condemn the actions of the Lebanese police.50 Disbelief and horror at the governments heavy-handed treatment of the strikers swept over people in all walks of life. Representatives and members of political parties, social associations, workers unions and federations openly expressed outrage at what they termed a massacre. The high number of female victims particularly moved them. Flowers and cards expressing sorrow and moral support filled hospital hallways. Hundreds of angry sympathizers congregated at Hotel Dieu denouncing the Regie, France, and the government, particularly Saib Salam.51 Newspaper offices received hundreds of petitions, as did members of parliament who were urged to intervene in support of the workers.52 For days, newspapers published pages of letters received from community and religious leaders, unions, and federations condemning the police, particularly the armed attacks against women. The Lebanese government, embarrassed by police brutality, was obliged to investigate the matter to quell popular anger. Workers reminded the state of its indebtedness to them, shouting out: Half of the governments budget derives from the Regie. Is this how the government rewards us?53 Abdullah al-Yafi, a deputy, denounced the propaganda that framed workers as traitors or tools in the hand of the Lebanons enemies. He told the parliament that the workers cause nowadays is the cause of the whole world, . . . their representatives were among the best supporters of this government who used peaceful methods. . . . These are the same workers [who supported the establishment of this government] and no conspirator has manipulated [or corrupted] them. Another deputy, Henri Faroun, openly denounced the use of force against disarmed single young women (fatayat) and workers.54 The editor of a leading journal who also described the strikers as fatayat, proclaimed that shooting bullets . . . is in reality the greatest evidence for the [governments] weakness and impotence, especially when they target disarmed single young women and children.55 These statements suggest that the overwhelming number of female strikers may have been single and below the age of thirty. More importantly, they clearly imply that womens militancy exposed the vulnerability of the Lebanese state. Its paternalistic claims were sufficiently shaken by leaving its female citizens face to face with neocolonial capitalist controls. Expressing a prevalent view among parliamentarians, the deputy of Mount Lebanon, George Aqil, criticized sharply Salams policies and requested an immediate parliamentary session to investigate the governments actions.56 Several parliamentarians denounced the governments abuse of power and armed coercion to quell a peaceful strike. Some deputies insisted that



the workers demands were legal and that the government should accept them. As `Aqil beseeched the deputies to pass a motion of no confidence, it became evident that the strike and its repercussions were an early sign of the fragility of the infant national state.57 Historians have pointed to the 1956 rose water coup against the regime of al-Khuri and the 1958 confrontations with the Chamoun regime as the earliest indicators of the precarious foundation of the Lebanese state. 58 In reality, however, the 1946 strike was the earliest indicator that the Lebanese state and its visions of national order were seriously challenged from below by protesting working women and men. The scope of support for the tobacco workers widened to include sympathizers from political parties that once either opposed the workers or expressed only lukewarm support for their cause. This development gave the strike a decidedly populist image that set it apart from the states brand of bourgeoisie nationalism. Moreover, as Wasila Dubuq recounts in her discussion of the strike, the tobacco workers continued to invoke the haunting memory of Wardahs death all throughout their painful one-month strike from 11 June to 12 July. In so doing, they highlighted the plight of women workers in the new Lebanese state.59 Wardahs death tainted the governments image with shame and left observers with mixed feelings of admiration and surprise about womens bravery. In self-defense, government spokesmen and its loyal journalists accused male workers of intentionally situating women on the front line to hide behind them during the clash with the police. Even newspapers, which normally supported the state, denounced its use of machine guns, invoking social norms and civil moral boundaries that state authority must never violate.60 Women workers forcefully disrupted the emerging narrative of the Lebanese nation and challenged both the elite and male claims to leadership. The governments decision to pass labor legislation was the culmination of diverse national concerns that converged in support of the Regie workers.

The Party, the Union, and the Composition of the Women Strikers
Under the workers incessant and intensified protests, the state was forced to formulate a new labor law. Labor historians, as well as unionists and leftists, have overlooked in general the influence of militant women workers on the passage of the first labor law. Indeed, the image of the ideal proletariat who abided by party discipline and was conscious of class position was strongly framed in masculine terms.61 Using a far from gender-blind term to describe the workers collectively as `ummal (the masculine plural of `amil, a male worker, rather than `ummal and `amilat, female workers), many saw the labor law as the product of the disparate efforts of




