Port Workers Joining Likud-Beiteinu to Sink Planned Reform

Target is Transportation Minister Katz, who vowed to continue with reform plans including building new ports.

Unions fighting port reform are employing a backdoor strategy to block the government’s plans by recruiting members and their families to local branches of the ruling Likud-Beiteinu party.

At Haifa Port the unions have signed up about 1,200 new members, according to sources close to the campaign. Their main target is Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, a Likud member who is leading the drive to create privately operated ports adjacent to the state-owned facilities in Haifa and Ashdod. Unions fear the competition will cost them jobs and pay.

The port workers’ foray into politics comes as negotiations with organized labor over the plans for the private ports have reached an impasse. A hearing with the various players in the dispute is scheduled at the National Labor Court on Monday. The session was prompted by a request from the Histadrut labor federation for court approval of a permit to strike.

The membership drive has been assisted by two prominent political figures in the north, TheMarker has learned. One is the chairman of the Likud branch in Haifa, Shimshon Ido, who is also a member of the Haifa City Council. The other, Yaron Mazuz, is a member of the City Council in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin.

At Ashdod port, union strongman Alon Hassan has announced his own plan to sign up port workers in the city as Likud members, even though he is a member of the opposition Labor Party and had recruited dozens of union members to join Labor before the party’s most recent primary election.

“I have news for Alon Hassan and his friends,” Katz shot back on his own Facebook page. “The reforms will proceed and the new ports will be built with full force. If [it’s a choice between] the public or Hassan, I would choose the public.”

Hassan was also an opponent of Shelly Yacimovich before she was defeated as Labor Party leader by Isaac Herzog last November. Hassan’s relations with Yacimovich soured after she publicly took him to task over disclosures of his alleged conflicts of interest, which arose from dealings with companies operating at the port with which Hassan had a personal connection.

Among the Likud figures whom the port workers are inclined to support are Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom and MK Miri Regev, said a port worker who asked not to be identified. About six months ago, Shalom came out publicly in support of the port workers, while Regev toured the Haifa Port several months ago as a guest of the workers’ committee.

The port workers’ committees are also cultivating support beyond the ranks of the coalition parties. About a month ago, the Haifa Port workers’ committee hosted opposition Labor Party MK Itzik Shmuli on a visit. The workers’ committees have also put out feelers about hosting a visit by Herzog.

Ilya Melnikov