At the three-way meeting - Sharon, Netanyahu, Poraz - that took place Sunday night, the prime minister sounded particularly angry. He said the biggest failure lay in the field of public relations - because now he is the guilty party. Every citizen is pointing a finger at the government, while the truth is that it is not a state government problem at all, but rather the problem of local government, which hasn't paid its workers' wages. But its leaders, lo and behold, are coming out clean, and are not paying any price.
This is perhaps true; but it is not the whole truth. The brunt of the blame does indeed lie at the feet of the generations of mayors and local authority leaders who increased expenses and debts indiscriminately - until they collapsed. But one should not forget that the government played a significant part in the collapse when it cut more than NIS 1 billion from the balancing grants, which was the money that kept the weak local authorities alive.
Yes, it's true that the local authority leaders sinned, but Sharon and Netanyahu cannot wash themselves clean of the blame. They decided to invest billions in the army, the settlements, the territories, as well as the fence and the disengagement - until there was no money left for the local authorities, the health basket, the elderly, the unemployed, professional training, roads, investment grants and R&D, because when it comes to economics, there are no free meal tickets. If the billions go in one direction, there isn't enough to go in the other.
On the other hand, Amir Peretz didn't really have a choice. The pressure from below was so strong such that the strike was inevitable. Peretz has political considerations too. For him, the strike is an excellent political horse on which to ride toward the expected struggle for leadership of the Labor Party. The strike is also a good opportunity to show Netanyahu what awaits him in the main struggle over the plans in the 2005 budget - wage cuts, the cancelation of the tax exemption on advanced training funds, dismissals, higher contributions to pensions, and the incorporation of the hospitals.
The heart says: Free up the money; stop withholding the wages; give the local authorities what they are demanding (NIS 1.5 billion) because it is terrible to see people going to work every morning but then getting nothing at the end of the month, forced to get by on handouts from near and far.
On second thoughts, however, it is clear that if the government gives in now, and hands over money without the local authority signing a recovery plan, the crisis will rear its head even more intensely within six months - because they won't change the way they function.
The problem in most of the authorities is that the Histadrut labor federation has ordered the workers committees not to sign up to the recovery plans, and this gives rise to an absurd situation in which the Histadrut is waging war against the withholding of the wages, but is in fact causing salaries not to be paid to most of the workers - those who remain following the implementation of the recovery plan.
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