male laborers and state initiatives.62 This position ignores the different reactions of workers to their leaders decisions. Even the working men of the Regie expressed a range of views about womens hesitation to organized labor and to commit to overt confrontation with employers.63 It is important to assess the role of the Communist party and the unions in this context, namely the Al-Ittihad al-Am Li-naqabat al-Ummal wa alMustakhdamin fi Lubnan (The General Federation of the Unions of Workers and Employees, GFUWE) in shaping the consciousness and militancy of the Regie working women. The Communist Party of Lebanon and Syria formed in 1924 from a merger of the Lebanese Peoples Party, a Syrian communist group, and the Armenian Bolshevik Party, known as Spartacus.64 Two of the earliest communist organizations coalesced in al-Hadath and Bikfayya where the Regie later established factories.65 Strong ties evolved between tobacco workers and the communists, thanks to the efforts of such members as al-Shimali to strengthen labor unions. He issued a booklet in 1928 titled Naqabat al-Ummal (The Workers Unions) and asked several tobacco workers in Bikfayya for feedback. The booklet urged working women to join the union and become active in the Communist Party, reminding them that they were more exploited and oppressed than their male counterparts.66 The Communists devoted special attention to the tobacco workers strikes during the 1940s and lent guidance and advice to the Regie strikers (particularly men) in coordinating their efforts.67 The GFUWE strove to maintain a unified vision among all constituencies of the Lebanese labor movement. They encouraged new unions to form and developed effective methods of coordination. The Regie workers sought GFUWE support and started linking their demands to the larger labor movement. The Communist elements of the GFUWE attempted to situate labor confrontations within a wider framework of class conflict.68 It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which tobacco workers and other industrial women workers identified with communist unionists, but we do know that diffuse socialist views reached workingwomen through communist unionists who came in close contact with them and their male colleagues during periods of labor conflict, through popular media venues, and through male relatives and friends who were active in unions.69 As well, several Communists ran for parliamentary elections in various Lebanese regions and received good publicity at a time when newspapers and radio broadcasts praised Soviet triumph over Nazism at the end of World War II.70 Fatimah Nahli, a leading activist in the 1963 strike, reflected on her and other womens exchanges with Communist male workers at the Regie during the strike: Hasan Hamid, a Regie workingman, was our model. We did not know before then that he was a Communist but we trusted his



opinions and instructions. The Communist Party supported the workers. It agitated against exploitation and other things. We loved the Communists because they were true supporters of us. Probably, I had more awareness of Communist activities than did my workingwomen friends, many of whom took my lead and trusted my advice. I was influenced by Hamid and Abu Shawqi, another Communist Regie worker.71 Samiha Ajami and Hannih Rajji were the only two women known to be active in the unions. Many women expressed confusion and uncertainty about joining labor unions, stating that they were uneducated and illiterate, and would not be able to live up to their standards and goals.72 Fatimah Umar, a Muslim Shiite workingwoman at the Regie, for example, declared that she lacked the education which would enable me to join such institutions. Fatimah Nahli also stated, I am not educated enough to join the executive committee of the union. That job needs educated people who were also required to spend long hours in meetings and planning and return home late at nights. Women cannot do that.73 Lamis Dibis, a Catholic woman who worked at the Regie and a mother of two, believed that her duties toward her family and her job consumed all of her time. She was unable to devote anytime to union meetings or even social activities requiring absence from home for long periods of time.74 Most of them knew only indirectlyand usually through a manabout the long-term objectives of the union and the Communist Party. Others seemed overburdened with their Regie work and domestic chores, which left them little time for other activities. A few pointed to their fathers or husbands aversion to womens involvement in any activity of a political nature that seemed unladylike. For their part, unionists and Communists evinced little interested in recruiting women into their ranks or making their meetings and circles more friendly and sensitive to womens domestic and family commitments. Several Communist leaders found explicitly gendered issues divisive and rarely distinguished between male and female working-class cultures.75 The Communist Party addressed its audience in the plural masculine as our male comrades and the workingmen of the countryside, and only rarely singled out women as a distinct group in that audience. The party also discussed the growth of conscious social awareness in Lebanon at the hands of male students and teachers, and the sons of the toiling industrial workingmen.76 With the same malecentered language, party leaders urged their countrymen to bring a new breed of men to rule the country justly and democratically, noting that the triumph of freedom in Lebanon rested in the hands of the sons of Lebanon.77 The Lebanese Communist Party, which served as the vanguard party and was expected to lead the workers movements, had always suffered from a limited appeal to women. It is questionable whether




the party played more than a marginal role in recruiting women workers and peasants into its ranks. Indeed, my findings cast serious doubt on the missionary role of the male intelligentsia in propagating militancy among working women. Describing a predominantly male constituency and directed mostly to a male audience, the partys declarations stated that The Communist party which builds its policies and action on the basis of the scientific progressive theory of Marxism-Leninism, devotes great attention to education and the intelligentsia . . . and struggles to create the best work circumstances for them . . . The true combative role of the intelligentsia is fulfilled when they invest in the progressive revolutionary movement with its working class in the forefront.78 Although the partys declarations preserved its forefront to the working class, it saw the intelligentsia as central to the partys goal of building a society of knowledge, creativity, and freedom.79 Although Lebanese Communists admitted that women were among the most exploited and marginalized citizens of a modern capitalist society such as Lebanon, they refused to devote any special attention to womens demands for liberation or equality. They noted that Womens cause is part of the cause of liberation for all working class elements, which cannot be fulfilled except by destroying capitalism and building a socialist society. In this manner, womens struggle for liberation becomes part of an overall struggle to liberate society as a whole.80 The inability to acknowledge the urgency and particularity of working womens problems was thus reflected in the partys lukewarm efforts toward achieving a large female membership.

