The Great Pretenders II

Both Amir Peretz and Haim Katz, members of the One Nation faction, can easily compete with Shas for hypocrisy and cheap popularism.

The first installment of "The great pretenders" dealt with Shas and this second part will be devoted to the One Nation faction, which has two members of Knesset - Amir Peretz and Haim Katz. Both can easily compete with Shas for hypocrisy and cheap populism.

l Layoffs. Amir Peretz yesterday charged the finance minister with becoming "the national sacker" because he wishes to postpone implementing an amendment to the manpower agencies bill by several years. The amendment, sponsored by Peretz, requires employers to hire manpower workers directly, with full rights, nine months after being employed from temp agencies. What Peretz fails to understand is that one can lead a horse to water, but cannot force it to drink. In other words, you cannot force employers to hire permanent workers they do not need.

The result is a long list of factories, banks, local authorities and government offices that have already announced the firing of thousands of manpower agency workers. But this does not stop Peretz from presenting himself as a champion of workers' rights. In fact, he is the one who should be dubbed "the national sacker".

l Minimum wage. Peretz has been trying for quite some time now to raise the minimum wage to $1,000 a month - a tempting-sounding proposal. But one of the reasons for the collapse of Bagir and similar factories in recent months is the 16 percent hike in minimum wages over the last two years. If Peretz had succeeded in raising the minimum wage further, yet more traditional industries would be forced to close down and thousands more workers would be unemployed. The minimum wage should be raised, but only as a result of negotiations with the employers, taking the state of the economy into account, and not as a result of populist legislation which causes more harm than good.

l Capital gains tax. All workers' leaders everywhere in the world want to tax capital and reduce taxes on labor. All except Peretz, that is. He will go down in history as the only workers' leader ever to prevent the capital and stock markets from being taxed. At the end of 2000 Peretz came to an agreement with Avraham Shochat, then finance minister, but minutes before the decisive Knesset vote he announced that he would vote against the tax reform. The reasons - an alliance with Shas and with big and rich workers' committees that do not want the stock market to be taxed.

l Training funds. In this struggle, Peretz represented just 15 percent of Israel's workers - the richer ones - employees in banks, the Electric Corporation, Bezeq, the ports, and so on. There are more than 2 million salaried employees in Israel, and only one million of them have training funds. Moreover, 300,000 of them (representing just 15 percent) enjoy 70 percent of the tax benefits given by the funds. Those are the people Peretz fought for, at the expense of the rank-and-file workers.

l The Ports' Authority strike. Peretz fought with all his might against operating the Jubilee port in Ashdod by a private franchise, despite the fact that not reforming the ports primarily hurts workers in traditional industries. The bill for all the inefficiency and scandalous prices at Israel's ports is paid by the wood, metal, chemical and textile industries that need to use the sea ports heavily. Their profits fall and the risk of factories closing down increases.

l Old age pensions. Throughout the negotiations between Peretz and Shochat over the formula for calculating old age pensions it became clear that Peretz was only looking out for the interests of the big workers' committees. He explicitly said "Bezeq's workers must approve the agreement" and once again the strong workers are those calling the shots at the expense of the weak.

l Haim Katz. MK Katz has sponsored a bill which would raise tax exemption on contributions to pension funds to five times the average monthly salary - NIS 35,000. Who earns such sums? Of course, the top employees of the big industries do - as in the Israel Aircraft Industries, from where Katz came.

In other words, we are dealing with a party whose leaders pretend to defend the weakest workers and the unemployed, but who in fact harm these groups while improving the conditions of the rich and powerful ones.