JERUSALEM (Dec. 30)
The Labor Alignment suffered a resounding defeat yesterday when the Knesset voted 55-52 in favor of a series of bills proposing compulsory arbitration in labor disputes affecting vital public services and referred the measures to its Labor Committee. The vote reflected the Labor Alignment’s present minority status and was the result of a carefully organized assault by Likud, the National Religious Party and other opposition factions.
But while the defeat was a severe blow to the Alignment’s waning prestige at a time when Israel is preparing for early elections, its long-range effects may actually improve Labor’s chances when the voters go to the polls. Political observers noted today that the shock waves created by the Knesset’s action may cause the various Labor and Socialist factions to put aside their internecine and internal bickering and unite against what they perceive to be an anti-Labor movement.
Meir Zarmi, secretary general of the Labor Party, was quick to declare that the Knesset vote should serve as a warning to the country’s workers of what would happen if the Labor movement lost power. “This is what will happen here if hegemony is taken away from the Alignment,” he said. Instead of direct negotiations between employee and their employers which “intensity national unity.” the system would be run by compulsory arbitration that. according to Zarmi, has failed in all modern countries.
HISTADRUT REACHES VEHEMENTLY
Histadrut, which bitterly opposes compulsory arbitration, reacted vehemently to the vote. Histadrut secretary general Yeruham Meshel called an urgent meeting of the labor federation’s Central Committee to consider what steps to take to prevent the bills from becoming law. A Mapam representative on the committee proposed a one day general strike in protest against the proposed measures.
Compulsory arbitration of labor disputes in vital public sectors was one of the issues that caused the rupture between the Labor Alignment and its coalition partner, the Independent Liberal Party. The latter has been demanding compulsory arbitration and Labor was unable to mollify it for fear of incurring the wrath of Histadrut. Since the resignation of the ILP from the Alignment government two weeks ago, Labor is now in a position to attack all proponents of arbitration and to make it a major campaign issue.
The Knesset coalition that defeated the Alignment yesterday consisted of Likud, the NRP, the Aguda bloc, the ILP and the left -leaning Free Center and Civil Rights Party. Only Moked and the Communists voted with the Alignment.
Sentiment for compulsory arbitration was strong because of the wave of strikes, walk-outs and work slow-downs in recent years which paralyzed many public services and caused serious damage to the economy. MK Eliezer Avtabi of the NRP noted in the Knesset debate that 530,000 work days were lost because of strikes in the public sector between 1971 and 1975.
VIEWS ON COMPULSORY ARBITRATION
Yehuda Sha’ari of the ILP said a permanent arbitration board must be established with power to rule even if one or both sides refuse to appear before it. Moshe Nissim of Likud said the time “has come to end the stranglehold public service workers have on the public.”
The strongest of the four measures was introduced by Akiva Nof of the Free Center. it would apply compulsory arbitration to workers in water supply, electric power stations, health and hospitals and food supply services. The bill would also empower district courts to order the immediate end of any strike pending arbitration.
Although these measures gained a Knesset majority on first reading, their eventual enactment is far from certain. The Knesset Labor Committee, chaired by Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino of the Labor Alignment is expected to recommend against the bills by a narrow margin. The Alignment has only eight members on the 17 member committee but the single Communist representative is counted on to provide it with9-8 majority.