Experiences and Composition of Female Strikers

The gender-specific labor and societal experiences of Regie female workers engendered more militancy and consciousness of their labor needs than did the union or the Communist Party. As lower-class women and men fought for national independence against the French, they became workers with a common cause. Although womens struggle for national independence and citizenship rights started at the same time as mens, the overall basis for their radicalism derived from their objective and particular historical conditions and not from affiliation with labor unions or political parties, as was generally the case with male workers. Such involvement helped develop rationalized methods of labor organization and protest. By comparison to the 1945 strike, the 1946 strike witnessed a forceful integration of the demands of temporary working women. In 1946, two groups of women stood united in their efforts to protect their labor rights. The temporary or seasonal workers long fought to achieve permanency while the permanent female workers sought to win a status equal to that of



their fellow male workers in terms of benefits and wages. The oral histories of several women tobacco workers from the countryside who joined the Regie during the 1950s relate how several of their single female relatives expected to receive customary support in terms of food and shelter from their fathers, mothers, or adult brothers while maintaining temporary factory jobs.81 These women assisted their parents and siblings through their Regie income and expected reciprocal assistance when they lost their jobs. The married women, by contrast, could no longer rely on extended family support but instead relied primarily on their husbands or both of their incomes. Married women, consequently, faced greater economic burdens and familial responsibilities, particularly in cases of working mothers. In addition, temporary and seasonal working women realized the indispensability of cheap, manual, non-skilled labor in tobacco manufacturing, which devolved to them. Their work at the Regie lasted from three to nine months at the most, which made it possible for them to engage in seasonal work at the village or seek additional sources of income. Although I do not have complete data on the ages and marital status of the temporary women who participated in the 1946 strikes, it is likely that their motives were similar to the women described above, a result of the similarity in their backgrounds. Indeed, being single may have allowed them to take more risks to achieve their goals. The combination of being temporary workers with the worse labor conditions and yet indispensable to the Regie fueled their anger and convinced them that radicalism was the only remaining method to reverse their conditions.82 The permanent women workers faced a different situation. They had a longer history at the Regie, were skilled, and had no other sources of income. These women, as their strike demands revealed, rejected the systemic sex discrimination in salary, promotion, and benefits. Permanent workers, more than temporary ones, seemed acutely aware of gender inequality and of the necessity for fighting for their place at the Regie not merely as workers, but as women. Notwithstanding their differences, the evident solidarity among permanent and temporary women workers strengthened their overall bargaining power and possibly their militant pursuit of their aims.

From French Colonial Rule to Independence

Labor unrest and the passage of a labor law in 1946 became entangled with the national struggle for independence against colonialism that began in 1943 and which led to an independent Lebanese state. Both the relationship of workers to management and the content of their demands underwent a fundamental change during the phase when the national state




came into being as both anti-colonial and capitalist. Before independence, working women and men adopted the nationalist cause, fought fervently against the French, and found the national elites aspirations compatible, if only temporarily, to their own. Nationwide civil disobedience and armed clashes erupted in November 1943 against the French colonialists for suspending negotiations over Lebanons independence and arresting nationalist leaders. Protestors demanded the release of national leaders, the future independence men, and the restoration of the constitution.83 Labor syndicates mobilized workers in public demonstrations, which spread into almost every industry and small business.84 A score of women workers were wounded and arrested during a confrontation with the national police at a strike in February 1945.85 Meanwhile, a critical development in the workers organizational activities occurred when several unions joined forces and form a labor syndicate in January 1944 the GFUWE, with Musatafa al-Aris as its presidentelect.86 The syndicate encouraged trade unions with a considerable female membership such as the textile, stocking, and matchmakers unions, to join the GFUWE. In 1944 and 1945, the Regie workers struck to demand wage increases and exemption from paying the loans they took from the company after the end of World War II.87 Integral to the strikers list was a new demand pertaining exclusively to women, namely, the receipt of full pensions for those who left work after marriage. The government refused to negotiate with the Regie workers and sent in police to crush the strike. Policemen attacked the strikers with their guns and injured a number of them, including women like Georgette Haddad, and Nadia and Mary Salih. We know nothing about the ranks, sections or sectarian backgrounds of these workingwomen at the Regie. The accounts are also vague on the outcome of this strike. We do know, however, that this strike and several others at the wool and clothing industries integrated some of the general goals of the GFUWE relating to salary raises, pensions for working women who left their jobs after marriage, and licensing the unions.88 Workers at the Zumikyan Stocking Company and the National Wool Company who struck in June and July 1945 also asked for full pensions for women who left work upon marriage. The nature of the demands indicates that many of the women strikers were full-time employers who were eligible for pensions, but they were also single and subject to the marriage clauses. The male negotiators did not insist on the fulfillment of the womens demands as part of an overall settlement. It is unclear whether any of the women who struck belonged to the GFUWE, but it is conceivable that this organization was a source of strength and solidarity for working women.89 After 1946, the national rationale for unity lost much of its impetus, giving way to class-based and gendered struggles between workers and



