Yoram Oberkovitz watched television and his heart bled. How could it be that the port workers are running rings around the government and earning prime time television exposure for their exaggerated achievements, while there he is, sitting at home getting nothing for the electricity workers. Could it be possible the port workers are stronger?
Oberkovitz can't believe that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Finance Minister Silvan Shalom and Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh would cave in and give up on the private Jubilee Port - the one and only chance to introduce reforms and competition into the ports - and that is exactly what happened.
He also knows that the electricity sector workers are in the same boat. They also act as a monopoly that objects to any private power-generating station that would compete against the Israel Electric Corporation. So Oberkovitz decided to do something about it.
He called his workers committee together last Thursday and declared a labor dispute. It was based on the IEC conducting negotiations on wages for 2001-2002 aimed at maintaining the real level of wages - in other words, with no real pay rises. The committee demanded a real increase of 5 percent, and if the management does not give in, the workers will take industrial action in mid-November.
The port workers' strike taught Oberkovitz he is facing a weak government, with eyes fixed firmly on the coming primaries, and in no mood for putting up a flaccid show against strong, well-organized unions. Now is the right time to go for the money.
Both the Israel Electric Corporation and the Ports Authority are public monopolies whose workers have the highest wages in the public sector. According to the 2001 public sector wages report from the Finance Ministry, the highest wages are those in the IEC. The wage cost of 207 workers there is more than NIS 50,000 a month, while the average electricity worker gets three times the national average wage - and we haven't even mentioned the perk of free electricity at home.
When Oberkovitz and his pals demand a 5 percent real wage hike, they know very well the economy is in downturn, unemployment is growing. Other workers in the private sector are struggling on minimum wages, plants are closing and employees are losing jobs, while other factories are launching efficiency drives which basically mean cutbacks in pay and conditions. But reality means little to those in the electricity monopoly.
So this time we ask that Oberkovitz forgo his step of not taking industrial action or working to rule, but we ask him, please, launch straight into a full blown strike and turn off the lights in mid-November. This will give us a complete blackout for the winter, no power for industry, for heating, for elevators, for water pumps.
And then, when the cry of the public reaches the heavens, and Sharon and Shalom have to light candles to conduct cabinet meetings, with an old oil heater from home keeping their feet warm, then maybe the government will understand it is impossible to carry on like this, caving in to every group of the richest workers in the economy.
And then, maybe, they will get up and do something - just as if this was a real government.
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