bibi - Tali Mayer - March 1 2011
Demonstrators in Tel Aviv protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tali Mayer
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Hundreds of people protested against the recent round of prices increases on Tuesday
in front of the Congress Center in Haifa, where a conference of the government trade office took place. Some of the demonstrators tried to force their way into the Congress Center but police prevented them from doing so and arrested four of the protesters.

The protesters wrote the slogan "The Invisible Citizen" on a doll meant to resemble Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and burned it in effigy. "In Egypt and in Tunisia people immolated themselves to protest the economic conditions," one of the protesters said. "So far we are only burning effigies."

The social workers' union has announced that it plans to begin an open-ended strike on Sunday. The strike will involve 10,000 social workers employed by government agencies. It was called over the union's demand for a substantial hike in social workers' wages.

The social workers have been in negotiations with the Finance Ministry's wage director for the past six months. They are demanding a 25 percent salary increase, in light of the fact that they have not received a raise in 17 years. At this point, the Finance Ministry has agreed to a 14.5 percent wage hike.

The erosion of social workers' salaries has led to a situation in which a third of them currently receive state income supplements to bring them up to the minimum wage.

Dozens of social workers, activists from Working and Studying Youth and AMI (Future of Israel) scuffled with conference attendees at the entrance of the conference center.

Benjamin Gonen of the Association of Veteran Professionals said, "I am sure that a protest such as this can be the start of a real protest movement that can influence the decision-makers. Only a month ago, nobody would have believed that Egypt and Tunisia would succeed in making a change, but they did."

According to Gonen, "Inside the conference there are people that are drinking whiskey and eating caviar, and outside there are people that don't make enough money to last them until the end of the month, including social workers, who work with the weakest segments of society."

"I call upon [Histadrut labor federation chief] Ofer Eini to announce a warning strike of at least one day already," Gonen added. "I am sure that that will put pressure on the decision-makers."

Protester Adam Diabat, who has worked as a social worker for the last seven years, said, "You can't live off of a salary of 4500 NIS per month. We came to tell the Finance Minister to deal with our concerns. We want to make a respectable living."