the Lebanese government whose laws reinforced and encouraged capitalist exploitation of laborers. Without a well-defined relationship between labor and management, workers lacked a rationalized system for job promotions, wage increases, work hours, and basic rights and duties between employers and employees. Meanwhile, the Lebanese government continued to give utmost priority to nationalism and avoided a comprehensive resolution to the increasing labor unrest.90 The Chamber of Deputies drafted legislation favorable to foreign companies and national capitalists.91 In reaction, the GFUWE called for a general strike for 20 May 1946. On 19 May, the president of Lebanon told GFUWE president Mustafa al-`Aris, You know that I have sympathy toward the workers. The chamber of deputies will pass the labor law in a special upcoming meeting, so I ask you to cancel the strike.92 Al-Aris responded that the strike could not be cancelled at such a late time especially since it needed the approval of all the union leaders involved. With a sense of urgency, the president offered to provide al-Aris with transportation and to pay for telegrams to union leaders. AlAris and his delegation refused the offer. The government obviously feared the anticipated strike and tried desperately to diffuse it. The strike took place in Beirut and a number of provinces, drawing in workers from major industrial and commercial companies. Two workers were seriously wounded but none of the labor demands were fulfilled.93 The immediate outcome of the strike profoundly disappointed workers. The labor movement realized it faced a potent and unsympathetic opponent in the Lebanese successor to the French colonial state. Dismayed yet determined to achieve their goals, Regie workers decided on another strike on 11 June 1946 that would turn their resistance into a national event and rekindle the campaign for a comprehensive labor law. Meanwhile, several strikes erupted, most significantly in establishments connected with the port, the railroad, the Central Bank, the breweries, and the workers of Beirut municipality.94 Saib Salam refused to guarantee the tobacco workers strike pay because he feared it would encourage the workers rebelliousness and weaken the employers.95 Only when the workers started to plan a general strike involving the entire public sector did the Regie agree to negotiate a settlement.96 It dismissed womens demands for job permanency and equality with men in salary or benefits. It also refused to pay for the strike days but was willing to loan needy workers with low interest rates to be paid back over a twelve-month period. Loan payments were to be deducted automatically from their wages. The number of overtime hours was increased to compensate for the interruption of work during the strike.97 The women did not have an independent female delegate to represent their demands during the negotiations with the Regie. The men ini-




tially supported the womens demands, apparently to widen the base of support for the strike and to strengthen opposition to the Regie. The women probably either trusted their male colleagues to speak for the whole list of demands or were simply prevented by the negotiating team from presenting labor demands particular to them.98 Whatever the reason, they did not attain any tangible goals. Working women used this experience to reexamine their actions, tactics, and goals. It helped them and their younger female colleagues to define a more feminist awareness of the right to control settlement negotiations and legal processes which they implemented in strikes in the 1950s and 60s.99 The Lebanese parliament passed the long-awaited labor law on 23 September 1946. It guaranteed workers with forty-eight hour workweeks, fifteen-day yearly vacations, and paid sick leave. Women were to get paid maternity leave for forty days.100 The law was deliberately vague on several clauses, including the right to strike, elimination of gender discrimination in pay, and benefits and treatment on the shop floor. In the end, the law nurtured the social configurations that perpetuated gender discrimination and capitalist exploitation of labor, which was in turn preserved at the Regie.

