A False Social-welfare Advocate

Tnuva workers will not earn more because the price of cottage cheese is excessive; so why is Shelly Yachimovich defending the cartelistic owners of Tnuva, Strauss and Tara?

Despite his earlier promises, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided not to decide. Granted, he listened to the Kedmi Committee's recommendations for reforming the dairy market, but then he announced he would "hold another discussion." Who knows, maybe by the time that other discussion takes place, the whole issue would have disappeared from the public agenda. And then he'll be able to continue not deciding.

Before the first discussion, Netanyahu told me grandiloquently that "the dairy market is cartelistic, it has an archaic structure, and I will make changes to it." But who said the changes have to happen right now? Netanyahu even added that he "plans to open the dairy products market to imports in order to create competition." But what's wrong with talking loftily without actually doing anything?

Most Knesset members were very disappointed by Netanyahu's lack of action. The public, too, feels cheated. Granted, the price of cottage cheese has gone down, but the prices of cheese, butter, sour cream, yogurt and milk continue to be much higher than they are in Europe or the United States.

But one Knesset member was very happy with Netanyahu's inaction. In her view, dairy product prices are comfortable and correct. And she is an MK who misleading describes herself as a "social-welfare advocate."

On her blog, she wrote that she doesn't support the public protest against the price of cottage cheese because the current price enables "workers, farmers and manufacturers to earn a dignified living." And therefore, it shouldn't be lowered.

Just look where populism, lack of knowledge and a desire to butter up the big unions and wealthy industrialists can take you: The entire public, including people who earn the minimum wage, has to pay NIS 7.3 for a container of cottage cheese, and a similarly excessive price for white cheese, so that a few hundred dairy farmers can continue to be inefficient but still earn a lot of money at the expense of the citizenry as a whole. Similarly, we must continue to pay NIS 7.3 for our cottage cheese so that a few hundred Tnuva employees can earn higher wages.

What an incredible lack of understanding it takes to say this. After all, Tnuva workers won't earn more because the price of cottage cheese is excessive; they'll earn approximately what the market for workers of their sort dictates. Instead, the entire cartelistic surplus profit will be pocketed by the owners of Tnuva, Strauss and Tara. They would never dream of sharing this profit with the workers. But they will give themselves and their senior executives huge salaries worth millions of shekels. So why is Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich defending them?

When Yachimovich defends the industrialists, she is essentially trying to court Manufacturers Association President Shraga Brosh and his colleagues. When she defends Tnuva, she is seeking to butter up the economy's biggest unions, who have representatives, power bases and influence in the Labor Party's Central Committee. They will affect the outcome of Labor's upcoming leadership primary.

The general public, in contrast, is amorphous. It has no power. It doesn't even know that Yachimovich is sacrificing it on the altar of her personal interests.

And it's not just lower dairy prices to which Yachimovich objects. She also opposes lowering the price of other products. For instance, she writes, she opposes lowering the price of chicken. She objects to the "chicken for a shekel" deal offered by the Rami Levy supermarket chain because, she says, it hurts farmers and supermarket employees.

In other words, she would rather have Levy sell chicken for NIS 20 per kilogram so that the farmers and workers will earn more. It seems she doesn't understand that if Levy sells his chicken for a high price, he - and not the farmers or workers - will pocket the bulk of the profits.

But let's even assume that the farmers and workers would receive another few pennies from Levy. What will become of those millions of citizens who must now pay NIS 20 per kilogram? What will happen to their standard of living? What about those who, at NIS 20 per kilogram, won't be able to afford to buy chicken at all? Don't these anonymous citizens deserve to have their salaries be able to buy more?

Finally, Yachimovich advises against allowing imports of dairy products. In other words, we should all continue to pay the extortionate prices set by Tnuva, Strauss, Supersol and Co-Op.

And on this point, Netanyahu has suddenly turned into her ally. Admittedly, he speaks in favor of imports, but he isn't doing anything. And in practice, he is thereby implementing the anti-social policies of Ms. Social Welfare.