Solidarity shattered in warning strike

Some 80% of kids in school as most large cities refuse to participate fully.

fire trucks convoy protest 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
fire trucks convoy protest 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Union of Local Authorities' two-day warning strike against government budget cuts suffered a serious blow Sunday when a majority of the country's cities decided to breach the strike by allowing schools to operate normally. ULA chairman Shlomo Buhbut said the big cities left them "bleeding in the field." The strike is scheduled to continue on Monday. Most municipalities will not be open to the public, garbage will continue to be left uncollected and schools that cannot function without municipal staff will be forced to close. Residents are urged to call their local 106 hot line to find out which services are available in their region. The mayors and council heads of more than 100 localities are scheduled to convene for a demonstration in Jerusalem on Monday morning. They plan to bring along a convoy of garbage trucks aimed at disrupting traffic in the city, though an attempt by fire trucks to similarly disrupt traffic on Sunday was thwarted by police. The strike was planned to be a demonstration of force by the local authorities, a preview to an extended strike ULA has announced for after Succot. But more than 80% of the pupils were in school Sunday and other services, such as parking enforcement and garbage collection, were disrupted to widely varying degrees, while in Jerusalem, all municipal operations functioned normally. Thus, the solidarity was seemingly shattered and the union's leverage weakened. Union heads hope that Monday's mass demonstration in Jerusalem will have the desired effect. Despite calls for an all-out strike by the union to protest the cuts in budget-balancing grants by 20%-30% - a total of NIS 400 million - mayors of the country's biggest cities argued it was too soon for such drastic measures as keeping children out of school. "A school system strike is a judgment-day weapon," said Netanya Mayor Miriam Feierberg. "You don't rush to call a strike in the school system a week after classes commence. "I don't know why the ULA decided to call a strike," she said. "It is not the proper way." ULA officials fumed at the large cities' decision, claiming that the rich cities have abandoned their just struggle. "When they needed us, we were at their side and now, when the situation is reversed, they are allowing the government's divide and conquer policy to work," said Buhbut. In response, a statement from the Forum of 15 Independent Cities read, "It is a shame that the chairman of the ULA chooses to aim baseless accusations at the big cities. Cities that didn't strike including cities from the center and the periphery alike, with varying socioeconomic makeups, including Hod Hasharon, Bat Yam, Beersheba, Jerusalem, Or Yehuda and Ramle. "Unfortunately the ULA decided on a strike without coordinating with the Big-15 forum or with other major local authorities and a struggle cannot be launched under such circumstances. It is important to note that the Big-15 supports the ULA's causes, but we think the crisis could have been solved without the strike." Sderot Mayor David Buskila, the chairman of the Development Towns' Forum, criticized the big cities' lack of action in the battle against the local authorities' budget cut. "When the big authorities came out against the government's decision to take away from their municipal taxes and transfer them to the small authorities, the big ones embarked on an all-out war with the support of the periphery cities and the small local authorities," he said. "Then the battle was over the butter and jam to put on the bread. Today when the battle is over the bread itself… the big ones stand to the side, as if it doesn't concern them," said Buskila. In an interview with Army Radio, Buskila said the big cities didn't just betray the small ones; they betrayed their own residents. "The equation is simple - cuts to the grants means cuts to our children's education," Buskila said. "If we don't hurt the education system with two days of warning now, [the school system] will close of itself in another few months." Yokne'am Mayor Simone Alfasi, who is deputy chairman of the ULA, said he thought that the strike was justified and called on all the local authorities to work together. "I'm taking part in the strike despite the fact that my city is not in debt. I think that if the government enacts its decisions, then Yokne'am and many other successful towns like it will encounter serious difficulties. "In my opinion, we mustn't let the big 15 leave the union. We must work together. If the garbage isn't cleared in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem it will hurt the decision makers more than if it isn't cleared in Kiryat Shmona and Acre, where no minister or MK goes anyway," said Alfasi. Alfasi said that all the mayors and heads of regional councils were invited to a ULA assembly last Wednesday and should have voiced their reservations about the strike there if they had any. "We are a democratic body," Alfasi said. "Had they attended the meeting and raised their concerns then, we might have decided differently, but it is disingenuous for people to come forward and say they weren't consulted with when they didn't bother coming to the meeting."