On the eve of independence, labor unrest in Lebanon became entangled with the struggle for national liberation against the French. Workers initially fought fervently with the national elite whose aspirations they believed were compatible with their own. Following independence, however, the national rationale for unity lost much of its impetus and a distinct challenge to the nation started to emerge from working-class groups, particularly women. The wide popular and national support that the 1946 strike received went beyond a fear of an economic setback to a form of civil disobedience among several sectors of society and thus revealed the fragility of the emerging Lebanese state. At the end of 1946, the government, seen now as neocolonialist and autocratic, resigned. As for Salam, he was not appointed to any governmental position for five years.101 Womens activism during the 1946 strike marked an early phase in womens awareness of their interests as exploited women workers. They emerged as pioneers in organizing strike committees, identifying their tasks, and boosting the morale of the strikers. Womens militancy seemed to have been shaped by distinct historical factors. Womens anti-colonial struggles against the French discouraged acquiescence and nurtured a collective national identity. Particular labor and social conditions of striking women contributed to their style of labor activism. Single, temporary, or seasonal



working women who spearheaded the strike relied on parental support, and expected their families, as did all single Lebanese women, to provide them with food and shelter. Seasonal single women may have also sought additional sources of income during the (three to six) months when their work at the Regie was over for that year. This may explain their adoption of radicalism and open confrontation with the Regie and the government. Married women, in comparison, did not have direct access to parental support and faced greater financial responsibilities. Permanent working women were instrumental in offering guidance to the strikers based on their institutional memory and stability at the Regie. Permanent women seemed mostly agitated by gender inequality in wages, rank, promotion and benefits. The gradual radicalization of women tobacco workers against the state was not determined by unionization, indoctrination, or affiliation with a political party. These women embraced the general demands of the GFUWE and were exposed to diffuse socialist ideas through its communist leaders during episodes of intense labor conflict. The union and the party alike may have projected a sense of male hierarchy and sexual assertiveness, which made them less congenial to female membership. Meanwhile, womens participation in labor struggles for improved working conditions was congruent with the emergence of new roles for women. Striking did not merely augment the politicization and collective organization of women; it became an expression of a new gender identity, negotiated in a public space customarily accorded to men. It was an identity constructed through a nascent form of individual autonomy and awareness of collective social power and political bargaining. The gendered dimensions of the 1946 strike seem even more significant when we consider that it overlapped with wider national struggles against both French colonial authority and the Lebanese state. The strike became a vivid sign of womens public assertiveness and an open challenge to the states authority professed in paternal patriarchal terms. It brought to light the fissures in the process of citizenship and challenged its gendered boundaries of the public and the private. The militancy of working women as citizens against the state, in turn, became an occasion for contesting pre-industrial gender roles and promoting an unconventional image of womanhood. NOTES
This article is based on a central chapter in my dissertation, Malek Abisaab, A History of Women Tobacco Workers: Labor, Community and Social Transformation in Lebanon, 18951997, (Ph.D. diss., SUNY Binghamton, 2001). I would like to thank Rula Abisaab, Beth Baron, and Elizabeth Mancke for their valuable comments on it.


Al-Nahar (4 June 1946): 4.


2 Al-Nahar (15 and 16 June 1946): 2. In 1947, the Regie workforce was made up of 1500 permanent and 350 temporary workers, though the percentage of working women is unknown. See, Edward W. Samuell Jr., A Contribution to the Study of the Lebanese Labor Syndicates. (Ph.D. diss., American University of Beirut, 1952): 96. 3 Ilyas al-Buwari, Tarikh al-Harakah al-Ummaliyyah wa al-Naqabiyyah fi Lubnan: 1908-1980 (The History of the Labor and Syndicate Movement in Lebanon), volume 1 (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1986), 278, 321. 4 5 6

Al-Nahar (27 June, 1946): 2. Ibid. Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 278, 33133.

7 Michele Azar, a typographical worker witnessed and recorded the organizational procedures and the day-to-day development of the 1946 strike of the tobacco workers. Al-Azar gave his notes to Ilyas al-Buwari who included them in his book together with newspaper reports covering the strike. See al-Buwari, Tarikh al-Harakah, 32134; and Couland, Al-Hararkah Naqabiyyah fi Lubnan: 19191946(The Syndicalist Movement in Lebanon, 19191946) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1974), 399. 8 9

Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 32324. Wasila Dubuq, Interview with author , 1 January 1997, Beirut, Lebanon.

10 Ibid. 278. Salam was also known for his slogan, siyasat al-hazim wa al`azim (the policy of firmness and determination) which summarized the outlook of the Ministry of Interior during his years of service. 11 Although the Bikfayya plant was a major branch of the Regie, the strike committee did not control it. 12 Al-Nahar (30 June 1946): 2. From this point on I will refer to Wardah Butrus Ibrahim only as Wardah because, first, this how most of the Regie workers call her; second, the name Wardah means a rose in Arabic; and finally because her family name, Butrus, is a masculine one. 13 Wasila Dubuq, Interview. Dubuq was a colleague of Wardah and one of the leading women activists who clashed with the police during the 1946 strike. 14

Al-Nahar (30 June 1946): 1.

15 This notion is prevalent in the standard history textbooks of the Lebanese public schools. 16 Elizabeth Thompson, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 17, 4043. 17




Ibid, 70.

