haifa port 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
If we didn’t know better, we’d subscribe to the conspiracy theory gaining
currency in Israel’s business sector, whereby the Treasury is actually elated
about the seaports strike.
According to speculation spawned by
exasperated importers and exporters, this strike – despite the palpable damage
that every single hour of inactivity at the ports causes the economy – makes the
Finance Ministry look good, while the Histadrut appears to have leapt headlong
into an open trap.
Until the strike call last Monday, it was the Treasury
that was receiving unremitting bad press for its refusal to up the minimum wage.
But then, with confounding bad timing, none other than the labor federation
divested itself of its advantage and diverted attention away from the struggle
for the weakest components of the workforce. Instead, it threw its weight
aggressively behind some of the public sector’s highest earners.
doing, the Histadrut may have unmasked some of its own damaging misorientations.
As too often in the recent past, the Histadrut is allowing itself to be
perceived as the guardian of the strongest and most powerful unions, capable of
resorting to the most blatant bullying tactics. Incongruously, it thereby risks
causing damage to the cause of the economy’s real have-nots – the very groups
who most require Histadrut protection.
As a result of the port strike,
public discourse is now revolving around employees earning an average of NIS
23,000 a month rather than those whose gross income doesn’t reach NIS 4,000.
With this cardinal blunder, the Histadrut has allowed the government to appear
as staunchly defending the public against extortion rather than as a bureaucracy
that ignores the need of the working poor.
IT WAS actually ministerial
mismanagement that rendered the present confrontation inevitable.
the previous government, under Ehud Olmert, contracted the ports reform in 2005,
it gave employees extraordinarily generous terms to facilitate the overhaul.
This grievously undermined future governments’ bargaining
Owing to the deal struck five years ago, the port workers’
average wage had risen by 35 percent in the interim, to say nothing of a NIS
100,000 grant per employee to cement the reform.
The Histadrut claims
that it is now fighting on behalf of new crews who began working at the ports
post-2005. But this is disingenuous.
Intrinsic linkage means that any
sub-grouping’s gain automatically increases wages for all others – in this case
an overall 15% and a new top-scale grade.
Moreover, even new port workers
already take home much more than the national average. The typical “second
generation” rookie port worker earns a monthly NIS 13,500, which constitutes a
50% rise since 2005. Given these figures, the government was inordinately
generous to even offer port employees the 6.25% hike given other public sector
Ironically, many workers in many sectors, for whom the
Histadrut should look out, stand to suffer for the port workers’ exaggerated
demands, and the Histadrut’s pliability. Omnipotent unions are paralyzing the
economy, and threaten to shut down numerous plants, cause mass layoffs, cost
Israel valuable foreign markets and lose it credibility, with incalculable
While the entire economy may grind to a halt, the
veritable last waltz on the Titanic goes on. Industrialists alone voice alarm.
The equanimity with which the ongoing mega-sabotage at the country’s seaports
has thus far been generally received borders on the surrealistic.
unions vow to settle for nothing less than putting the ports themselves up as
collateral for wages and perks. This constitutes undisguised intimidation in the
cause of monopolist control – exploiting public property to hold the public
No society can allow itself to be held up this way. Union
chieftains must be made personally accountable for the damage they are wreaking.
At this juncture, only the courts can, once and for all, halt the heartless
dispute. It threatens all Israelis – including those who seem complacently
oblivious to it.