The Bottom Line / Fat-cat Union

During last Wednesday's broadcast of the television news magazine 'Fact', Tali Shemesh's important short documentary film 'White Gold, Black Labor' was screened.

During last Wednesday's broadcast of the television news magazine "Fact", Tali Shemesh's important short documentary film "White Gold, Black Labor" was screened. The movie juxtaposed two classes: the subcontract employees at the Dead Sea Works, completely disenfranchised, earning pennies for backbreaking labor, and then the well-rewarded "Generation A" workers, with high salaries and fancy perks.

The movie's producers created the impression that the subcontractors' poor situation is the result of the factory's privatization, after it was first sold to Shaoul Eisenberg and later to the Ofer family. However, appealing and popular this sounds, that is not the reason.

There were subcontract employees in the days of state stewardship as well, and every employer tries to hire labor at the lowest cost possible. But a free market isn't slavery. In a free market, workers are entitled to organize. Against a single huge employer, workers must organize; otherwise their fate is hard labor at minute wages.

Dead Sea is virtually a monopsony. For all practical purposes, it is the only buyer of labor in Dimona, which is entirely dependent on the factory. Dimona has no alternative factories of similar scope. So across the bargaining table from a monopsony, a monopoly, must sit a union that represents all the workers. The result would be a fair division between wages and profits, derived from negotiations according to the rules of the game.

The sides know they cannot fight endlessly. If the workers strike, closing the factory for too long, it loses foreign markets and clients and cannot pay its workers. Management also understands it must divide the pie with the workers, otherwise bitterness rises, a strike becomes inevitable and profits fall.

So the critical spotlight should shine brightly on the fat-cat union leader of "Generation A" who agrees to the subcontractors' slavery. "Generation A" essentially sacrificed the subcontract employees on its own altar. It reached an immoral agreement with the factories owners, that "Generation A" will keep getting huge quantities of cream. While, under the same roof, the subcontract employees work in slave conditions, for starvation salaries, at the hardest labor. This is how the factory owners get what they want: the lowest possible average wage at the plant.

But if "Generation A" were to show some solidarity, it would unionize the subcontract employees under its own wing, making a new wage agreement with management that would give it less, but the relatively few subcontractors would get a lot more - so the plant's average wage cost wouldn't change by much.

Histadrut labor federation chair Amir Peretz should also feel uncomfortable. The labor union supports "Generation A," from which it collects membership dues. So it is also party to sacrificing the subcontract employees. But what's new? The Histadrut has protected the strong since the dawn of time.