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Monday, November 07, 2011

Good grief: Strike on for four hours

It's perhaps indicative of the way strikes work in this country that when I Googled "Israel, picket lines" for an image, all that popped up were anti-Israel demonstrations abroad. In fact, there are almost no picket lines here for general strikes, because most people just stay home. When I worked in the government, I worked for an agency that was full of capitalists, and on principle we came to work and answered the phones whenever there was a strike.

In the end, the court ruled that they can strike, but only for four hours, from 6:00 to 10:00 am. The problem is that by the time they decided that - sometime after I turned off the radio and went to synagogue at 5:25 am - the damage had been done. Let me give you an idea: Mrs. Carl's father, who left for a trip abroad today, had to be at the airport four hours before flight time (instead of the usual two) so that they could send his flight early before the airport closed at 8:00. (All of the morning flights left this morning. For those of you who are wondering what happens if you're on your way here if a strike is declared, they will either send you back or land you in Cyprus and hold you there until the strike is over). Mrs. Carl, who needed to be in a meeting outside Jerusalem this morning, rented a car. One of Carl's offspring, who shall remain nameless, decided to take the day off from school because 'they' already promised a strike. But at least the unions get the cathartic release of striking, and the head of the Histadrut can point to his great 'accomplishment' in the upcoming Histadrut elections.
After an all-night hearing, the National Labor Court finally issued a temporary order at 6 a.m. Monday morning restricting the general strike planned for Monday to just four hours.

According to the court ruling, the strike is permitted to go ahead from 6 a.m. through 10 a.m. but intensive court-supervised negotiations between the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry will continue.


The Histadrut said in a statement after the meeting that it would “not continue to conduct negotiations unless the finance minister changed his stance” on the employment status of contract workers.

The Histadrut wants more than 100,000 cleaners, guards and maintenance staff servicing the public sector as contract workers to be moved into direct employment. Steinitz and Finance Ministry officials say they support improving the salaries and work conditions of contract workers, but the Histadrut says this is not enough.

The strike would cost the economy around NIS 400 million a day, Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association and chairman of the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations, told Channel 2 News.
If I sounds contemptuous, it's because I am. There are no strike votes here. When there is a strike against the public sector (which still employs about 40% of the workforce), it's almost always against the entire public sector. The joke here is that half the country is on strike, and the other half sits and watches them.

But to give you some idea what kind of imbalances this kind of labor system causes to the country, when I was in yeshiva here in the late '70's the airport baggage handlers went on strike (they often do so by themselves, as do the airport customs inspectors - you do NOT want to be in the airport when that happens). My father, who was here visiting at the time, read the paper and said quite authoritatively (somehow, he knew these things) that Ben Gurion Airport had more ground workers than United Airlines - then the largest airline in the US - had... in the entire United States.

Enough said.

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