students, housing - Daniel Bar-On
Students protesting housing prices outside the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The Histadrut labor federation and the Union of Local Authorities Wednesday joined the campaign against the high price of housing and the general cost of living.

At a press conference Wednesday, Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to open a dialogue with his organization and other leading players in the economy within three days. Otherwise, he said, the Histadrut will "use all the measures at its disposal."

Though he would not elaborate, he did not rule out a short strike against essential services alongside protest marches by tens of thousands of workers.

Eini also met Wednesday with leaders of the tent protest and assured them of his cooperation.

Earlier, Eini had been criticized for not making himself heard as the housing protests spread.

Union of Local Authorities chairman Shlomo Buhbut announced that local councils would launch sanctions starting on Monday in response to a call by protest organizers for a general strike in the economy.

As of last night, more than 16,000 people had joined a Facebook page calling on people not to come to work on Monday. Tzvika Basor, the man behind the Facebook campaign, called on those who boycott their jobs to come to a demonstration that day across from the Knesset.

Buhbut said that the public would not be received in local authority offices on Monday and garbage wouldn't be collected. Parking inspectors, however, will work as usual.

The local authorities issued their own list of demands, including more support for local government, particularly in the periphery. But it also made housing demands, including the construction of public housing, incentives to contractors to build in outlying communities and urban renewal plans.

Eini called on Netanyahu to join with him and other economic leaders "to solve the problem of the middle class, and to show young couples and students that there's hope."

He dismissed the proposals Netanyahu has announced to solve the housing crisis as "off the cuff."

Legal sources said that Eini cannot call a general strike because the Histadrut can only initiate labor action over issues relating to wages and work conditions.

But a senior Histadrut official said that "with a little flexible thinking, the Histadrut could call a work dispute and then a strike over 'harmful work conditions.' Those employed under harmful conditions can't buy a home and can't pay for products that keep getting more expensive. Thus the wage issue is indeed connected to the fight for housing and price restraints."

Stav Sapir, one of the leaders of the housing protests, said the Histadrut would be integrated into the protest but would not lead it.

"No establishment body can step in to lead this protest," she said. "There are many who wanted to; from the first day we were getting proposals from official institutions that wanted to take over. But the people are having their say, and no one is going to take that away from them."

National Student Association chairman Itzik Shmuli welcomed the Histadrut's participation.

"Its joining might put pressure on the government to propose housing solutions for everyone, not just for students," Shmuli said.

In addition to the demonstrations and road-blocking that have been going on daily, protest organizers are planning to hold five marches on Saturday night, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva, Haifa and Nazareth. Each will end in a mass assembly. Organizers expect tens of thousands of people from all over the country to participate.

Meanwhile, the "tent city" along Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard is expanding every night. Wednesday, nearly a kilometer of the street, from Habima Square to Bezalel Yaffe Street, was packed tightly with tents. Workshops and performances are held there daily.

Some 25 tent cities have been set up all over the country, with several Arab towns in the north expected to join the campaign soon.

A demonstration is planned today in Rehovot, in which housing activists will join with protesting doctors from Kaplan Hospital.

 

Nir Hasson, Eli Ashkenazi and Yanir Yagna contributed to this report