Hard Look / Shades of Disgruntlement, and the Real Thing at Polgat

On Sunday, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange management decided yet again to shorten the trading day, ending it at 14:15 instead of 17:30.

On Sunday, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange management decided yet again to shorten the trading day, ending it at 14:15 instead of 17:30. Last week, the local exchange also closed early each day, not because investors had had enough of red screens, but because the Histadrut labor federation had declared a labor dispute at the TASE, at the behest of the exchange's workers.

The workers are waging their battle against management with some adroitness. It isn't as though they were burning tires or even share certificates, and there was no obvious reason for management to truncate the sessions. But each morning labor leader Yitzhak Lerner circulated a paper, advising the workers that later in the day the union might call on them to abandon their posts.

The opacity is deliberate: the workers see it as their main weapon against management. TASE chief executive Ester Levanon can't take the chance. Every day she has no choice but to end the trading day early.

What do the workers want? Primarily, they are demanding that 80 people, including computer system workers and economic analysts, be hired directly by the TASE company, instead of working as subcontractors. Levanon doesn't want to know, pointing out that these people are engaged in ad-hoc projects and there is no economic justification for employing them full time all year.

The workers are also demanding, though they're trying to downplay this, a 13.8% raise by 2009 (when the negotiations began, the union representative was asking for a 4.5% raise, by the way). Management has said it will pay no more than 5.8% and will adopt differential advancement based on merit, adding 5% a year.

That's all, she wrote, yet this labor dispute has been the longest the TASE has known for a decade. Yet the workers behind it aren't exactly subsisting on bread and water.

Not a few gross between NIS 20,000 to NIS 24,000 a month, more than most of their colleagues at say the banks or the Israel Electric Corporation. The fact that the TASE is a monopoly undoubtedly helps the workers in their battle against management.

Last month the managers and signatories at Discount Bank waged a similar battle, and again, one can't quite see them scrabbling to make do with pitiful pay. That group, which also received the Histadrut's backing, wrested pay hikes between 7% to 15% and some will get a bonus, too. Moving onto the First International Bank of Israel (Beinleumi), the clerical union is also rattling its sabers.

While these stock market and banking sector workers lose no opportunity to flex their muscles in order to improve their already not-mean pay, we move onto another sector entirely, where utter silence has descended: industrial workers.

Wait, actually last week something did happen. The 300 workers at Polgat's Kiryat Gat plant went on strike, for a bit, and demonstrated by the plant. In their case, they were not striking over pay, though such a battle might have been appropriate. The average pay of a Polgat worker barely reaches the lunch budget of a finance-sector employee.

But no, the Polgat workers weren't demanding more pay. They were in no position to table such demands. All they wanted was to assure themselves of proper compensation when the plant closes down and shuts them out in a month's time.

In industry in general, and in textiles, woodworking and metals in particular, workers strike only when their very livelihood is at stake. If there was a justified labor dispute in the last year or two, it was that of the Polgat workers.