Around two years ago, the Pri Hagalil plant in the town of Hatzor Haglilit in the north nearly closed. Just when it seemed all was lost, Zaki Shalom, owner of the Hatzi Hinam discount supermarket chain, bought the factory. But the new owners have announced that they are firing 58 workers immediately and 60 more will soon lose their jobs.
On Wednesday, local union chief Motti Haziza, acting on instructions from Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini, told management the workers would not accept the dismissal notices. The union does not intend to negotiate. According to the Histadrut, "There is no reason for workers to pay the price because of a disagreement between the government and management."
So the employees are once again being forced to fight for their livelihoods. Haziza, 57, has turned into the Lech Walesa of Hatzor Haglilit. Haziza, who was born in the Hatzor immigrant camp, is a father of four. As someone at the head of nearly 280 workers, most from Hatzor, he is considered the most influential figure in the town.
Are you angry with management or the government?
I'm angry with the Israeli government, and much less with the company's management. The anger is directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and the Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, as well as at the local authorities. None of them have supported this factory.
From the moment they entered the picture, the owners invested NIS 87 million for production lines for canned tuna, pickles and soups. They renovated the infrastructure from the bottom up. The government was supposed to lend support via an investment center, but it suddenly changed the rules and didn't help out. Each side tricks the other and the poor workers pay the price. These are people who work for minimum wage.
The anger at management is about the timing of the dismissals. They presented us with the list on the eve of Tisha B'Av, which is horrible. Even if you're not religious, you know that Tisha B'Av is a symbol of the destruction of the Temple. You can't ignore this day of tears and lament. What happened - they couldn't wait a day or two? It's highly insensitive.
Some would say it was an exercise intended to pressure the government to help the factory.
I've heard this kind of talk at least a hundred times. We aren't acting or taking part in exercises. That the owners deserve support is a fact, and if they had received what was coming to them and then fired people, we would have gone wild, but the truth is that nobody is helping them. These are facts. The workers pay the price. I don't know if management is fighting for us, but in any case promises haven't been kept.
The government is calling on the young protesters in the center of the country to move to outlying areas. What do you have to say to these young people?
All the talk about the periphery is just slogans. We in Hatzor are treated is as if we were an annex of Syria or Lebanon. What connects us to Israel? How is this connection expressed? And what do we enjoy from belonging to this country?
What does Hatzor have? Education and health systems or knowledge-intensive factories? Stop talking all the time about the periphery. Where will the young people go? My own children have all left, one daughter went to the center of the country, and another returned from the U.S. recently and will soon be leaving here.
What I can ask of these young people in the protest tents on Rothschild Boulevard and the rest of the country is this: Come to Hatzor, come in solidarity with us. This is a struggle for social justice; come and let's fight together. Aside from this, there isn't anything else here for them. The government ignores us in a big way; it's a government that isn't proud of Hatzor.
What does the Pri Hagalil factory mean to Hatzor?
Hatzor and Pri Hagalil are one. There is no Hatzor without Pri Hagalil and no Pri Hagalil without Hatzor. The factory anchors the town. Without it, there's nothing here. It has no right to exist without Pri Hagalil; that would be a deathblow to Hatzor. Where will all those who are fired find work?
Since you've refused to accept the dismissal notices, how will the people who have been laid off know who's on the list?
I threw the list into the garbage, but unfortunately people used various other means to find out who was and wasn't on the list. It's a complicated situation.
Two and a half years ago your struggle was at the forefront of public awareness. Now, against the backdrop of the social protest wave, aren't you worried that your fight will be pushed to the sidelines?
The government is really ignoring us and trying to exploit the situation that has been created, but at least the media recognizes our existence. Fortunately, the media won't let our fight be forgotten. Otherwise we would certainly be pushed into a corner. I can say that our pain today is greater than that of the earlier struggle, so public support is very important to us.
Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon was to have visited the factory Wednesday. Why didn't he?
I asked Kahlon to come and he left everything and was on his way to us, but when he reached [nearby] Rosh Pina, I began to worry that a visit might damage respect for him and his position, so I asked him not to come. Kahlon is a ... genuine social affairs minister ... and I didn't want to cause him any harm. I can't give you the details about what went on behind the scenes, but my concern was real. At first he was a little angry, but afterwards he understood me. He has a lot of support in Hatzor and all the development towns, and he will help. What happened Wednesday will not affect his intention to help.
What are the next steps in your protest?
[Today] there will be a meeting of the Upper Galilee Histadrut union committee, headed by Yona Partok. It should be remembered that the labor dispute we declared two weeks ago expired [last night]; it may well be that the committee will be forced to make difficult and painful decisions. We'll only know at the end of the meeting. We're prepared for a very hard battle and serious protest.
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