The death of Margaret Thatcher elicited a wide variety of reactions from news media and global citizens alike, but the Histadrut Labor Federation''s latest shenanigans should remind Israelis of one of the Iron Lady''s best legacies: breaking Britain''s powerful labor unions.
It''s not that labor unions are inherently bad. In fact, they are crucial drivers of democracy and offer important negotiating power to those who may be exploited by powerful executives. However i,n many places, such as Israel today, the unions can become corrupt special interests themselves, subserviating the national interest in favor of their own narrow priorities.
On Sunday the Histadrut threatened to ground all of Israel''s airplanes after a narrow strike from Israel''s own air carriers failed to prevent the government from approving an Open Skies Agreement with the EU. That agreement would (gasp!) force Israeli airlines to compete and bring down prices for consumers, much as the reforms in the cellular market helped the consumers at the expense of a few legacy carriers.
The Tourism Ministry noted of the agreement: "According to data from the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, the agreement will lead to an increase of 250,000 tourists from Europe during the first year of its operation. This means the creation of nearly 10,000 new jobs, a significant majority of them in the periphery."
Yet the Histadrut decries the agreement for its own protectionist ends, concerned about allowing Israeli airlines to maintain their inefficiencies at the expense of the rest of the economy.
The question now is, who will blink first? Will it be, on the one hand Prime Minister Biynamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett? Or will Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini manage to stare them all down?
The time has come for Israel''s leadership to have its Margaret Thatcher moment. In 1984-1985, she refused to back down in the face of a massive strikes led by the National Union of Mineworkers. She worked to chip away at the over-the-top legal rights that let them bring the economy to its knees at a whim, and eventually broke them.
As I''ve noted before, Israel has one of the highest striking rates in the developed world, no coincidence given the absurd amounts of power the unions are permitted to wield over the economy. It would do Israel''s economy well if its leadership could muster up some of Thatcher''s Iron backbone and put the union back in its place, where it could focus on actually improving workers rights across the board instead of constantly going to bat for the narrow interests of a few companies'' employees.