civil strike 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
With the summer tourist season at its peak, it is no surprise the Histadrut felt compelled to call a general strike whose most immediate repercussions would be felt at Ben-Gurion Airport. Regrettably, the climax of any tourist season brings with it a near knee-jerk disruption. The pretext is almost immaterial. One will be found and exploited whenever the traffic at Ben-Gurion is at its most frenzied - be it during the High Holy days, spring or winter holiday seasons or the summer vacation.
There's no hidden Histadrut agenda to incurably injure the tourist trade, though the upshot could forever cripple it. Histadrut chiefs know this island-like country's one international airport is its soft underbelly. Targeting it inflicts immediate pain calculated to force the authorities to their knees. It takes days, for instance, till the stench and health-hazards of uncollected garage become intolerable. Cutting Israel off causes immediate commotion. It's the most powerful weapon in the Histadrut's arsenal, wielded for whatever reason at increasing frequencies.
Last time, the proclaimed trigger was the failure of aberrant local authorities to pay their employees' wages. The notion that air-travelers and tourist industry workers deserve punishment for the offenses of delinquent mayors exemplifies the callousness of Histadrut leaders and often has more to do with their own power-play considerations than with the causes for which they ostensibly struggle.
Histadrut chief Ofer Eini is an apt pupil. His predecessors, Haim Ramon and Amir Peretz, used the organization to further political ambitions. Eini has artificially manufactured a superfluous crisis. Like Ramon and Peretz before him, the workers who excite his compassion are mainly the highest-earners, backed by the most powerful unions - those who stand to gain the most should the demand for a whopping 10.4 percent across-the-board pay rise for public-sector employees be met.
But this work force segment, doing inordinately well in the public sector, isn't what should concern Eini. Israel is sorely beset by incontrovertible socioeconomic gaps, yet least is done for those in greatest need. Had Eini really cared for them, he would go to bat for those laboring in virtual peonage for manpower agencies, for those eking out meager subsistence at so-called part time jobs, for those employed under the euphemism of free-lancer.
The Histadrut, originally conceived to curb exploitation of the working man, has become a self-perpetuating bureaucracy whose own interests behoove it to periodically flex its muscles to remind all and sundry that, despite its decline, it can still wreak havoc - as in this week's general strike. How pain will be administered and by what increments hinges on the cynical caprices of trade union headliners.
This time the Histadrut, with typical insensitivity, ignores vacation constrictions of working folks, who had saved up and planned for short vacations now about to be arbitrarily upset. But that's the least of it. Worse is what yet another Ben-Gurion closure would do to the prospects of restoring Israel's standing as a tourist destination, particularly after last year's war. There's no telling how many jobs could be lost due to the recklessness of functionaries who profess their dedication to the working class.
Not only tourism stands to suffer. Markets will be lost and employees laid off elsewhere as well, especially as the ramifications would spill over from the public to the private sector.
However, Histadrut leaders aren't the only ones to blame. The government is no less at fault. Successive administrations feared challenging Israel's socialist sacred cows of old and legislating effectively against strikes in essential services - the Histadrut's favorite venue for unconscionable mischief, never mind the cause or consequences.
All sides must improve their act. The airport, schools, hospitals, sanitary services, fire stations, etc. must be strictly exempt from industrial action. Erratic strikes in essential services must be outlawed - the sooner the better.
But the worse offense in high places was the recent pay hike for MKs, ministers and assorted salary-linked higher-ups. That was casting the fateful pebble in the pond. That act's ripples provided this strike's pretext. If top officialdom had to be compensated for nonexistent inflation, so must those lower down the hierarchy.
It's time the public sector's upper crust realize that nothing they award themselves occurs in a vacuum and that their perks elicit dire consequences not only for the national purse but also for ordinary citizens who get caught in the middle.