Aiming for Unions but Shooting Themselves in the Foot

The Israeli left is blaming tycoons and 'strong unions' for current economic woes. But unions are actually the last example of our national solidarity.

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

You probably won't find any warning from Israel's left about the danger of "Haredophobia" (hatred of ultra-Orthodox Jews) since the "universal military service" campaign began in 1997. Anyway, it's too late now to send out such warnings. For the first time in Israeli history, the white knight of the bourgeoisie, Yair Lapid, mounted on the Haredi horse, has attained homogeneous rule for the middle class. Can the finance minister collect the entire pile of casino chips? Not really. It's not a good idea to contend with capitalism merely with the help of an image.

Capitalism is a structure. It continually spreads, crushing all resistance, disintegrating all social and organizational cells sometimes in the name of progress, sometimes in the name of democracy, sometimes for the sake of the economy. It cannot be effectively represented except through graphs, tables or statistics. This is the reason for the effortless emergence of the counter-incitement from the left. How is the struggle conducted? With a picture of an Israeli tycoon like Nochi Dankner or Yitzhak Tshuva.

However, when the Israeli left demonstrates, it should first find out from the ranters-and-ravers in the media advocating for a "war against the tycoons" who the other enemies of a properly operating economy are.

Right now, "strong unions" are the enemy, just as the Haredim were in the past. As was the case with the Haredim, the left simply does not know how to effectively wage its struggle. When it's not in power, the left is too embarrassed to offer any opposition.

Who are the unions? What is the average salary of the workers they represent? Are these unions stronger than academic faculty members, for instance? Are the advanced-training funds that union members invest in bigger than those of the senior professors? Does tenure "inflict damage on the economy"? Or is it possible that "strong unions" are just another name, behind which lurks a hatred for those who "don't deserve to earn so much money" because they are only Sephardi Jews?

The present offensive began with the Open Skies agreement between Israel and the European Union that was recently approved by the government, and it is continuing with plans to privatize the nation's seaports. After the seaports' privatization, the next step will be to dismantle the country's largest general labor union, the Histadrut labor federation.

This week, in TheMarker, Moti Bassok and Haim Bior reported that the government is planning to eliminate the Israel National Labor Court and to prohibit strikes by the Israel Electric Corporation, the Mekorot water company, the seaports and the Israel Airports Authority. Moreover, the government wants "to make it harder to establish new trade unions and seeks to introduce additional changes in Israel's 'labor constitution.'" The last thing we need right now is a feud between Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich and Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini. That is a very good reason for demonstrating on May 1.

Granted, Eini really screwed the trade union of Israel Railways workers and abandoned the social workers. However, like Lapid, Eini is only a name. It is not just that the living conditions of Histadrut members depend on this labor federation; the remnants of the fabric of Israeli democracy also depend on it. The Histadrut is the last bastion standing in the way of Capital, which dissolves everything in its path. It is useful here to remember the deterioration of the health services system.

Just before the Clalit health maintenance organization became privatized, I wrote in Haaretz's weekend supplement, "If you are a salaried employee, you are, with each passing day, gradually losing all the various agents and agencies separating you from the state. ... There are masses of individuals but no single trade union that can protect them. Even the kind of protection that our forlorn Histadrut labor federation provides is better than Aharon Fogel" (February 4, 1994). Fogel, who, at the time, was the director general of the Finance Ministry, today is chairperson of the board of directors of both Ness Technologies and Migdal Insurance. But he is also just a name.

The welfare state is dying. The public health care system is disintegrating. Quietly disintegrating. Two weeks ago, Clalit normalized its own private medical service and you heard very little about it. From time to time, you hear about the situation of cashiers in Mega supermarkets or some other retail chain, but these are only the final quiverings of the dying body of Israeli society that is trampling its own frameworks of solidarity. Since the Knesset passed the National Health Insurance Law in 1994, wages of the country's nurses suffered serious attrition compared to both the national minimum wage and the average wage in the economy. Is this information boring? Perhaps. But, nevertheless, it is important to learn such facts.

The social-justice protests of the summer of 2011 brought Lapid and Economics and Trade Minister and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett to power. There is no need to deny it anymore. The demonstrators waved their political ignorance like a flag. The prospects for collaboration with the trade unions were trampled upon, in the name of revolutionary purity and hubris. If the trade unions are destroyed, the very little that remains in our hands will also vanish.

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