Histadrut Chief Warns of Confrontation with Government if Likud’s Economic Policy Erodes Gains Made

Yeruham Meshel, secretary general of Histadrut, sharply criticized today the economic policy of the “right-wing” Likud government and warned that this policy may lead to a confrontation with Histadrut.

Addressing a press conference at the New York Hilton Hotel here, Meshel, whose Labor Party won the recent Histadrut election, said that the labor federation “does not seek a confrontation with the government,” but if Menachem Begin’s government will pursue its policy of compulsory arbitration and will introduce legislation calling for the nationalization of Kupat Holim–the Histadrut sick fund–and the Histadrut pension funds, “we will face it squarely and fight back.”

But Meshel said, in response to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency question, the confrontation will not take the form of a general strike. “We will try to fight it in the Knesset and will initiate a public campaign against it,” he said at the press conference sponsored by the National Committee for Labor Israel.

Meshel, on a visit here to attend the meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Washington at the invitation of AFL-CIO president George Meany, also criticized the current Israeli government for its theory of fighting inflation by “controlled unemployment.” He said Histadrut is totally opposed to this approach which, if implemented, “would unravel the country’s social fabric and encourage emigration.” He added that unemployment can be harmful to Israel’s security because it could dampen the morale of young soldiers who will be facing unemployment on their release from the army.

Meshel further charged that the lifting of subsidies on basic economic necessities, as advocated by the Likud government, would hurt lower-in-come families. “Histadrut demands equality of sacrifices,” he said. “This means that there must be a lid on profits and prices as well as on wages and taxes if the national economy is to be strengthened.”

WARNS OF LABOR UNREST

Noting that Israel has always been “a pluralistic society in its economy, political and cultural life,” Meshel stated: “The Israeli economy is 50 percent private enterprise, 25 percent public and 25 percent owned by the workers. I believe in free competition among these three sectors and in the fact that workers have a basic right to build their own economy. The Likud policies may challenge the workers’ ability in this area.” Following the press conference Meshel addressed a luncheon meeting of the American Trade Union Council for Histadrut. More than 400 persons attended.

Meanwhile, Meshel predicted a “wave of industrial unrest and hunger strikes in Israel during an interview with columnist Victor Riesel on radio station WEVD scheduled for broadcast tomorrow night. Meshel said in the interview that a wave of industrial unrest, hunger strikes and work actions will confront the Begin government with the dilemma of arresting tens of thousands of Israeli workers or forgoing new economic policies, such as forcing compulsory binding arbitration in essential services, while at the same time denationalizing them and in turn nationalizing the Histadrut security and health programs.

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