Analysis: Why are we back to square one?

It's as if nothing has changed since the last time the Histadrut announced a general strike.

February 26, 2007 22:05
3 minute read.
Analysis: Why are we back to square one?

trash 88. (photo credit: )


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It's as if nothing has changed over the last three months from the last time the Histadrut announced a general strike over the ongoing scandal of the local authorities workers' salaries. Everything was supposed to have been solved by the end of last November. The last fraudulent local authorities were about to sign rehabilitation plans, the money was in the pipeline, and a many months-old national shame was about to come to an end. But here we are again with a general strike looming, about to cause hundreds of millions in damage and untold suffering, and thousands of workers in 40 local authorities and 16 religious councils are once again not being paid. It's not as if we're talking about the upper levels of the civil service, either. These people are at the bottom rungs of the salary ladder, barely making minimum wages. Now they're not getting even that. With the powerful trade union organization showing some uncharacteristic solidarity and enrolling the entire national workforce in the fight for the local workers' wages, few are willing to be over-critical of the general strike. Their plight is too real for that. But since obviously the last strike didn't achieve more than a short respite, there seems to be little hope that this one will be much more successful. Of course everyone - the trade unionists, politicians, industrialists and media - are all casting around for culprits, and they are easy to find. From the prime minister who preferred not to intervene, to his finance and interior ministers directly responsible, to the corrupt and inept council leaders who ran up astronomic deficits and the banks foreclosing on the money meant for workers' salaries. But there's nothing new about the local government crisis - it's decades old and just comes around in ever shortening cycles. At least in this case, the replacement of a council head or minister will change very little. It's the system that needs to be overhauled. In Israel there are to ways of running a local council or city administration successfully. Either your authority is blessed with mainly high-income citizens, industrial parks and large office buildings, all capable of paying high local taxes which fund a fat local budget or, if most of the town is poor and businesses are leaving for elsewhere, then you had better be well connected in the right political circles. Without that you won't get the necessary special funding to allow you to pay salaries at the end of the month. You might even be penalized for your performance. Poor local authority heads without the contacts have got to be financial geniuses to beat the deficit trap. It's also useful for them not to be too corrupt. The only problem is that not too many honest management wizards get elected in the municipal elections in the poor north and south of the country. So how to reform the system without stripping the citizens in low-income areas of their right to vote in local elections? The new City Halls Law that began its long legislative journey in the ministers' legislation committee this week might be a start. Replacing a 70-years old mandatory law, it offers well-run, balanced budget councils more responsibilities at the expense of central government, while providing new powers for the interior minister to intervene in the work of dysfunctional councils, force them to take stabilization steps and where the need arises, to replace the council. On paper this all looks good, but it will only work on the day the interior minister and other members of government stop using their budgets and powers to award council leaders for political loyalty, rather than fiscal responsibility.

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