19 Only a few historians have discussed the significance of the gender division of the industrial workforce in the Middle East let alone womens labor activism. Among these, see Donald Quataert, Machine Breaking and the Changing Carpet Industry of Western Anatolia, 18601908, Journal of Social History 16 (spring 1986): 47389; Donald Quatert, Ottoman Manufacturing in the Age of Industrial Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Berik Gunseli, Women Carpet Weavers in Rural Turkey: Patterns of Employment, Earnings and Status, in Women, Work and Development Series 15 (Geneva: International Labour Office, 1987); and Sherry Vatter, Militant Textile Weavers in Damascus: Waged Artisans and the Ottoman Labor Movement, 18501914, in Workers and The Working Class in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, 18391950, ed. Donald Quataert and Erik Zurcher (New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 1995): 5053. New studies have started to address the process of citizenship in the Middle East from the perspective of Women. See Suad Joseph, ed., Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000); and Thompson, Colonial Citizens. 20 Elizabeth Thompsons work Colonial Citizens is the only monograph of the struggle for independence in Lebanon that attempts to challenge such narrative. 21 Prior to the anti colonial struggle, Lebanese and Syrian women championed a number of mass street demonstrations against hunger, inflation, and unemployment. For a comprehensive discussion of the construction of citizenship in Lebanon and Syria during the French mandate, see Elizabeth Thompson, Colonial Citizens. 22 Margot Badran, Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), 239. 23

Couland. Al-Harakah. 33738.

24 See Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Disorderly Women: Gender and Labor Militancy in the Appalachian South, Journal of American History 73 (1986): 35455. 25 Surete Generale Beyrouth, Mandat Syrie-Liban 19181940, Box 71819, April 1935, Archives Ministere Des Affaires Entrangeres (MAE), Nantes, France. See also LUnion Feministe Arabe, A Son Excellence Le Comte De Martel, Affaires Politique, Mandat Syrie-Liban 19181940, Box 1066, 15 December 1934, MAE. 26 Renseignements, Affaires Politiques, Mandat Syrie-Liban 19181940, Box 1066, 4 March 1935, MAE. 27 1701, Surete Generale, Mandat Syrie-Liban 19181940, Box 1066, 31 May 1935, MAE; and 1742, Surete Generale, Mandat Syrie-Liban 19181940, Box 1066, 4 June 1935, MAE. 28 Ila Ibnat Biladi (To My Fellow Countrywoman), Al-Marah al-Jadida (The New Woman), 4 (June 1924): 231. 29 Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 115 and Muhammad Dakrub, Judhur al-Sindiyanah alHamra (The Roots of the Red Oak Tree) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1985): 77.




Karim Muroeh, Al-Muqawamah (Resistance) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1985), Al-Nahar (28 June 1946): 1.

31 32

See Donald Quataert, Ottoman Manufacturing, 2; and Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 4748. Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 34.


34 Several Rahbani songs describe the serene atmosphere of the countryside, the innocence of women, and restrictive gender relations. The play, The Season of Glory (Mawsim al-Iz) describes the lively scenes of peasant women working at their silk looms. 35 Muhammad Jamil Bayhum, Al-Mara wa al-Sanai (Women and Trades) Al-Hilal (The Crescent) (1894): 923. 36 Mitri Qindlaft, Al-Mara wa al-Mamal (Women and the Factory) AlMuqtataf (Excerpt) (December 1913): 537. 37 Akram Khater, House to Goddess of the House: Gender, Class, and Silk in Nineteenth-Century Mount Lebanon, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 3 (August, 1996): 331. 38 For more information on the dynamics of religion in labor, see Abisaab, A History of Women Tobacco Workers, chap. 2. 39

Thompson, Colonial Citizens, 35.

40 Qanun Yakhtas bi Istikhadam al-Awlad wa al-Nisa fi al-Amal alSinaiyya (A Law Pertaining to the Employment of Children and Women in Industrial Labor). A copy was found in Legislation Justice Contentieux, Mandat SyrieLiban 19181940, carton number 2921, 17 April 1935, MAE. 41 Abd al-Salam Shuayb, Al-Marah al-Amilah fil-Qanun al-Lubnani (Workingwomen in Lebanese Law) in Al-Marah wal-Amal fi Lubnan (Women and Labor in Lebanon) (Beirut: Institute of Womens Studies in the Arab World, 1980), 1519. 42

Ibid. Ibid., 2122.


44 Ibid. See also Rose Ghurayyib, ed., Adwa ala al-Harakah al-Nisaiyyah, (Highlighting Womens Movement), (Beirut: Institute of Womens Studies in the Arab World, 1988) 330. 45 The Gender Distribution of the Regie Working Force, 19541987. (Rounded to nearest whole number) 46

Ibid. Fatimah Nahleh, Interview with author , al-Shiyyah, 6 February 1997.





