TEL AVIV (Jul. 2)
A one-day general strike halted virtually all business, commercial and productive activity in Israel today and services were reduced to a bare minimum. Histadrut, which ordered the strike to protest the emergency economic program adopted by the unity coalition Cabinet yesterday, estimated that 1.5 million people, 90 percent of the country’s workforce, were off the job.
The trade union federation preferred to call the mass walkout a 24-hour “work stoppage”. Haim Haberfeld, head of Histadrut’s trades union department, and other officials warned that there would be “selective strike action” by individual unions after the 24 hours unless the government was prepared to negotiate over reduced cost-of-living allowances and a three month wage freeze which the Finance Ministry considers essential elements of its program.
In defiance of the program, Histadrut-owned business and industrial enterprises announced they would pay the full cost-of-living allowance for the month of June which amounts to 80 percent of the monthly rise of the consumer price index. Union leaders urged workers in non-Histadrut enterprises to demand full payment from their employers. Some of the Union leaders called for mass demonstrations if there is no response by the government to today’s peaceful walkout.
Histadrut opposes the government’s economic program on grounds that it will erode real wages by 30 percent, creating severe hardships for working people but only minor inconvenience for the self-employed and wealthy. Histadrut was also furious that the government adopted the program without negotiations or consultations with the trade union federation and is enforcing it under emergency regulations that are a hold-over from the British Mandate regime, without prior debate in the Knesset.
HISTADRUT CALLS MEASURES ILLEGAL
According to Histadrut, the measures and the way they are being enforced are illegal. The government edicts violate the wage-price freeze package deal the government signed last February with Histadrut and the employers and manufacturers associations which has not yet expired, the trade union officials contend.
The strike, or “walkout” is also calculated to demonstrate trade union power in a country currently headed by a Labor Prime Minister. Whether or not it is indeed 90 percent effective as Histadrut contends, the country was strangely quiet today.
Histadrut exempted public transportation from the strike. Busses sped through empty streets where almost all shops and offices were closed. Ben Gurion Airport shut down at 10 a.m. local time, four hours after the walkout officially started. The delay was to allow foreign airlines to advance their flights and clear Israeli airspace early in the day. There was no incoming traffic. El AI, the national airline, claimed it was operating normally.
WORK STOPPAGE EXTENSIVE
The seaports — mainly Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat–were closed and the loading and discharge of cargoes was suspended for the 24-hour period. Supermarkets and food chains did not open this morning, but neighborhood “mom and pop” groceries kept open. They were short of bread and milk however because the dairies and bakeries were shut down.
Hospitals and clinics continued to function with skeleton staffs on a restricted Sabbath basis. Histadrut instructed its members to ignore back-to-work orders issued by labor courts that went beyond minimal essential services.
No newspapers were published today. Radio and television were blacked-out except for brief hourly news bulletins. Electric power shortages were reported in some parts of the country. Employes of the Israel Electric Corp. observed the strike. They left the generators running, but at the low nightime rate when demand is minimal.
The only violence directly linked to the government’s economic program occurred in a slum neighborhood in Jerusalem last night, well before the strike deadline. Twenty people were arrested and four border policemen were injured in a scuffle that developed when the police knocked down a barricade of burning tires that was blocking a road.
Jerusalem police warned today that any recurrence of these incidents would be dealt with severely.