Meet the 'va'ad ovdim'

The typical Workers Committee has its interests - usually dictated by its leading activists.

By TOMMY LAPID
September 4, 2007 20:32
3 minute read.
workers building

workers building 88.298. (photo credit: )

 
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In most cases, very few Israeli workers participate in the elections of workers' committees in the public sector. The subject doesn't particularly interest them and they don't know most of the candidates anyway. So here they are:

  • The militant. This is the one who will be elected committee chair. He comes from mid-level management. He has an axe to grind with the management because he didn't get the promotion he thinks he deserves. He will teach management to treat him with respect. And fear. The workers will acclaim the leader in him, even if they are ungrateful. He will be invited for consultations at the Histadrut Labor Federation. If he manages to organize a strike that is disruptive enough, his picture will appear in the newspapers and, with a little luck, he'll be interviewed on radio and perhaps even television. On his 50th birthday, his fellow workers' committee members will give him a flight for two to Antalya. And if he gives the management a hard enough time, they may even eventually offer him a promotion, as long as he quits the committee.
  • The expert. Every committee needs at least one member who is well versed in labor law, knows all the ins and outs of public service and is familiar with all the precedents. He keeps the minutes of all the committee's meetings and writes the announcements sent to the workers. He is usually a lawyer or an official of some kind whose wife has left him.
  • The manipulator. He "gives in" to the entreaties of the others to serve as treasurer. His brother-in-law is an importer of toys from China, and before the holidays sells the committee - without a tender - at cost, dozens of crates of Chinese dolls whose sale has been prohibited in the United States. He knows how to get discounted tickets to rock concerts and charter flights. He collects the membership dues and deducts his travel, meal and hotel expenses. On the holidays, suppliers send him handsome gift packages. Very handsome. Coincidentally, or not, the company has hired his sister, uncle, two cousins and downstairs neighbor.
  • The woman. Every committee must have at least one woman, who cares for the workers' welfare. Maternal but strict, her expertise is sexual harassment. Men do not dare dish out compliments in her presence, even to their wives. Her mother was a devotee of Shulamit Aloni and she adores Shelly Yacimovich. She organizes a little party when the CEO's first child is born. After all, even the CEO is human.
  • The politician. He joined the workers' committee because he's a true believer. He once believed in Che Guevara, then he believed in Amir Peretz. Now he believes in Bibi. He is the one who prepares the picket signs for the strike and he is the one seen on television, third from the left, screaming, "Give us bread! Give us work!" At night, he takes courses in political science at the Open University because that's important if you want to be a member of Knesset. For him there is no god but soccer. WHEN THE time comes to extort the management, the committee gets together over a cup of coffee (tea doesn't do it for them any more) to invent an excuse for a strike that will sound convincing in the media. The public goes into high alert, prepared to drown at the beach (lifeguards' strike), go without (welfare services strike), close down the entire country (the switch at the power station) or sleep at the airport (airport strike). When Channel 1 comes to interview the strike leader, the television crew is made up of five people: the journalist, camera operator, gaffer, soundman and driver. When Channels 2 or 10 send a crew, it has two members: a camera operator and a soundman (the journalist asks the questions from the studio by means of an earphone). Why does one team have five members and the other two, for the same assignment? Because the commercial TV stations don't have workers' committees, while Channel 1, which is a government agency, has a very strong one. The writer is a former minister of justice and former MK.

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