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The Labor Aristocracy

30 April 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

“If there was another Jewish country I’d move there,” remarked Jerusalem Post Dry Bones cartoonist years ago when certain collective political and economic behavior in the Jewish state threatened to break all records of absurdity.  Apparently the threat is being realized as the Histadrut Labor Union has called a general strike.

The Union, established 83 years ago was instrumental in the establishment of a modern Jewish economy during the development of the Yishuv (Jewish community in the Palestine Mandate prior to independence in 1948).  For the past 30 years the Union has been helping to unravel the economy with political strikes and no longer represent the average worker.

Union chief Knesset Member Amir Peretz claims he is defending the poor.  He demands a $1000 monthly minimum wage as his banner and declares he is defending everyone’s pensions.  But this is hot air since such a minimum wage would bankrupt most employers who would not be able to compete with prices in the Far East, India or the Arab world.  And the pensions are unmitigated disasters with tens of billions of shekels of debts.

Peretz and the Histadrut do represent the “labor aristocracy” of the government owned Electric and Water companies, longshoremen, airport workers, Israel Aircraft and many government and public service employees.  Henchman #1 is Yoram Abrokovitch of the Electric Co. who constantly threatens to turn off the juice.  He is being investigated by the police on several charges, including sexual harassment.  He claims it is all political.

Except for government and public service employees most of the others earn twice if not three times the average Israeli salary and are only concerned with their own pockets.  Israeli taxes are extremely high because they have to be paid.  No one heard of them offering a pay cut to ensure a higher minimum wage.

Although Finance Minister Netanyahu and the treasury officials are essentially correct in their strategy to halt the big union stranglehold over the economy, their tactics leave much to be desired.  They knew calling for legislation to regulate wages would result in a massive strike since that would essentially put an end to the Histadrut.  Ideologically such a move fits in very well with Revisionist (today’s Likud) ideologue Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s economic thinking of the 1920’s and 30’s.  He was often accused of being a fascist.  The Revisionists responded by accusing the Histadrut (and its first chairman David Ben Gurion) of being Bolsheviks.

Until a few days ago progress was made in negotiations but with every passing day and no economic program, millions were lost.  So all has been brought to a head.  A Reaganite/Thatcherite economic plan clashes with a labor aristocracy reminiscent of certain failed Eastern European socialist economies.  So far the losers are the average citizen, either workers or small entrepreneurs.  

So tell me has Kirshen found “another Jewish country”?