Editorial: Striking out
LAST UPDATED: 02/08/2012 22:29
We cannot afford to throw caution to the wind, especially when Eini’s grandstanding, rather than the collective good, becomes the be-all and the end-all.
Demonstration in front of Labor Court Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
At first glance, the general strike that began on Wednesday is driven by genuine
altruism on behalf of society’s have-nots – contract workers.
itself, goes against the grain of the Histadrut labor federation, dominated as
it is by the most powerful unions of the most powerful employee groups – the
ones who earn most and who wield the greatest clout to extract more.
appearances, more often than not, are misleading – foremost because they can be
Contract workers have been with us for decades and
the Histadrut exploited them more egregiously than most employers. So what makes
their plight at this particular juncture more pressing than it had been for
years? What acute decline in their circumstances has there been that mandated a
general strike just now, with the enormous losses (NIS 2.3 billion daily) it
inflicts on the economy of all of us? And why opt for a bare-knuckle
confrontation when almost all differences with the government have been ironed
out? And while we’re at it, what about other employees denied the security of
collective agreements? Why isn’t the Histadrut taking up the plight of
freelancers or those forced to sign demeaning personal contracts for fear of
losing their livelihoods? More employees than ever in Israel’s history lack the
protection of collective agreements, yet the Histadrut has never rallied behind
Why? It’s all about expedience and timing.
The cause of
contract workers makes for better public relations. It’s easier to decry the lot
of cleaners and security guards than of hi-tech technicians on exploitative
And why now? Because the Histadrut is in the throes
of an election campaign and its chairman Ofer Eini is standing for reelection.
That makes it advantageous for him to don the mantle of a no-holds-barred
class-warrior and determined defender of society’s underdogs.
rhetoric aside, Histadrut power struggles are the overriding motivation behind
declaring the first general strike in five years. To be sure, contract workers
deserve equal pay for equal work and they most assuredly deserve full social
That said, it is patently absurd to force both the public and
private sectors to hire under collective agreements every last sanitation
staffer and to confer tenure upon each and every watchman. That would, to begin
with, interfere with the flexibility of all employers to decide when more
workforce is needed and how it should be engaged.
If Eini’s way were
adopted, Israel would become unique in the global business-scape. It would
enable local trade unions to dictate how any employer – public or private –
would employ his staff or take on extra help.
For reminders of what that
would trigger we need only look back to the Israel of the 1980s, when the
mammoth Histadrut empire collapsed and its flagship enterprises, such as Solel
Boneh and Koor Industries, had to be sold off, inter alia rendering many
thousands of workers jobless and let down by the machinations of their own union
representatives. Crucial to the disintegration of the Histadrut empire was
padding of the payrolls and the granting of tenures that undermined any
flexibility and economic sense.
We don’t want that to happen
There are of course more current eye-openers to what an inflated,
tax-guzzling public sector and overreaching unions can lead to. Eini’s general
strike coincided with a general strike in Greece. Israel and Greece are in very
different places. Greece is falling off the brink of bankruptcy.
has weathered the recessions of recent years better than most countries,
primarily because of prudent management.
But Israel isn’t immune to
contagion from abroad. The entire euro zone is in the grips of a momentous
crisis and the US has not entirely emerged from its epic slowdown,
quasi-encouraging indicators notwithstanding.
The frailty of our export
markets makes us vulnerable too.
We cannot afford to throw caution to the
wind, especially when Eini’s grandstanding, rather than the collective good,
becomes the be-all and the end-all.
Sadly, there’s no avoiding the
conclusion that the smaller the Histadrut has become, the more extreme and
demagogic its positions. Its priority isn’t plight but might.