Whole Town Shutting Down Today in Solidarity With Pri Hagalil Workers

Workers at the Pri Hagalil food processing plant in Hatzor Haglilit burned tires at the entrance to the canning factory yesterday, in an escalation of the protest against the company's looming collapse.

Chanting "Bread and work," the protestors perhaps sought to influence deliberations in Haifa District Court today, on a request to place the company in receivership.

About 50 of the plant's workers barricaded themselves inside the plant yesterday. The Histadrut labor federation and unionized employees fear that if the request is granted, they will lose their social benefits at the very least, and that in the worst-case scenario the facility will be closed down.

Some of the workers are planning to demonstrate outside the court.

Meanwhile, Hatzor Haglilit Local Council head Shimon Suissa announced that the town will shut down for today in solidarity with the beleaguered local employer. "The schools in the community will be closed; everyone has joined the fight," Suissa said yesterday. "The plant's closure would mean 30% unemployment in Hatzor," he said. "Someone in Jerusalem must wake up."

At a noon meeting yesterday, Pri Hagalil workers decided to prevent representatives from Bank Leumi and Israel Discount Bank, which are requesting that a receiver be appointed, from entering the premises.

Workers view today's court decision - granting the receivership request or giving another chance to selling the company as a going concern - as a "life or death judgment," as local union head Moti Haziza termed it.

"On the outside I project power to the workers, but at night I cry," Haziza said yesterday.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, Eli Yishai, came to the plant yesterday to visit the workers and called for keeping the factory open.

"The plant must be helped," Yishai told them. "Beyond the enormous pain of workers who will lose their livelihoods, it's cheaper for the state to keep the factory open, otherwise it will have to pay unemployment allowances. Closing the factory would affect many more people, such as the farmers. About 1,000 additional people would be hurt," Yishai said. Workers surrounded Yishai, imploring him to help. "I'm a dead man walking," one worker shouted.

There are three married couples who work at Pri Galil. Yael Tal, 42, and her husband Ya'akov, 40, live in Hatzor Haglilit with their five children. Their joint monthly salary comes to about NIS 7,000. Yael works the 7 A.M.-3 P.M. shift, Ya'akov begins his job when she leaves for home. "We live as a couple only on the weekends, in effect," Ya'akov said. "It's not really a normal life but nevertheless we want the source of our livelihood to remain." Yael says their 16-year-old son is anxious about their future. "He asks, 'what's happening?' He yells at his sister when she asks us to buy her things. It's eating me up inside," Yael said.