Amir Peretz has been through all the strikes and all the negotiations, and nothing can surprise him. He knows all the rules of the game. He knows he has to use all his time, until the very last minute, to squeeze out the maximum amount of drama, the maximum amount of exposure via the media, and the maximum amount of public relations for himself and his party, One Nation. That is why he is holding the public on tenterhooks.
Yesterday, he invented something new: the postponement of the strike by 24 hours and a proposal to hold open and public negotiations to which the media are invited. He will sit opposite Benjamin Netanyahu while the cameras film every grimace and every sound. He will raise his voice at the finance minister, show him up for his intentions to make cuts, and will emerge the great hero who defends widows and orphans. The TV cameras will love him. He will blossom in the limelight as he always does when speaking about strikes, and Netanyahu will emerge as the bad guy who simply wants to slash budgets, make cuts and fire people.
When Netanyahu proposed that they put their revolvers down - that is, lay off the legislation, the sanctions and the strikes - and begin immediate, quick and substantial negotiations, Peretz could simply have said: "Okay, I agree." Then if the negotiations were unsuccessful, and the finance ministry made offers Peretz could not live with, he could have announced he was finished and called the strike. That would be the logical and responsible behavior of someone who really cares about the economy and society.
But then Peretz would have lost all the media attention, the drama, the tension, and the show of strength of one who can paralyze the economy without effort. And why should he accept an offer from the finance minister? So, Peretz announced he would have a team look into the matter and demanded a legal commitment in writing from Netanyahu - all in order to drag things out, to be constantly in the front line of the media, to reach a situation that he loves so much: negotiations until the wee hours of the night, smoke-filled meetings at the end of which, at 6 in the morning, he will tell the media whether or not he has been placated. And all of us will listen with bated breath because only then will we know whether we can fly abroad, send exports from Ashdod port or get to work by bus or train. We will await the word of God.
There are those who believe the reason for the strike is Netanyahu's threat of legislation. They are wrong. It is clear that the large workers' committees, the civil servants, and the monopolies of the Electric Corporation, Mekorot, Bezeq, the Oil Refineries, El Al, the Airports Authority, the Ports Authority and the banks - do not like the idea of legislation.
But if the legislation were about child allowances, unemployment insurance, old-age and disability allowances, we would not see the slightest hint of "the economy's biggest strike." Because all these measures, which were taken by Silvan Shalom a year or two ago, did not hit the pockets of the public sector or the large monopolies.
This time, however, unlike in 2001 and 2002, the public sector will be hard hit. There will be cuts in salary, dismissals and changes in the work agreements so that it will become possible to move workers from place to place. In the 2001 and 2002 plans, some NIS 6 billion were cut from allowances.
The public sector's wages, however, were not affected and they even went up. No one was fired from government offices, local councils or the large monopolies, and the number of workers actually increased. That is, the cuts in allowances paid for the additional wages and manpower in the public sector.
Now the finance minister is trying to turn things around, and his plan is justified. The time has come for the public sector and the monopolies to lend a shoulder.
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