Women workers - Yaron Kaminsky
Women working at Israeli factory. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
Text size

Once again, we hear names of factories about to be closed, and again - surprise, surprise - these are traditional industries located in the periphery. And yet again, one is left to ponder the responsibility of the state regarding the free market and its citizens, and to question whether we can afford the collapse of these factories.

Naturally, many of us can only feel deeply saddened by such news. But there are those who are less moved. They say: stop resuscitating these old-fashioned industries from the 1950s, these grey buildings with outdated assembly lines, unable to handle modern times. Their time has come to disappear.

"We're a high-tech nation, the start-up nation," the modernists say. "There is no added value in traditional industries, those who produce glass, textile, plastic or tin cans, which can be purchased cheaply in China or India. We cannot implore the banks or the state to keep on supplying them with oxygen."

This sentiment was expressed recently, when Pri Hagalil, the factory that practically breathes life into the town of Hatzor Haglilit, was about to be transferred westward, a result of purely economic considerations. Many experts thought it was the right move, conveniently forgetting that such a closure would affect real people; usually older people, usually without education, usually people who cannot rehabilitate their lives once they lose their source of income. And yes, usually people who earn minimum wage - no more. These aren't people who can simply move from Netivot or Migdal Ha'emek to a high-tech job in Ramat Hahayal or Herzliya. These people will simply go home, but they will still have to manage, somehow, to make ends meet.

The story of Hatzor Haglilit prompted a reaction from the government, which swiftly decided to establish a support fund for factories in the periphery that don't receive support because they don't employ enough workers, or don't meet export quotas. In this case it was obvious that the factory needed "artificial respiration," not only for ethical, moral or humane reasons, but also because of economic considerations.

Some 350 workers with no other alternative - because no one thought of creating substantial employment alternatives in the periphery - could be a heavy burden on the state coffers; unemployment benefits, to start with, followed by National Insurance benefits. The amount needed to support hundreds of unemployed workers, who would love to work but couldn't find a job, would add up. And yes, the poverty circle would broaden, and the second generation would find it even more difficult to break through, costing the state huge sums of money.

Many believe that artificial respiration is necessary and that there is no other option but to support large factories that could eventually be profitable once again. Pri Hagalil recently received the NIS 10 million it was promised. Hatzor Haglilit residents let out a sigh of relief. We should all hope that this isn't a seasonal ritual and that the resuscitation will be a success in both the short- and long-term.

There are those, of course, that take the opposite approach. Recession, they say, is an opportunity to cleanse the economy, especially when it is part of a global crisis. The "good," profitable, well-run firms will survive, and those who aren't will disappear. And after the crisis (if it ever ends ), we'll all wake up to a cleaner, more efficient market. But this line of thought simply isn't true. And when it comes to the Israeli periphery, one must reconsider which factories are "good," and who should or shouldn't be "cleansed."

The concept of the rational responsibility of the state vis-a-vis its citizens must be on the minds of all policymakers. They must ask themselves one simple question: In the long run, how much will the closing of this factory cost, and is it not high time to encourage new entrepreneurs to build new industries in the north and south, thus freeing many towns from dependence on one major factory, which would then be downgraded to simply one more factory, more or less profitable, among many active industries.