49 Chartouni vs. the Regie, C/I.P.C. (Beirut, 1941). A copy of this case was found in Information, Mandat Syrie-Liban 193045, Box 1107, 28 September 1943, MAE.

1954 N Female Male Total Missing 941 1,121 2,062 2 % 46 54 100.00 0.1 N

1969 % N 1,426 43 1,855 57 3,281 100.00

1981 % 41 58 100.00 N 1,230 1,744 2,974

1987 % 42 57 100,00 0.2 1,109 1,499 2,608 6

Sources: Archives of the Union of the Regie Workers and Employees, Union Membership Dues of 1954; The Personnel Department of the Regie, Liste Nominative du Personnel au 1-11969; The Personnel Department of the Regie, Liste de Personnel par Matricule, 1 October 1981 and The Personnel Department of the Regie, Liste des Rubriques des Paie,, 13-12-1987.

50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58

Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 324. Al-Bayraq (The Banner) (29 June 1946): 1. Ibid., 2. Wasila Dubuq, Interview. Al-Bayraq (29 June, 1946): 1, 2 Al-Sayyad (Newshound) (4 July, 1946): 10 Al-Bayraq (30 June 1946): 2. Ibid., 1 2.

Fahim Qubain,Crisis in Lebanon (Washington D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1961); Kamal Salibi. Modern History of Lebanon (New York: Praeger, 1965); and Michael Hudson, The Precarious Republic: Political Modernization in Lebanon (Boulder: Westview Press, 1985).
59 60 61

Wasila Dubuq, Interview. See Gubran Tuwayni, Al-Nahar (29 June 1946): 1.

See Ibrahim Mustafa, Tatawwurat Bunyawiyyah Hammah, Al-Tariq (The Path), 40 (February 1981): 95108; Al-Buwari, Tarikh; Yusuf Khattar al-Hilu, Awraq min Tarikhina (Pages from Our History) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1988); and Artin Madoyan, Hayati `ala Al-Mitras (Life at the Barricade) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1986).




62 Albert H. Hourani believed that all social reforms that took place in Lebanon and Syria since the turn of the century were attributed to the initiative of the state rather than the people. See Albert H. Hourani, Syria and Lebanon: A Political Essay (London: Lebanon Bookshop, 1946), 82; Joseph Donato, Lebanon and Its Labour Legislation. International Labour Review, LXV, no. 1 (January 1952): 7392; Robert J. Lampan, The Lebanese Labor Code of 1946, Labor Law Journal (July 1954): 497; and Benjamin T. Hourani, Unionism in the Lebanese Labor Law of 1946 (M.A.Thesis, American University of Beirut, 1959): 27. For a leftist perspective, see Couland, Al-Harakah al-Naqabiyyah, 41421; al-Buwari, Tarikh, 26474. 63 Four Regie working men who preferred to remain anonymous. Interviews with author, Beirut, March and April, 1997. 64 Alexander Flores, The Early History of Lebanese Communism Reconsidered, Khamsin (Fifty) 7(1980): 12; and Karim Muroeh, Al-Muqawamah, 20. 65 Madoyan, Hayat ala, 5155. Al-Shimali devoted significant efforts in forming and developing strong labor unions in Lebanon and was at times criticized by the Communist Party as being more of a unionist than a socialist ideologue. 66

Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 137; and Dakrub, Judhur al-Sindiyanah, 92.

67 Karim Muroeh, Al-Muqawamah, 38; and al-Aris, Mustafa al-Aris Yatadhakkar (Mustafa al-Aris Remembers) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1982), 17782. 68

Al-Aris, Mustafa al-Aris Yatadhakkar, 111.

69 Nuqula al-Shawi, Kitabat wa Dirasat (Writings and Studies) (Beirut: Dar alFarabi, n.d.), 17274. 70 71

See Al-Aris, Mustafa al-Aris, 293317. Fatimah Nahli, Interview with author, Beirut, 6 February, 1997.

72 A 1997 Questionnaire has shown that literacy rate is still the highest among female workers. I administered the questionnaire with the help of two women assistants. It meant to explore the workers age, family background, marital status, motivation for work and work conditions among other variables. I asked several questions relating to their personal and social experiences and skills.. The below table reveals the following figures: 73 Fatimah Umar, Interview with author, al-Hadath, 10 February 1997; and Fatimah Nahli, Interview. It is important here to clarify that the Regie workers are considered union members when they gain job permanency. What those workers meant by joining the union is to be active. 74

Lamis Dibis, Interview, al-Hadath, 17 February 1997.

75 The leftist scholars who wrote a historical evaluation of different phases of Communist activism in Lebanon made no mention of womens issues and gendered dimensions of class. See Couland, Nahwa Tarikh `Ilmi Lil-Harakah al`Ummaliyyah fi al-`Alam al-`Arabi. Al-Tariq, no. 1, 38 (February, 1979): 127152; and Ibrahim Mustafa, Tatawwurat Bunyawiyyah. 95108.



