Port problems

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 monopolies.

July 27, 2013 23:04
3 minute read.
Cranes are seen at the port of Haifa.

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 relations.

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 damages.

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.

But 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 dismissals.

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 sacked.

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 stifle competition.

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 change.

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 seaports.

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).

The public 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 less competitive.

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 monopolies.

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.

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