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Work Stoppage Paralyzes Israel in First Week of New Government

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Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s new government weathered its first labor crisis Thursday.

Close to a million workers were idled by a general strike called by Histadrut, the trade union federation. It was fully observed in some quarters but amounted to little more than token work stoppages in others.

Fisticuffs erupted at a textile plant in Afula, where some 200 employees reported for work in defiance of strike orders. Six workers were injured and received first aid. Police detained eight local union officials for questioning.

No other violent incidents were reported.

Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i, who was sworn into office Monday, estimated the walkout cost the economy $750,000.

He proved powerless to avert it. Although Histadrut Secretary-General Yisrael Kessar was prepared to postpone the strike as a goodwill gesture, he was overruled by Chaim Haberfeld, head of Histadrut’s Trades Union Department, and by the central and local strike committees.

The general strike was called more than two weeks ago to protest the government’s alleged procrastination of negotiations for new wage contracts. The trade union federation also expressed its displeasure over Israel’s worsening economic situation and record unemployment.

But according to Histadrut, the strike was not aimed specifically at the new right-wing coalition government, which had not even been formed when it was called.

All central and local government employees observed the strike, except for a handful at the Finance Ministry. Every bank in the country was closed, except the Mizrachi Bank owned by the National Religious Party. The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange was closed, too.

The Egged and Dan bus cooperatives operated normally by arrangement with the central strike committee. But rail services were halted.

AIRPORT. RADIO AND TV SHUT DOWN

Ben-Gurion Airport was shut down from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. El Al suspended departures for that period. But Arkia, Israel’s domestic airline, maintained limited service to Eilat.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority’s radio and television programing was suspended. The army radio station continued to broadcast news and entertainment. But daily newspapers published on Thursday, contrary to an announcement that they would shut down.

High schools were closed, but elementary schools and kindergartens conducted classes as usual, though they started late because of a two-hour symbolic work stoppage by the teachers.

Major industrial enterprises were shut down by the strike, including the government-owned Israel Aircraft Industries and defense plants. An exception was Tadiran, a major manufacturer of communications equipment, whose employees “punished” Histadrut for its failure to back their special wage demands.

Histadrut-owned supermarket chains as well as private chains closed for only two hours, in a token observance of the strike.

Many workers spent their unscheduled holiday at the beaches, where lifeguards were on the job by special permission of their union.

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