The Bottom Line / Bank Strikes Are a Bad Move

The works committees of the large banks on Thursday decided to go on strike and to disrupt the activities of the banking system because of the dismissal agreement signed at Bank Hapoalim. This is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

If indeed the banks are on strike, the management of Bank Hapoalim will celebrate. The disgruntled clients of Bank Leumi, Israel Discount Bank and the First International Bank will be tempted to move over to a bank that shows that its management is serious and treats its workers fairly - and which is open as well.

But it seems that the representatives of Leumi and Discount simply do not care about the bank where they work. They apparently think it is some kind of government office that runs on a budget and that therefore there is no connection between the bank's profitability and their monthly wages. Or perhaps they have destructive urges, or an excess of power (made possible by the bank management) that turns them into irrational people who are prepared to cut their own noses off.

Riki Bachar, the chairman of the Discount workers' committee, is living in a dream world. He says there is "no excess manpower" at the bank, at a time when every child can tell you that Discount should cut its staff by 20 percent.

Louie Roth, the head of the Leumi committee, is also enjoying tearing his work place to pieces. What are they waiting for? For a situation where their banks begin losing money and then they will not be able to get increased severance pay and an early retirement?

Both of them, together with Histadrut head Amir Peretz, suffered a double defeat in the regional labor court when none of their claims was accepted, neither on the subject of the dismissals agreement nor on the status of the Bank Hapoalim committee.

But instead of giving up, the three of them decided to use brute force and to declare a strike. Maybe they are better at that. Now what does this resemble? A gangster who has lost in court but who, on leaving the courtroom, grabs the winner on the stairs and threatens: Forget this trial, pay up now and nothing bad will happen to you.

When the Histadrut headed by Haim Ramon and Amir Peretz fired 3,000 people, they did not even dream of paying them what Bank Hapoalim is giving its workers who are being dismissed today.

The retirement age in the bank was brought down to 55, so that of the 900 who are leaving, 360 people will go on early pension based on a relatively high salary and on a calculation as if they had already reached the age of 65 - a significant benefit which the kindly Peretz did not think of giving his dismissed workers.

The managements of Leumi and Discount cannot be called blameless. They cannot continue with a situation where the workers' committee is in effect running the bank, opening and closing it at will.

The managements have to begin running the banks as if they were private banks and not as if they were government banks. They have to fight against the strike and to take efficiency measures if they want to compete with Bank Hapoalim. They no doubt still remember the frightening scenario painted by the Governor of the Bank of Israel, David Klein, with regard to the difficult future that will face our banking system in a shrinking economy.