Cranes are seen at the port of Haifa 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The threat by the Histadrut to shut down Ashdod and Haifa ports is one of the
worst anti-democratic excesses in the history of Israel’s labor
In effect, our labor federation threatens to impose a maritime
blockade, which is extreme and disproportionate all on its own. It is tantamount
to inflicting paralysis on most of the economy and causing billions in
The threat underscores the gross misuse of power resulting from
the fact that relatively small groups of employees possess a stranglehold that
they employ without compunction against the rest of the population.
this is not just about holding all of us to ransom and treating public property
as a private possession.
There are more troubling facets to this sordid
saga’s latest installment.
What makes this showdown at the ports
incomparably worse than in previous strikes or threatened strikes is the
pretext. This is the critical crux of the matter that escalates this episode to
nothing short of an outright challenge to the rule of law.
This time the
union cannot claim to be resorting to action to back wage demands or to combat
The port employees will continue to rake in the highest
salaries in the public sector (in some cases for supposedly staying on-call
anywhere outside the ports). No cushy perk will be touched and nobody will be
This is all about a monopolist union trying to hang on to its
monopoly and prevent competition. All the government did was declare an
intention to construct new ports alongside the existing Ashdod and Haifa
facilities, which will remain intact.
In other words, the unions seek to
This is no less than challenging the right of the
government – as the elected representative of the general public – to reform,
develop and grow the economy. The union openly champions stagnation and rejects
This is unacceptable under any circumstance but especially given
the recurrent revelations of corruption, undisguised nepotism and cronyism,
shady dealings and colossal waste of taxpayer shekels at both
The Histadrut adamantly prevented any clean-up and overhaul.
Its alacrity to support the ports employees is matchless. Low-earners can never
count on such unstinting succor.
While claiming to defend the have-nots,
the Histadrut has evolved into a monopolist oligarchy of the 13 most powerful
unions – primary among them the that of the ports employees. They are by far the
public sector’s highest earners (considerably more so than even the very
well-heeled runners-ups in the Israel Electric Corporation).
sector fat-cats constitute the Histadrut mainstay and their interests inevitably
predominate at the expense of ordinary Israelis.
It is powerful unions’s
clout to extort that propelled them to inviolability by Histadrut criteria. It
is this capacity to bully that the government now plans to remove from the port
employees. Hence their declaration of war.
This is the most significant
domestic battle being waged in Israel today. Stripped down to its essentials it
is about our way of life – a choice between growth and a free-market system, and
union latifundia where strongmen and bosses call the shots, where public
installations are exploited for dishonest personal gain, with which the rest of
us are forced to put up.
This is not about letting a powerful few earn
more and thereby buying peace.
Acquiescing to sleaze means gumming up the
works, stymieing the economy, making our imports more expensive and our exports
Because Israel is an island in geopolitical terms,
monopoly control at the ports is all the more destructive. It is the duty of a
government to serve the people who installed it in office and break up corrosive
The trouble is that many a government has vowed to do just
that but ended up shrinking away from drastic confrontation when faced with the
Histadrut’s crushing power. The proof of brave rhetoric is in actual resolve and
follow-up action. We can only hope this government will not just talk the talk
but will walk the walk.
This fight is too important to lose.