Israeli General Strike Sparked by Arrest

scott figgins (
Fri, 3 Jan 1997 14:24:12 -0800

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/* Written 3:36 PM Jan 1, 1997 by in */ /* ---------- "Israeli Gen Strike Sparked By Arres" ---------- */

From: Institute for Global Communications <> Subject: Israeli Gen Strike Sparked By Arrest

Israeli Labor Federation Calls Nationwide Strike >
> By Barton Gellman
> Washington Post Foreign Service
> Tuesday, December 31 1996; Page A18
> The Washington Post
> JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 -- Israel's huge Histadrut
> labor federation staged a nationwide walkout
> today in an escalating confrontation with Prime
> Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
> The job action, which began with a half-day
> limited strike at Israel's principal airport and
> seaports last Thursday, kept a quarter-million
> workers home today. Radio broadcasts ended
> abruptly, the stock market shut down, banks and
> day-care centers closed and public transport,
> utilities, hospitals and post offices worked on
> sharply limited schedules.
> Ben Gurion International Airport, paralyzed by a
> wildcat strike on Sunday, resumed operations
> today, but the Histadrut made no guarantees for
> the rest of this peak tourism week.
> On its face, the strike is a protest against
> Netanyahu's first budget, which cuts back on
> social services, ends a tax credit for working
> women and lays the groundwork for widespread
> privatization of government-owned companies. Amir
> Peretz, the Histadrut chief, said the cutbacks
> will cost the average worker between $800 and
> $900 a year.
> The trigger for the general strike was Sunday's
> arrest of Shlomo Shani, a Histadrut department
> head who had exceeded a court-ordered three-hour
> limit for Thursday's demonstration strike. In a
> move unprecedented in Israeli labor relations,
> the court issued a police summons for Shani; the
> government, disregarding an agreement by Shani to
> appear in court, placed him under arrest.
> Several labor-relations experts said that Peretz
> and his fellow labor leaders were spoiling for a
> fight as a means of injecting renewed vigor into
> an organization that has been in decline. Like
> many of Israel's most important institutions, the
> Histadrut predates the formation of the state. At
> its peak, it was a conglomerate that owned
> controlling shares of key industries and was
> easily the economy's largest employer.
> Today, the Histadrut has sold off most of its
> holdings in banking, insurance, agriculture,
> dairy operations and public transport. Union
> membership has dropped sharply -- below 50
> percent, by some estimates -- since changes in
> health coverage allowed workers to use Israel's
> largest insurance fund without joining the
> Histadrut.
> Netanyahu added fuel to the fire, disdaining the
> Histadrut leadership in public remarks and making
> clear he regarded the unions as obstacles to
> economic plans he likened to those engendered by
> Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain and
> President Ronald Reagan in the United States.
> "Unfortunately, the government was not very
> clever, because they did not consult with the
> Histadrut on budgetary policy," said Arye
> Globerson, a Tel Aviv University professor of
> labor relations. "The prime minister invited the
> chairman of the Histadrut to see him, but he
> didn't negotiate or try to reach mutual
> understanding. He simply told him how things were
> going to be."
> Then came the arrest. From the police station in
> the port of Haifa where Shani was held, Peretz
> issued a nationwide call for Histadrut workers to
> lay down their tools. "This no doubt was a
> wonderful occasion, a wonderful pretext for the
> leadership of Histadrut to declare, `Here we are,
> here is our power, a general strike,' " Globerson
> said.
> Netanyahu, staking out a characteristically
> combative public position, declared that there
> would be no compromise. "I say to the head of the
> Histadrut and to the functionaries of the
> Histadrut, this country does not belong to you,"
> he said in a radio interview. "It is not your
> personal property, and you cannot do with it as
> you want. . . . This is a political,
> irresponsible strike, without reason."
> The premier spurned mediation efforts within his
> own party, including an invitation from
> parliament speaker Dan Tichon for Peretz and
> Finance Minister Dan Meridor to meet in Tichon's
> office.
> Nevertheless, with the government losing its slim
> parliamentary majority over some of the least
> popular budget cuts, Meridor and Peretz sat down
> late tonight to try to reach a compromise.

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