Workers Release Plant Managers They Hold Hostage for 38 Hours

Some 1,300 employes of the Soltam arms and munitions factory in the Jezreel Valley town of Yokneam released three managers they held hostage in the factory for 38 hours because the managers refused to bargain with the workers.

The three Histadrut and plant managers, Yeshayahu Gavish, general manager of the Histadrut’s giant Koor industrial complex, Arnon Gafny, board chairman of the Koor complex which owns Soltam, and Elazar Barak, Soltam general manager, had been held within the main building.

Histadrut Secretary General Yisrael Kessar finally persuaded the workers to release managers by pledging to begin immediate negotiations on alternatives to save the Soltam plant from complete shutdown. The details of this plan have not been disclosed, as a number of points are still being hammered out.

The dispute began Sunday morning when workers who had been on a five-week enforced vacation all returned to work although there was not sufficient work for all.

Gavish and Gafny arrived at the factory for a meeting with Barak to outline to the workers the various plans being considered by the plant. The employes then looked the managers in the main building and refused to listen to the plans.

Upon their release, the three said they were not treated badly but would not negotiate under duress.

PLANT HAS FALLEN ON HARD TIMES

Observers said the downfall of the Soltam plant, once one of the country’s major heavy equipment and armaments producers, began more than a decade ago with the fall of the Shah of Iran. The Shah was a major purchaser of Soltam products, including heavy artillery. But the revolutionary regime which deposed the Shah did not continue the contracts. For a short while, sales continued to other countries but as the market dried up, Soltam’s orders declined.

Koor and Soltam management has been criticized for failing to cut back production years ago when the decline became apparent. Instead, management continued full production and amassed a tremendous stockpile of equipment and weapons.

A year ago, the Israel Defense Force also cut back its orders to Soltam after a reduction in the defense budget. It then became evident that many workers would have to be laid off.

In a similar labor dispute, the Haifa area police have begun questioning the 120 employes of the Rom Carmel factory who have locked themselves in the factory at Tirat Hacarmel for nearly two weeks. Rom Carmel’s parent company, Ordan, complained to police that the workers were violating a court order to vacate the factory.

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