A general strike which paralysed the Israeli economy for nearly a week is over — for now.
The strike, called by Histadrut (the main Israeli trade union centre), followed a similar action in November 2011 and focused on the issue of the increasing use of agency labour by public sector employees. It demanded the levelling up of pay and conditions for the 250,000 contract workers, who Histadrut says are paid an average of 30% less than directly-hired staff. Unions ultimately want the government to end the use of agency labour and hire workers directly.
Government sources claim conditions for contract workers will be “significantly improved”. The deal is estimated to cost around NIS 800 million (£136 million), and will see contract workers have their monthly wages increased to match minimums for directly-hired workers (NIS 4,500 per month). The government will also hire 120 inspectors to ensure that contract workers are being paid equivalent wages. Histadrut had previously said that it would only end the strike if the government agreed to ensure an across-the-board levelling-up of pay and conditions for contract workers.
While some improvements in conditions are expected, it is feared that the terms of the deal will fall short of that aim, and the deal is made worse by the inclusion of a no-strike clause that prevents Histadrut from organising national general strikes for economic demands for the next three years.
However, many Israeli workers have already demonstrated their preparedness to defy the law in order to take on their bosses.
Just one day after the general strike was called off, railworkers announced further action in their long-running battle against privatisation.
Despite a court injunction which declared their strike illegal, they took action on Monday 13 February and are refusing to put into service four new engines recently arrived from Spain.
Also in Israel, the Workers’ Advice Centre (Ma’an), a radical labour movement NGO organising outside Histadrut, has won substantial compensation for its members in the trucking industry after several tribunals against haulage firms.
With Netanyahu’s government continuing to pursue an aggressively neo-liberal agenda including privatisation and austerity cuts, it is likely that struggles like these will continue and expand.
The Israeli courts have already shown their readiness to attempt to stop them; other Israeli workers should follow the railworkers’ example in demonstrating their refusal to be stopped.