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Histadrut Strike Ends

18 May 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

The Histadrut general strike is over as the sides are said to have come to terms.  The public service sectors will take wage cuts of 4 billion shekels over the next two years and the government is to manage their old pension funds.  The new pensions (est. 1995) are still to be discussed.  Union leader Amir Peretz considers this to be “serious concessions”.  The truth is otherwise.

The old pensions are in debt 130 billion shekels ($29 billion), graciously letting the finance ministry appoint outside experts to manage the funds.  The government will invest 70 billion shekels of its own to fill in the abyss.  The new funds are more successful so in all unfairness Peretz wants to hold on to them.  But the point is up for negotiation.

Peretz went into the negotiations making no demands and even willing to take pay cuts.  “Never before has this been done!” he declared.  Not particularly true since the New Economic Policy of 1985 Shimon Peres government demanded salary rollbacks and got them.  Since then public service wages have only risen, as has the number of workers.  Taxes from the private sector crashed with the fall in the high tech markets and tourism disaster caused by the Palestinian violence.  Salary cuts and layoffs will involve hundreds of thousands, but there really is little choice, unless the private sector is to be taxed until everyone closes up shop.  Then the whole operation goes under, a fact not lost on the union.

But it goes deeper.  According to a Ma’ariv poll the population is evenly split between supporting and condemning the strike.  In the private sector owners and workers are demonstrating together against the strike. The union is losing support daily.

And corruption is rampant.  Channel Two reported a scam involving tens of millions of shekels skimmed off clerical workers’ wages for “educational purposes” and used by the top functionaries in an investment scheme.  As reported by Israel Radio the port workers are in the middle of a pension scandal where each workers file was illegally accredited with an extra 400,000 shekel ($90,000) although the money was never paid.  An outside audit made the discovery.  The Electric Company is facing anti-trust action since they hold a monopoly.  The state owned company is to be broken into smaller units and of course the workers are threatening to turn off the juice.  The issue should explode this or next week.

But most importantly Finance Minister Netanyahu threatened labor legislation demanding a vote be taken by union members before a strike is considered legal.  The labor aristocracy went ‘ballistic’ screaming “the cancellation of democracy!”  What they meant is they did not agree to such a referendum.  They see themselves as the elected proletarian representatives, just like parliaments are elected by the people.  In theory they have a point.

In practice, they do not represent the average worker, and for those who do such as our famous Electric Co., they form a collective capitalist unit acting only in their own interests. A strike “vote” is the last thing the Histadrut needed.  Netanyahu threatened to put an end to general strikes forever and by inference to the union itself.

It appears Peretz and friends are taking him seriously.