The Definitive Strike

Every union leader needs his definitive strike. If the leader of the umbrella Histadrut labor federation doesn't paralyze the county at least once, nobody will take him seriously.

Ofer Eini had his baptism by fire this week, and it went magnificently.

He shut down the nation to protest on behalf of truly weak workers. Specifically, 12,000 of them. People with families, who have not been paid for months on end, are a cause with whom everybody can sympathize.

Unlike his predecessor at the Histadrut, namely Amir Peretz, Ofer Eini did not halt work at the seaports, airport and ministries to fight the cause of big, powerful fat-cat guilds. Peretz had had a talent for strikes that were basically designed to kill any chance of reform at the ports and pension funds. This is not what Eini set out to do.

Eini went to war on behalf of little civil servants, paid very little to begin with, who simply had not been paid at all because the cities for which they work went broke. Nor had the government set aside their pension provisions.

There can be no better grounds to declare a strike that shouts of solidarity, and the public responded with warm-hearted support. Even the president of the Labor Tribunal, Steve Adler, was moved, and ordered the treasury to find a solution immediately and pay the workers yesterday.

Eini's strike brings him brownie points among the general public, and should lend him confidence in battles to come.  But he shouldn't let his success go to his head, and must remain aware of the facts.

The righteousness of the battle does not disguise the fact that the some of the cities in question had not kept their part of the bargain struck with government two years ago. They had not cut flab and fat as the agreement stipulated. They had not acted to increase collection of municipal tax (arnona).

The treasury will have to fork over the money to pay the withheld salaries on the spot. But unless the cities do their part, matters will revert to where they were before the strike in no time.

Meanwhile, back to Eini. If he becomes drunk on his success and starts emulating Peretz by shutting down the country to stop reforms designed to benefit the public at the expense of a single, amply paid, and powerful group of workers, he will lose that public support that he gained this week, and that matters so very much.

But actually, he can rest easy. The Finance Ministry under Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson seems disinclined to reform anything.