Strike Fails to Win Public Support

Do you support the economic plan?How will the plan personally affect youDo you support the strike?Who's to blame for the condition of the economy?Peretz's performance as Histadrut chairmanNetanyahu's performance as finance minister

Just 32 percent of the public support the Histadrut's general strike, while 53 percent are opposed, according to a survey conducted by Haaretz.

Despite all efforts by Histadrut labor federation chairman Amir Peretz to market the strike to the public, the numerous posters and advertisements denouncing terrible Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a general feeling of support for the action, the survey finds that, in fact, the majority of the public is opposed to the strike.

One possible reason for this result is due to the structure of the economy - the private business sector makes up two-thirds of the economy, while just a third is in public hands. This means that opponents of the strike have a natural advantage due to their sheer size. Private sector workers whose salaries have been eroded over the last two years and whose friends and colleagues have been laid off do not have much compassion for public sector employees who have been barely affected and enjoy unconditional tenure and a salary that just grows.

Anger for the public sector grows even further when private sector workers see the damage caused to the factories or businesses where they work, and there is even less patience for the big monopolies - the Israel Electric Corporation, Bezeq, the Mekorot water company, the Ports Authority and the Israel Airports Authority, whose senior employees enjoy benefits and working conditions which the private sector can only dream about.

The demonstration opposite the Haifa port yesterday organized by the heads of the business sector - the president of the Manufacturers' Association of Israel, Oded Tyrah, and the president of the Israeli Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Uriel Lynn - that included trucks carrying signs denouncing Peretz for the damage he has wrought unto the economy, heralds the beginning of a new battle: workers versus workers, private sector against public sector.

As expected, the survey shows that those on the right are more opposed to the strike, while those on the left are equally divided illustrating that Peretz apparently missed something in his search to become the nation's tribune.

As for the government's economic austerity plan, most people are opposed to it (52 percent), while just 26 percent back it. In addition, only 37 percent of the respondents thought the plan is vital for the economy.

It is good that we live in a representative democracy where the public puts the power in the hands of the government and the treasury, since if it were left up to referenda, nothing would ever get done and the economy would sink into even further disarray. It is very hard to convince the public of the need for cuts and belt-tightening. That is why representative democracy was invented, which makes it possible to get things done - even things that are not so popular.

Some 18 percent surveyed believe that that plan will not affected them at all. However, they are wrong - everyone will be affected by the plan, even if not directly. The strike has already affected everyone, and the budget cuts will affect everyone as well.

Fourteen percent of the respondents said they are familiar with the plan. It is a good thing they were not wired up to a polygraph, since the needle probably would have broken. To be quite familiar with the plan, one has to read all 173 of its pages, and I do not know anyone who has done this - even the ministers and MKs who voted on it Wednesday.

Peretz beat Netanyahu in the popularity contest - 38 percent think that Peretz has performed well, while 26 percent think that Netanyahu is doing a good job. This does not mean that Peretz is better at public relations, but shows that he has an easier case to put forward. It is far easier to talk about the plight of pensioners and starving individuals, than to explain that we must now make sacrifices for the future. Perhaps Netanyahu is paying the price for the public's lack of trust in him dating back to when he was prime minister.

The public is also disappointed in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - 54 percent of those asked believe that Sharon has not been adequately involved. They expect some sort of miracle: the prime minister, for example, calls in Peretz, and after a two-hour meeting, the entire threat of stoppages and strikes disappears in a puff of white smoke.

The truth is though that should Sharon summon Peretz, he would set off two processes. First, he would turn his finance minister into a lame duck: everyone will know there is no point in finalizing anything with Netanyahu when they can get more from Sharon. Second, and far worse, in such meetings, the prime minister usually caves into the Histadrut chief in order to "put an end to the suffering." Such concessions spell disaster for the economy, since key sections of the plan are put on hold, structural changes are never made, and there is no chance for the economy to climb out of the deep hole in which it has fallen. Then, six months later, it become clear to everyone that a new economic plan is needed, under even tougher circumstances.

It is, therefore, far better that 54 percent of the public be disappointed in Sharon and that the prime minister stays out of it. Let him keep quiet and let Netanyahu lead, backing him up from behind.

The survey was based on a representative sample of the adult Israeli public. It was carried out for Haaretz by the Dialogue Institute, overseen by Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University.