The fact that Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his minister in the treasury Meir Sheetrit are working together is the eighth wonder of the world. How could two politicians, each with a gigantic ego, cooperate? Maybe their view of the global economy, their faith in free market competition is the glue that binds them together and allows them to overcome their significant differences of opinion regarding the government's economic plan.
Sheetrit, the fast and furious, believed that left alone in a room with Histadrut chair Amir Peretz, they could reach an agreement, with no need for a strike. Netanyahu, meanwhile, understood right from the start that the situation called for an incubation period, that Peretz actually needed to strike. He would have to prove to the workers' committees and the public that he had pulled out all the stops.
Each of Sheetrit's generous proposals throughout the process would not have ended the strike but would have provided fodder for additional claims. More than that, a quick agreement with Peretz would have shown him to have capitulated to Netanyahu, thus spelling his political doom.
Sheetrit erred concerning the legislation issue. He opposed introducing legislation into the plan, saying that if it became clear (after the hurried negotiations) that there was no real agreement, then and only then, would the treasury point the legislative pistol. Netanyahu, however, was already armed with the threat of legislation, cocked opposite the Histadrut's strike weapon.
Starting the legislative process was, at the end of the day, what prompted Peretz to be more flexible and reach an agreement. In addition, removing the legislation threat allowed Peretz to exit with a triumphal achievement - the cancelation of the legislative process. And that's also important in negotiations.
The other spat between Netanyahu and Sheetrit was over pensions. Sheetrit was against adding this issue to the economic plan, and when it was slipped in anyway, Sheetrit wanted to reach a hush-hush deal with the Histadrut: the treasury would drop its pension fund demands in exchange for agreeing to wage cuts and dismissals in the public sector.
But Netanyahu and Eyal Ben-Chelouche (the treasury's supervisor of insurance and pensions) wanted no such deals. They wanted to clear up the pension fund problems, up front with full exposure, and with no "deals."
Netanyahu and Sheetrit agreed that there had to be an inbuilt automatic penalty to striking, so that when workers downed tools, or took sanctions, then they would be hit in their pockets. So apparently this was to be the first strike that the treasury would deduct strike days from the pay packets of the strikers and the 4,000 workers not receiving the public as part of their industrial action.
Once upon a time, back in those hyperinflationary days of the 1980s, a treasury hack called Yakir Plessner thought up an unsuccessful plan known as the 5:5. This referred to a 5-percent monthly devaluation that was supposed to bring inflation down to 5 percent a month.
This week, the treasury put forward its own scandalous 5:5:5 plan: After an erosion in real wages of 5 percent in the past two years, it will be cutting wages in the public sector by 5 percent in the coming two years, and laying off 5 percent of the public sector workers. Let's hope that this plan fares better than the one hatched in those bygone days.
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