Aircraft Workers Demonstrate Against Cabinet Decision to Scrap the Lavi

Thousands of disgruntled workers from Israel Aircraft Industries carried out their threats Monday and disrupted traffic in Tel Aviv and central Israel in protest against the Cabinet decision Sunday to scrap the Lavi warplane project.

The workers forced hundreds of cars to use alternate routes by blocking off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway with burning tires. Tourists missed flights out of the country because of the traffic jams. Others marched through the streets of Tel Aviv to Labor Party headquarters, blocking traffic on central roads. The IAI workers were incensed with Labor Party leader Shimon Peres who led the opposition to producing the Lavi. Police refrained from using force to disperse the demonstrators.

An atmosphere of gloom pervaded at IAI offices at Lod Airport Monday as Ovadia Harari, head of the Lavi project, announced that he was requested to lay off 3,000 workers Tuesday with a second round of 3,000 soon to come. State-owned IAI is Israel’s largest employer with some 20,000 workers. Harari said the immediate dismissals would include 1,000 engineers.

“Many asked me what we should do? I told them: Don’t do anything, just sit at home and wait to be fired,” Harari said. “Some retorted: We won’t wait, we shall leave the country on our own.”

EFFORTS TO EASE TENSIONS

The workers warned they would continue their protests Tuesday. A meeting between representatives of the demonstrating workers and Premier Yitzhak Shamir during which Shamir promised an effort to bring the issue to a second Cabinet vote eased tensions.

Minister-Without-Portfolio Moshe Arens, who threatened to resign over the Cabinet decision Sunday, announced he would delay his resignation until the prospects for a second vote were clarified. Yisrael Kessar, Histadrut Secretary General, also promised IAI workers Monday he would try to exert his influence to reverse the decision.

Peres cautioned against raising false hopes among the workers and rejected the option of a second vote saying it would bring no change.

Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin said there was no need for immediate layoffs and promised to coordinate the dismissal process with the Minister of Labor and Welfare so that many workers will be absorbed in other industries.

Some 125 smaller plants throughout the country will also feel the effects of the discontinuation of the Lavi.

There will be no Daily News Bulletin dated September 7, Labor Day, which is a postal holiday.

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