Histadrut Calls for General Strike for Wednesday

The Histadrut has called for a general strike to begin next Wednesday, in the wake of the stalemate in talks with the Finance Ministry on its economic plan. The strike will be launched unless there is a breakthrough in the interim.

Employees of the local authorities let up on their strike Friday, enabling garbage collectors and nursery school teachers' assistants to resume work. However, inspectors did not issue parking tickets and municipal offices remained closed to the public. Cabinet ministries and affiliated bodies, like the National Insurance Institute and the Employment Service, remained closed.

Studies in schools and nursery schools began one hour late Friday morning, as teachers continued to protest the drastic cut in this year's education budget, which will lead to the firing of close to 7,000 educators.

The chairman of the clerks', administrative and service workers' association, Leon Morozovsky, said the decision for some workers to let up in the strike was made "to give the talks between the Histadrut and the treasury another chance." Another reason was to give the public a respite before the situation intensifies next week.

The strike will encompass cabinet ministries, local authorities, government corporations such as Mekorot and the military industries, and statutory agencies like the airport, rail and postal authorities, as well as private businesses that have organized workers. The large banks and the stock market will also join in.

At the end of Thursday's meeting with Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Histadrut chairman MK Amir Peretz said he objected to firing workers and slashing the civil servants' wages, especially since these moves are to be implemented by legislation which will in fact abolish the existing collective wage agreements.

Despite the impasse in the talks, the negotiations between the sides will continue in the next few days, following the cabinet's decision not to present the economic plan to the Knesset for its first reading next Monday, but rather to do so a week later.

The president of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce, Uriel Lynn, on Thursday called on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to issue emergency rulings that will ensure the operation of various vital services.

"We are in an economic emergency," said Lynn. "The economy is in one of the worst recessions it has ever known. An immediate implementation of the treasury's economic plan is necessary to prevent further deterioration."

Manufacturers Association president Oded Tirah said the strikes that began last Sunday has caused NIS 400 million in damages so far - the bulk of this due to the fact that customs workers are not releasing merchandise from air and sea ports. Also, factories whose raw materials got stuck in ports due to the strike, have begun to fire workers, he said.

Public health nurses Thursday closed down 520 mother-and-child clinics, in protest of the decision to annex them to health maintenance organizations. Clinics innoculizing people traveling abroad have also been closed.