Epic dust-up at Safra Square: Workers’ committee elections

January 20 is the date set for the election of a new chairman of the committee, which represents some 7,500 employees.

Jerusalem municipality (photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
Jerusalem municipality
(photo credit: WWW.PIKIWIKI.ORG.IL)
One may not notice it at first glance – and maybe not even upon a second look – but stormy winds are shaking the walls of the workers’ committee at the municipality.
January 20 is the date set for the election of a new chairman of the committee, which represents some 7,500 employees. Officially, there shouldn’t be any problem regarding these elections. The powerful committee should choose a new head or reelect the current one, and things will continue as they have for the past few years.
That is the official story. However, as with so many other issues, Safra Square is the stage on which some of the city’s most interesting dramas are played out.
Zion Dahan, who will turn 67 next month, has been the quiet yet very successful chairman of the committee for the last 10 years, after being elected twice (every five years) to the position, much to the satisfaction of most of the employees. Dahan – an elegant and soft-spoken man whose manner in no way resembles that of the stormy and sometimes aggressive demeanor of past representatives – has made his gentleness his trademark.
Dahan is certainly not a “killer” in terms of workers’ struggles. “Killing softly” would much more suit his approach to problem-solving. But one thing is sure – since Dahan has been at the helm, there has not been even a single day of strike on his watch. (To clarify, sanitation workers have a separate committee, so their strike last week had nothing to do with Dahan’s methods.) Until a couple of months ago everything seemed calm, and Dahan’s reelection seemed like a sure thing. But apparently not for everyone. Dahan’s former partner and friend, Danny Bonfil, saw things entirely differently.
Bonfil, who was chairman of the municipal workers’ committee before Dahan, has always acted in the exact opposite fashion from his former partner. During his tenure as committee head, he used to say that “a mayor could not move a chair from one room to another without my consent,” and strikes were almost a matter of routine. Bonfil was not only a very extroverted, even aggressive, committee leader, but he was also corrupt. The Jerusalem District Court sent him to jail on corruption charges. And since then, his repeated attempts to “get back into business,” be it at Safra Square or in politics (he was the close consultant for MK Meir Porush as candidate for mayor in 2013 against Nir Barkat), were not successful.
That is, until the position of chairman of the Jerusalem district at the Histadrut labor federation became available. Bonfil grabbed it, obtaining a lot of support and help from Dahan, who has a high position at the Histadrut.
“From the day he was elected to the position, Bonfil started going behind Dahan’s back, working to replace him with one of his men,” a veteran municipality employee said earlier this week.
Asked if there has been a certain parting of the ways, Dahan confirmed this, saying, “I guess he doesn’t like my method and would like to get us back to the bad old days of strikes and struggles which, at the end of the day, do not bring any benefit to the workers in my view.”
And then came time for elections for president of the workers’ committee, held every five years. Dahan decided to run again, encouraged by the open support of most of the workers. Bonfil decided it was time to get rid of his former associate and tried a few tactics. First, he declared that Dahan, almost reaching retirement age, could not run again, neglecting to tell the Histadrut interior court that he was also approaching 67 (two months before Dahan).
When Dahan was permitted to run, Bonfil sent one of his closest associates, Avichai Avraham, to run against his former friend. According to committee sources, Avraham’s chances are about 40 percent (with 60% going to Dahan).
Dahan himself sounds calm and confident about his chances of winning and continues to stick to his credo: “Strikes are not good for employees; whatever one can obtain through a strike, I believe we can achieve without it, with even better results.”
Officially, Mayor Barkat and his assistants are not involved in this election. But everybody knows where the mayor’s wishes lie. Dahan has indeed obtained quite a lot of benefits for the workers and, in return, has fostered good relationships and tranquility among them.
Bonfil, or anyone acting on his behalf, would clearly bring back other methods.
And there might be more… “Bonfil still nurtures his dream of replacing Barkat as the head of the city,” says a source at Safra Square.
“Defeating Dahan and introducing his emissary would be a first step in that direction, something Barkat and not only Barkat see as a nightmare.”