Tel Aviv (Jan. 15)
– El Al, Israel’s national air line, was paralyzed by a general strike today and may be wound up as a company in its present form. The carrier’s board of directors, headed by chairman Avraham Shavit, was discussing that possibility at a marathon meeting that is expected to last late into the night. Management personnel, meanwhile, were busy arranging the transfer of passengers to other air lines.
All El Al flights out of Israel were cancelled. (An El Al spokesman in New York told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that today’s flight out of JFK Airport was cancelled and service suspended until further notice. The same applied in Miami and Montreal, the only other North American cities served by the Israeli air line.)
The general strike of all El Al employes was called after Shavit refused to rescind the dismissal notices sent to six members of the maintenance workers committee. They were fired for conducting a four-hour work stoppage Tuesday. The strike could have far-reaching national repercussions inasmuch as 13 major trade unions have threatened a sympathy walk-out if Shavit does not reinstate the maintenance men. Such an action would paralyze the entire economy.
A decision by the El Al Board to shut down the airline is expected to be supported by the Cabinet. The government-owned carrier has been losing heavily in recent years, due in large measure to labor strife but also because of the steeply rising cost of fuel and the world-wide recession. Airline officials expect the government would reorganize El Al on a tighter basis and eliminate the multiplicity of workers committees which have been responsible for numerous strikes and job actions in the past.
El Al came close to dissolution about a year ago because of its huge deficits. Shavit, a tough-talking businessman who heads the Israel Manufacturers Association, was put in charge to rescue the carrier by means of drastic cost-cutting. One of his first acts was to get a no-strike pledge from El Al employes who feared the airline might go under.
Union representatives said today that the prospect of El Al closing down worried them but they were prepared to "strike to the end" because management could not be allowed to fire workers arbitrarily. They said Shavit’s abrupt dismissal of the maintenance workers was unprecedented in the context of labor relations in Israel.
Union lawyers said his action might be illegal because it punished six employes for a work stoppage in which many participated. They also pointed out that under existing contracts, employes involved in a strike can be dismissed only after prior consultation with Histadrut which was not done in this case.
Other strikes broke out today, unrelated to El Al. Broadcasting Authority employes suspended the hourlong radio news program although hourly news bulletins were not affected. Laboratory assistants failed to report for work in government-run medical institutions. Employes of the Israel Electric Corp. threatened to strike next week if their salary demands are not met.