(photo credit: Rambam Hospital)
Does the sudden shut-down of a health fund constitute a strike in an essential
service? This is a legitimate subject of debate. Patients of the small Kupat
Holim Meuhedet had no warning when they found the clinics closed one morning
To them this looked like a wildcat strike in an essential
service, although in strictly legalistic terms this is moot because a work
dispute had been declared and life-saving functions were not
On the face of it, the union complied with the obligatory
relevant strictures before launching its one-day warning strike, except to
inform those who depend on Meuhedet’s services and except for being minimally
fair to the acting director-general, Zev Wurmbrand, who was installed in office
only two work days beforehand.
Specifics and legal technicalities aside,
this hardly noticeable little episode illustrates yet again the alacrity to
strike, to flex muscles and to punish members of the public who had made plans
and appointments. The crueler the effects are on ordinary folks caught in the
middle, the more potent the strike weapon. In other words, the more a given
union is able to hold the citizenry to ransom, the greater its clout and
Finance Minister Yair Lapid is pushing legislation that
is geared to spare us from some of the worst outrages – as long, of course, as
the unions obey the law. Last year, railroad employees brazenly defied
back-to-work court orders.
The pending bill, an amendment to existing
legislation, would prohibit strikes at airports (such as the one that last April
paralyzed Ben-Gurion Airport and left helpless passengers stranded), the Israel
Electric Corporation, the seaports and elsewhere.
The legislation would
require workers to submit to arbitration. Strikes would not be tolerated to
press for pay hikes, or to protest projected reforms, restructuring or
privatization. Strike action would be allowed only in cases in which wages had
Unsurprisingly, the very suggestion that strikes might be
banned in given services sufficed to raise a hue and cry about curtailing the
right to organize and bargain collectively in the workplace.
however, is that such limitations already exist – i.e. in the IDF, police and
other security forces.
What is self-evident for soldiers and cops, ought
to be just as self-evident in other essential services, where the workforce
possesses the ability to flick indispensable switches, endanger lives or
otherwise wreak havoc and inflict enormous economic damage.
threat by the strategically situated few to harm the general population is
There have been legislative attempts to curb
the right to strike, but these have by and large gone nowhere.
legislation is hardly as unjust as populist politicians make it out to be. Bills
of this sort have been adopted in most Western nations, where they made a
palpable difference. Britain is a clear case in point. After the Conservatives
curtailed the freedom to down tools at the slightest provocation, the economy
Succeeding Labor governments did not rush to rescind what they
realized was a good thing.
In our setting, the Histadrut labor
federation, dominated by an oligarchy of the country’s 13 monopolist unions, has
for years hardly put the interests of the have-nots at the forefront. It evinced
no qualms to sanction strikes by the most powerful unions, which willy-nilly
endanger the jobs of the most vulnerable workers.
Omnipotent unions can
cripple the economy, threaten to shut down numerous plants, cause mass layoffs,
cost Israel valuable foreign markets and lose it credibility, to say nothing of
doing incalculable long-term harm. Instead of justly shielding the workers’
legitimate rights, unions with a stranglehold on the rest of us stymie any
change by the mere threat of resorting to undisguised
Considering the vulnerable state of our economy, sabotage
from within cannot be tolerated. Long-overdue restraints on the ability to shut
down essential services without warning and without polling all union members
should be enacted. It is time ordinary citizens were granted protection from the
ambitious whims of union chieftains.