Government officials, top economists and trade union leaders have been meeting around the clock for the past. 24 hours in an attempt to forestall what is shaping up as the worst labor crisis in Israel’s history. More than 100,000 workers–nearly half of the country’s labor force–are either on strike threatening to strike or engaging in rule-book work slowdowns in support of wage demands.
Histadrut secretary general Yeruham Meshel, addressing workers committees in the Ramat Gan area last night, in effect declared war on government economic policies. He said that unless workers and Histadrut fought side by side for their rights “it will be bad for you and bad for Histadrut. Together we shall march forward.” His rallying cry brought a vigorous response from local labor leaders who told him, “You will have a good army. Just use it and you will see how we’ll fight. We know how to fight.”
Although Israel has been experiencing flare-ups of labor strife ever since the Yom Kippur War, the latest and most serious wave of worker discontent stems directly from the government’s decision two weeks ago to reduce subsidies on basic consumer items and services thereby sparking price hikes averaging 20 percent. The talks now going on between Histadrut, the government and employers, including the Manufacturers Association, are aimed at checking the avalanche of wage demands. But any agreement to hold the line on wages must be accompanied, by iron clad assurances that there will be no more price increases.
An agreement, if one emerges, would hinge on the government’s and Histadrut’s ability to persuade civil aviation workers–a key employe group–to forego the IL 350 per month additional payment promised them recently by Transportation Minister Gad Yaacobi. Yesterday, Yaacobi defended the agreement, noting that productivity at Ben Gurion Airport increased by 20 percent last year. But demands for similar payments are now pouring in from customs officials, income tax bureau employes and other civil servants.
At the moment, it appears that Histadrut and the government will agree to appoint yet another committee to study the civil service wage scales and it is hoped the aviation workers will postpone their additional payment in anticipation of a general hike in the wage scale. But to many observers, it seems that the government is simply playing for time in the hope that tempers will cool on the labor front.
STRIKES IN ALL SECTORS
Meanwhile, 2500 public and private hospital physicians are continuing their rule-book slowdown begun last month and 16,000 engineers employed by government and quasi-governmental agencies continued their strike begun on Sunday. The strike cut off the water supply at Rehovoth for several hours yesterday; Sixteen engineers employed by the Israel Electric Corp. were ordered back to work yesterday to prevent a cutoff of the nation’s electric power. Back-to-work orders were also expected for engineers in the water works, communications and electronics industries.
Other striking workers include 3000 postal service employes who man telephone and telegraph communications: 2500 social workers; 550 X-ray technicians; and 150 district attorneys. Workers have closed down the Assis canning plant and the Dead Sea potash plant. A strike by six harbor pilots shut down Israel’s three ports–Haifa. Ashdod and Eilat–yesterday. The government will have to pay demurrage for ships unable to load or discharge cargo. The administrative staff at the Haifa Technion began a slow-down strike today.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.