The countrywide general strike launched by the Histadrut labor federation on Sunday in support of Teva employees ended after four hours, but for the Jerusalemites working in the two branches of the crumbling company, the struggle has only begun. The atmosphere among the employees is both gloomy and combative. Sunday morning began by blocking Road 1, the main artery in and out of the city, causing an enormous traffic jam in the morning rush hour. From there, the striking employees moved to the main Teva branch in Har Hotzvim, where they barricaded themselves inside the building and partially blocked the roads to the area and to the north of the city; as of Tuesday, they were still there.Demonstrations and sporadic blocking of roads in Jerusalem also continued through Tuesday, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ministers of finance, social welfare and economy met with Teva CEO Kåre Schultz. The meeting ended abruptly after Schultz adamantly refused to change anything in his plan and to accept any of government proposals to reduce the number of dismissals or to cancel the decision to close the city’s two factories. At a certain point, Schultz even threatened the prime minister, warning him that any additional attempt to change his plans would lead to firing of more employees.
However, the two sides managed to work together on programs to help the dismissed employees find alternative jobs and to prepare them for the changes.There are some 1,780 Jerusalemites employed at the city’s two branches of Teva, which for decades has been one of the country’s greatest industrial success stories. When it became evident that most of the dismissed employees would be from the Jerusalem branches, the magnitude of the problem gave it new urgency. It will be difficult for Jerusalem to cope with the blow to its economy and to its image as a city with attractive job opportunities.The Knesset economics committee is holding a special session on the matter, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is arranging a meeting with the CEO of Teva to explore solutions; Mayor Nir Barkat is also involved in the search for a sustainable solution.
Histadrut Labor Federation protesters in front of Teva's factory in Netanya, December 17, 2017 (Courtesy Histadrut PR)
Teva was “born” in the capital, growing from a small local pharmaceutical concern to a major source of pride to the city. For the many couples who both work there, closure of the branches is an economic death sentence. Hence the extreme reactions. The employees intend to remain entrenched in the facility on Har Hotzvim until the threat of massive layoffs is over, and since it was Hanukka this week, the employees, their families and lots of supporters – political figures and residents – joined together each evening for candle lighting.
Teva workers strike outside the Knesset, December 2017