What happened at Haifa Chemicals on Monday night was no less than a revolution. The Histadrut may gripe until the cows come home that the strike at Haifa Chemicals was pointless and that if it had handled the negotiations, the workers would have gotten a wee bit more. But for all the carping, a revolution it is, for the labor market in Israel.
The workers' greatest coup is equating the terms of older and newer workers.
Division into "generations" is an evil born in industry that seeped into other areas of the labor market, both the private sector and the public one.
Abetted by the Histadrut labor federation, employers divided and conquered, pampering a thin layer of veteran workers so they wouldn't strike on behalf of newer ones, let alone temps.
The Haifa Chemicals workers changed the system, demanding equal status for all and open, democratic negotiations. No Histadrut representative would talk on their behalf with management, they declared. Their own labor committee would do it. Their relations with the Histadrut foundered, creating the basis for collaboration with rival umbrella organization Koach La Ovdim. The result was one of the longest strikes in Israeli history, during which the workers stood together despite the threats and not being paid.
Solidarity suddenly took shape. Management failed to divide the workers, whose spirit was not broken by losing NIS 19 million in pay.
The revolution isn't just for the Haifa Chemicals people. The labor market now has new rules that give the "right to organize" new democratic, equitable content that will help all "generation B" workers in Israel - social workers, teachers and the rest.
It's a victory for the Haifa Chemicals workers and a victory of the new spirit - the spirit of social protest.
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