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Destroying Libya’s Welfare State


The other day, I was listening to the voice of “liberal” radio, NPR, and was surprised to hear its bizarre, and yet quite candid, report on what it apparently views to be one of the more hideous aspects of the Gadhafi years – a modern welfare state which looked after working people.

Thus, without tongue in cheek, or any note of irony, NPR, in its November 14 report, entitled, “Libya’s Economy Faces New Tests After Gadhafi Era,” explained that the biggest impediment to the new economic era is the Libyan worker who was simply too coddled by Gaddafi.

NPR thus cited a 2007 book on the Libyan economy by authors Otman and Karlberg who called “the Libyan worker under Gadhafi ‘one of the most protected in the world,’” receiving job tenure, government subsidies of around $800 a month for the average Libyan household, and gasoline at a mere 60 cents a gallon.  NPR, citing the same book, explained that workers now freed from such a tyrannical world by NATO bombs, have been left with a “’subsidy mentality’” and a “’job-for-life outlook which has ill-prepared Libyans for the more aggressive and cutthroat world of competition.’”

However, lucky for them, Libya’s new acting finance and oil chief, Ali Tarhouni, is resolved to turn this situation around by disciplining Libya’s workers through “smaller government and a larger and freer private sector.”   NPR describes that, Tarhouni, being the realist that he is, “has no illusions that it will be an easy transition.”    The report thus quotes Tarhouni who states that, “[t]he challenge here is that this is a welfare state,” with Libyan workers expecting too much from their government.   I’m sure Tarhouni, with Western support, will show these workers a thing a two.

Of course, had NPR gone further, they could have also explained that, according to the statistics of the United Nations Development Programme, Libya, at the time of the NATO invasion, had the highest human development indicators (which measure levels of health, education and income) in all of Africa, with a life expectancy of 74.5; undernourishment of the population at under 5%; and adult literacy at over 88%.    Libya was in fact ranked 53 in the world out of 169 comparable countries, ranking, for example, above Turkey, (post-Soviet) Russia, Brazil and Costa Rica in terms of the human development indicators.

For NATO, its corporate allies, and its media mouthpieces, such prosperity for workers simply will not do.   We live in a world where austerity for the workers is the order of the day – for those in Libya, Greece, Italy, Spain, Great Britain and the U.S. as well.   And those who stand in the way of such austerity measures, whether they be a nationalist government in Libya, Communists in Greece or Occupiers in the U.S., must be dealt with accordingly – by violent reaction.

Thankfully, once in a while, we have news sources such as NPR which will, albeit quite unwittingly and clumsily, tell us that this is indeed what our military and police actions are all about.   You just have to be reading and listening between the lines to find out.

Dan Kovalik is Senior Associate General Counsel of the United Steelworkers of America.



Daniel Kovalik lives in Pittsburgh and teaches International Human Rights Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

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