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Histadrut strikes hamper public services across Israel

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (JTA) — The Histadrut trade federation intensified this week its protests against the Netanyahu government’s economic policies. Israel’s public sector ground to a halt Monday as hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike, shutting down banks, utilities, postal services and the stock market, and disrupting public transportation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the Histadrut for a strike he said was “politically motivated.” He said the government would ensure that essential services were still provided. On Sunday, Histadrut members carried out a daylong strike to protest the arrest of a senior union official. Thousands of travelers were stranded at Ben-Gurion Airport, and telephone, port, rail and broadcasting services were disrupted. Sunday’s strike came just days after airport workers had shut down Ben-Gurion Airport for several hours. The Dec. 26 airport strike was one of a series of actions planned by the Histadrut to protest proposed government budget cuts and privatization plans. The Histadrut maintains that the government is reneging on wage agreements and has not included employees in plans for privatizing state companies. The Histadrut has called for periodic strikes through Tuesday night, when the Knesset is scheduled to vote on the 1997 state budget. Sunday’s strike came in response to the arrest this weekend of Shlomo Shani, head of the Histadrut’s trade union section. Shani was detained after he failed to show up for a labor court hearing in connection with last week’s strike. He was released Sunday night. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Histadrut, Amir Peretz, rejected Netanyahu’s accusation of a politically motivated strike. “The prime minister should go talk to the heads of the councils who are striking, and he will find that most of them are members of the Likud,” Peretz told Israel Radio. “Maybe he should deal with this more seriously, rather than try to cast it off as politics.”