Labor Unrest Becomes Campaign Issue

The surge of labor unrest sweeping Israel this week has triggered the first major pre-election battle between the government and the Labor opposition.

Likud has charged that the sudden series of work stoppages, strikes and threats of strikes to come was fomented by the Labor Party and Histadrut to embarrass the government and further injure the economy with elections less than two months away.

Labor spokesmen fiercely deny this and accuse the government of grossly mismanaging the economy and reneging on promised improvements in wages and working conditions.

Today, elementary and junior high school teachers returned to their classrooms, ending a one-day strike after an all-night bargaining session with the Education Ministry. But the 60,000-member civil servants union announced this morning that it plans a work stoppage in two weeks.

MANY ON STRIKE

Still on strike are the staff of the Foreign Ministry; truck drivers; engineers and technicians at the atomic energy research facility; managerial personnel of the Broadcasting Authority; postal workers; telephone service engineers; and Transport Ministry personnel.

Labor disputes that could lead to strikes or work slowdowns are in full swing at the Israel Electric Corp. and among government-employed nurses, social workers, scientists and academicians; also at the Defense Ministry; the Dan bus cooperative which serves the Tel Aviv area and among public service lawyers.

The teachers strike, which affected about one million pupils from kindergarten to ninth grade, ended with claims of victory by both sides. The issue was implementation of agreements reached several years ago for higher pay, adjustment of school hours and autonomy for school districts.

FINANCE MINISTER BLAMES ALIGNMENT

Finance Minister Yigal Cohen-Orgad charged today that “The strikes and labor unrest has been fomented by the Labor Alignment. They know full well the economy cannot pay for the extra wages demanded and Histadrut and Labor support for these demands is pure politicking.”

But Cohen-Orgad himself was accused of indulging in “election economics.” That charge was levelled by Emanuel Sharon who resigned Sunday as Director General of the Finance Ministry. The circumstances of his departure were said to reflect the view of many Treasury officials that the government is abandoning its austerity economic program to curry favor with the voters in the upcoming Knesset elections. A case in point was Cohen-Orgad’s agreement to higher wages for the regular army and police at a time when the government claims to be fighting triple-digit inflation.

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