The Contractors Won

To change this system it is not enough to have specific, limited agreements: What is needed instead is political will.

Test yourselves: Do you live under constant economic pressure? Does every purchase seem like a luxury to you? Do you constantly struggle with temptation? Are you so worried about urgent needs that you are unable to save? Do you cope successfully with decisions related to shopping, but fail when it comes to decisions about loans and paying bills? Is every financial mistake of yours likely to have a severe effect on your economic situation?

Then you are poor.

Yes, yes: Even if from the numerical point of view, your salary is above the poverty line, you are poor. More and more people are living in a situation of economic distress - a situation in which we aren't able to maintain our standard of living. A situation as a result of which we conduct our affairs wrongly and make our situation worse. Because poverty is a psychological situation, as Prof. Eldar Shafir of Princeton University explains, and that is the situation into which the state has led us. This is what makes us poor. Not a lack of wisdom or skill, and also not laziness.

It is against the backdrop of this erudite explanation (published in the Hebrew edition of TheMarker's weekend magazine ) that the achievements of the strike that ended on Sunday must be seen. It is true that the situation of quite a few subcontracted workers will now improve, even if only a little bit, but this is far from constituting a "historical correction," as the finance minister termed it. Raising monthly salaries to NIS 4,500 would have happened anyway in the coming year, when the minimum wage is updated, but no one will be compensated for all the years of work and service without social benefits and seniority being taken into account. But above all, the major aims of the strike - to enable subcontract workers to be directly employed and to stop the system of contractors who bring in workers - was not achieved.

The failure of the efforts to bring about an end to employment through contractors is bad news not only for the "weak workers," but for increasing numbers of workers in the liberal professions: educated and talented people who are not lazy and not dumb, and who are being employed more and more via contractors, in various ways.

By allowing this form of employment to continue to exist and supposedly improving its conditions, the big strike strengthened the hand of those who benefit from it, and left each and every one of us subjected to increasing chances of being left to their mercies.

This is not some prophesy of doom. Already now there are teachers, nurses, lawyers, journalists and others who are subcontracted to one degree or another. It is true that equalizing their conditions with those of regular employees is supposed to be an incentive to hiring subcontracted workers directly, but there is no guarantee that this will happen. There are always new ways of circumventing the arrangements reached.

"We say to the weak workers: 'Whoever goes to work, and makes an effort, and works, will benefit. It is worth making the effort, it is worth going out to work.'" Just how untrue these words of the finance minister are, the workers know from their own experience. Not only the weak ones among them, but also the masses of the middle class, who demonstrated during the summer and who can answer all the above-mentioned questions in the affirmative. They too are becoming more and more numerous and poor all the time.

True, the system of strong unions is sometimes exploited for the wrong purposes. True, Israel is not the only country in the world facing these problems. But as usual, Israel is best at exploiting workers and, with growing gaps between the rich and the rest, they are becoming ever more impoverished.

In neo-liberal and hyper-centralized Israel where wealth and the means of production are concentrated in so few hands, a job is still seen today as a favor that those few offer employees, instead of as part of a joint effort in which everyone does her or his best to contribute both to the company and to society, and receives appropriate remuneration for it.

To change this system it is not enough to have specific, limited agreements: What is needed instead is political will. What is needed is a vision of a new system of employment that brings benefit and respect to all who are partners to it.

It was enough to hear Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz at the press conference Sunday, speaking about the "weak workers" instead of to them. As if they were not his target audience - like when one speaks speaks about children, or the handicapped or the elderly, accompanied by someone else - to understand that he was not speaking to us, as usual, but rather to those he cares about, high above our heads.

Read this article in Hebrew