March of the Million - Moti Milrod - 3.9.2011
'March of the Million' rally in Tel Aviv, Sept. 3, 2011. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Moti Milrod
Flights were delayed at Ben Gurion airport due to general strike, Feb. 8, 2012. Photo by Moti Milrod

No one could have done a better job of describing the mysterious agreement between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut labor federation over the general strike than Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz himself.

"We have reached an agreement because both of us want to go home," he said, joking around with reporters. "If it had continued like this for another two weeks, Ofer wouldn't be getting married and I would be getting divorced."

Now, he added, both he and Ofer Eini, the Histadrut chairman, can sleep peacefully.

You don't need to be a genius to realize that when Steinitz and Eini (and, possibly even more importantly, Shraga Brosh, who heads the Manufacturers Association of Israel ) are happy, the workers need to check extra-carefully to find out who's paying the price.

And when Steinitz and Eini go to sleep instead of going head-to-head on the rights of subcontracted workers - an issue depicted as the most serious problem in Israel's workforce - those workers must know they're not going to be the ones sleeping all that peacefully. Not in the next three years at least, during which time the Histadrut has pledged to refrain from making wage demands on behalf of those outsourced workers.

Sure, it seems like the Histadrut won some nice victories that will improve the working conditions of subcontracted workers - an increase in the minimum wage, a provision that subcontracted public-sector workers will have the same working conditions as their non-outsourced counterparts, pension that accumulates from the first working day, holiday gifts, and so on. But none of these victories cancel out the arrangement that allows employers, and primarily the state, to continue to employ subcontracted workers.

These lovely victories actually make this broken and destructive system even more entrenched. And so, as Steinitz and Eini celebrate, Israel will continue to be No. 1 in the world in employing subcontracted workers - a dubious honor indeed.

Eini did note that victory is incomplete, but said it was thanks to the Histadrut that the issue of subcontracted workers was even put on the public agenda. But the truth is that Israelis have been highly familiar with this problem for a long time, and it's hard to find anyone who would oppose a fight against outsourcing workers. It actually looks like Eini jumped on the bandwagon that was let loose in the streets during the summer's social protests.

The large and intimidating general strike, which turned into a barely perceptible mini-strike, has given rise to a new reality, one that has done well by some subcontracted workers but has also whitewashed the practice of using such workers in the first place.

Anyone who wants to congratulate Eini and Steinitz on saving their respective marriages is welcome to do so.

Read this article in Hebrew