General Strike in Eilat Sparked by Closing of Timna Copper Mines

The sudden closing by the government of the money-losing Timna copper mines touched off a general strike today in Eilat where the mines had been one of the major employers of local manpower. The airport was shut down this morning, roads to the town were blocked by members of workers committees and all shops and services were closed.

Amos Eliashiv, chairman of the mine workers committee, warned that “there will be riots in the streets.” Eilat’s Mayor Gaddi Katz accused the government of misleading the town. “We were supposed to discuss with the government the possibility of closing the mines and here we are faced with an accomplished fact,” he said.

The government did in fact act swiftly following a recommendation by the ministerial economic committee that the mines be closed because of the continuing recession in world copper prices. Minister of Commerce and Industry Haim Barlev said today that the mines have lost more than IL 60 million and there was no justification to keep them in operation.

According to the management, the copper works stood to lose IL 250 million in the next three years and would require an annual government subsidy of IL 100,000 per worker to keep going and pay the wages of the 700 employes. The government’s austerity budget for 1976-77 calls for drastic cuts in subsidies.

ALTERNATIVE JOBS WOULD BE FOUND

The Timna mines, which produced copper and copper cement, were once regarded as one of the most promising industries in the Negev and were a tourist attraction because of their connection with the copper mines of King Solomon mentioned in the Bible. But in recent years, the depressed price of copper on the world market created serious deficits.

Labor Minister Moshe Baram promised today that alternative jobs would be found for the unemployed Timna workers in and around Eilat. He cited the construction of a new airfield at Ein Evrona, seven miles north of Eilat, which has been approved by the ministerial economic committee, plans by Israel Aircraft Industries to build a new factory in Eilat, a cable plant and the construction of new oil storage tanks in the area. But Baram conceded that even these projects would not provide jobs for all of the 700 laid-off Timna workers.

The Timna mines are the first major industry shut down by the government in many years and the impact is mainly on Eilat, the only town of its size in the vicinity: Eilat’s other leading industries are the oil pipeline to Ashkelon and tourism. Several hundred tourists were stranded there today when the airport closed. But they didn’t seem to mind. The local temperature was in the 70s while the rest of Israel was near freezing.

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