Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to portray himself as the great, generous victor. "I thank you for the many quality hours you have given me, I've learned to know the union leaders, who are serious people," he managed to tell Peretz in front of the cameras, without cracking up with laughter. Because he thinks exactly the opposite of them.
Peretz, for his part, did not even smile at the finance minister. His is a most demanding constituency - union leaders who would not agree to a single gesture toward the finance minister. So Peretz made sure to underscore the differences between them.
Could the dispute between the treasury and Histadrut have ended without such protracted sanctions? Apparently not. The public's suffering had to be acute. The economic damages had to be severe. The Histadrut had to show it still had the power, otherwise it would have achieved nothing.
The treasury, however, is just as responsible for stretching the strike. It decided to deduct pay for strike days from the workers' pay, so they would suffer and pressure the Histadrut but the deduction was carried out in a schlemiel way, and applied only to 3,700 workers (7 percent of all public sector workers), and only a small sum was deducted, which the Histadrut promised to repay.
The big strategic change, which is hard to overestimate, was achieved in pensions. This is Netanyahu's big triumph. Despite the Histadrut's objection, the pension funds were nationalized, and their managements were replaced by officials approved by the treasury. The Histadrut's historic control of the funds is over. It will no longer be able to use the funds as a financial resource or a field for political appointments. A large part of the pension funds will be invested in the capital market. However, the Histadrut did manage to gnaw significantly at the decrees imposed on members of the pension funds.
The Histadrut failed to get the treasury to agree to subject any structural change in the pension funds to the Histadrut for approval. But not all the structural changes the government decided on will be implemented. Many of them did not pass and another part is still in the Knesset or other committees.
The Histadrut won on the dismissals' issue. There will be no additional firing in the public sector in 2004, and the treasury's talk of dismissals in 2005 are just talk. Because by then there will be more struggles and more strikes.
The agreement will not bring industrial calm. The seeds of the next dispute are inherent in the agreement. There is no consent on the reform the treasury wants to effect in the big monopolies, on privatizing the banks or transfering Wolfson Hospital to one of the HMOs. Therefore a comprehensive strike is expected in the health system. Workers in the Department of Public Works may strike, too, but the main event is expected from January 15-22. Then the time the court gave the treasury and Histadrut to reach an agreement on turning the ports into competing government corporations will expire. Obviously an agreement won't be reached in a fortnight, and Netanyahu will try to split the ports up by legislation. The response will be an all-out strike. Therefore we have only gained a short breather today, until the next strike. So run to the Interior Ministry offices to renew your passports.
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