The Educational Background of the Regie Workers, 1997. (Rounded to nearest whole number).





Illiterate Unknown


N Female Male 62 32

% 21.7 46.4

N 21 16

% 7.3 23.2

N 1 11

% 0 15.9

N 1 2

% 0 2.9

189 66.1 12 4.1 275 100 7 10.1 1 0 80 100

Source: The 1997 Questionnaire.

76 Al-Shuyuiyyun al-Lubnaniyyun wa Muhimmat al-Marhalah al-Muqbilah (The Lebanese Communists and the Missions of the Coming Period) (Beirut: Manshruat alHizb al-Shuyui al-Lubnani, n.d), 7273. 77

Yusuf Khattar al-Hilu, Awraq, 141, 150.

78 Al-Wathaiq al-Kamila Lil-Mutamar al-Watani al-Thani Lil-Hizb al-Shuyui al-Lubnani (The Complete Documentsofr the Second National Conference of the Lebanese Communist Party) (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1988), 189. 79

Ibid. Al-Wathaiq al-Kamila, 193.


81 Many women workers expressed this but I can in particular refer to Thurayya al-Khishin, Interview with author, al-Hadath, 22 Feburary 1997; Dibih Kinan, Interview with author, al-Hadath, 19 Feburary 1997; Nayfah Sarhan, Interview with author, al-Hadath, 9 March 1997; and Fatimah Zuaytir, Interview with author, al-Hadath, 1 March 1997. 82 Several working women from the countryside who joined the Regie during the 1950s noted how several of their female relatives had occasionally sought support from their fathers, mothers, and brothers while maintaining temporary factory jobs. 83 See Phillip Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 19201945 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), 31315. 84 A number of demands were common to all of these strikes. The regulations of the work hours and their decrease to eight was a chief demand in addition to the right of unionization, finding a labor court, stopping illegal and arbitrary discharge from work, family allowances, and setting a scale for wage increase. In general, all of these demands attested to the growing awareness of the workers for a labor code. For an overview of these demands and the strikes that occurred from mid1943 to mid-1945, see Couland, Al-Harakah, 35787; and al-Buwari, Tarikh, 21334. 85

Couland, Al-Harakah, 308309.




86 Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 217. The main unions that joined in this syndicate were those of the bakers, carpenters, construction workers, shoe sewing artisans, furniture upholstery workers, electricity and tramways workers, tailors, private car drivers, pharmacy workers, barbers, cooks, and tanning workers of Beirut and Mashgharah in the Biqa valley. 87 88 89 90

Ibid., 223, 225. Ibid., 22728. Ibid., 22325. Couland, Al-Harakah, 384; and al-Buwari, Tarikh, 263.

91 The persistent autonomy and influence which the foreign or concessionary companies exerted in the process of founding a labor law is exemplified in the structure of the Ministry of Social Affairs, formed on 1 June 1951, that later became the Ministry of Labor. The former was divided into 4 departments: The Labor Department; Trade Unions Department; Concessionary Companies Control Department and finally, the Department of Social Affairs. Joseph Donato, Lebanon and Its Labour Legislation, 73. The concessionary companies maintained their independence in applying their own provisions despite the founding of the national labor law. 92 93 94 95

Al-Aris, Mustafa al-Aris., 17980. Ibid., 275. Al-Buwari, Tarikh, 281. Al-Nahar (2 July 1946): 2.

96 Ibid.; and Al-Nahar (10 July 1946): 2. For the intention to call for a general strike, see Al-Bayraq (89 July 1946): 2. Al-Bayraq, denounced the pretext Salam used to avoid the payment of the strike days and pointed to the huge amount of revenues that poured to the treasury from the business of the Regie, estimated yearly at LP 20 millions. Al-Bayraq showed that the amount of revenues that could be lost by the government during strike was much larger than the amount of money the workers had asked for in compensation for the strike days. The newspaper concluded that it was not worthwhile for the government to continue in its intransigent position. Salams position, however, emanated from the states efforts to discipline and control labor struggles, a position that was not simply derived from their miscalculation of costs and revenues. See Al-Bayraq (10 July 1946): 1. 97 Al-Nahar (2 July 1946): 4. Al-Bayraq claimed that the government agreed to give a compensation for the family of Wardah Butrus Ibrahim, pledged not to take any punitive measures against the strikers, and to reinstate all the fired workers in their jobs. See Al-Bayraq (14 July 1946): 2. 98 99

Abisaab, A History of Tobacco Women Workers, chap. 6. Ibid.



Couland, Al-Harakah, 416.

101 Wade R. Goria, Sovereignty and Leadership in Lebanon, 19431976 (London: Ithaca Press, 1985), 64.