This week began with a two-day wildcat strike at Ashdod Port prompted by the government’s anti-nepotism drive. The port union openly promotes nepotism and has served notice that it has no plans to desist.
The port employees, the public sector’s highest earners, went back to work only after the court ordered them to do so and management rescinded disciplinary action against the union chiefs. Earlier, the union did not deign to respond to the court injunction.
The two-day walkout kept 15 ships waiting to be unloaded and caused heavy financial damage to back the employees’ insistence on hiring relatives to fill lucrative dockside jobs.
The immediate trigger was a new vetting process for a hundred stevedore positions. The applicants include 263 close relatives of port employees. Management wants their candidacies disqualified. The union, headed by strongman Alon Hassan, has responded by stymieing the entire vetting process. If the relatives are not hired, nobody will be. Thus the port’s workforce remains undermanned, and this affects us all.
Since Israel is a virtual island, shenanigans at our ports hurt the pocket of every Israeli. With no overland traffic from neighboring countries, all surface transport of imports and exports pass through our seaports. This confers extortionist clout on the union, and its unabashed greed raises the price of most commodities and consumer goods. It also renders our exports less competitive.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz’s anti-nepotism campaign deserves support. Nepotism does not only curtail fair competition via preferential treatment for favored individuals. It also means that prized positions are granted to candidates without qualifications but with connections. Sooner or later this translates to slapdash upkeep and lack of professionalism. Moreover, these are only some of the consequences of the unfair and untrustworthy practices that nepotism imposes on a hugely important link for the economy.
The union has created a monopoly that it now defends to the hilt – come what may – to protect the sinecures and attendant vested interests of that small group which controls the works committee and hands out positions to cronies and kin.
Israel’s seaports had for decades been infamous hotbeds of union corruption that flourished under the protection of the Histadrut labor federation. From time to time sleazy details surfaced to scandalize public opinion but the underlying slime was never washed down and mopped up.
The Histadrut rejected any clean-up as a plot against organized labor. In the interim, the unions continued to behave badly and to demonstrate their intensifying exploitation of the system that made them inviolable.
Katz is not alone in saying so.
Last year, MK Shelly Yacimovich dared wallop Hassan as he has never been hit before, and this despite at the time serving as Labor Party chairwoman. She highlighted his lifestyle, hardly compatible with that of a proletarian warrior. She accused of him treating Ashdod Port as his personal property, to be used to his advantage and aggrandizement.
Hassan, she noted, lives in a “sumptuous home, with a swimming pool in the yard, drives luxury vehicles, operates a plethora of private enterprises – which all mysteriously do business with the port – promotes nepotism and cronyism in public tenders, imposes a reign of terror at the port and even closes it down for private celebrations.”
The malaise at Ashdod is endemic and facilitates illicit control by a succession of strongmen who assume they can abuse the citizenry ad infinitum.
We can only hope that the government will persist in its project to smash union monopolies by building private wharfs adjacent to existing ports.
Monopolistic power is abusive power. Government’s have a duty to serve the public and break up corrosive monopolies that stymie competition and gum up the economy’s works. Massive amounts of taxpayer cash have been lavished on Ashdod Port. It is time its employees understand that this is not their money but ours.