Israeli trade unionists striking for non-unionised workers’ rights shows way forward


 

Professor Alan Johnson is a Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM)

The Israeli TUC, the Histadrut, made a bold move this week. Bold not just for the fact that they organised a four day general strike that included all government ministries, local authorities, train, banks, stock exchange, airport, seaports and other public services.

HistadrutBold too for who they struck for.

Israel’s organized workers fought for the benefit of Israel’s unorganized, deprived contract workers, who earn less and receive fewer benefits than their directly employed colleagues. And on February 12, they won, mostly.

The global trade unions have heaped praise on the Histadrut. The International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) hailed the strike:

“Thousands of temporary workers will be directly employed and will get better wages. The victory will improve the situation of thousands of public sector workers across the country. The total number of agency workers amount to 300 to 400 thousand people.”

Because of the Histadrut’s militancy, thousands of insecure contract workers – tellers at banks, thousands of workers in production lines in industrial plants, thousands of chambermaids at hotels, couriers, warehouse workers and more – will now be absorbed into direct employment.

The deal struck with the Finance Ministry raised the subcontracted workers minimum monthly wage to NIS 4,500 and improved their working conditions.

The strike did not achieve everything, but from employer participation in workers’ savings to holiday gifts, and from larger employer participation in pensions’ savings to subsidized meals, it leaves thousands of contract workers better off.

In organized workplaces there will be an ‘equalization of conditions’ so that all contract workers will receive a huge improvement in their employment conditions, according to collective bargaining agreements.

For example, a cleaner in the supermarket chain Shufersal, employed by a contractor will receive all the conditions in the collective agreement of their contracted workers. It includes many rights, like an additional “month thirteen” salary; and now, if a contract worker is employed at the core of the workplace then after nine months the worker will be moved to direct employment.

The Histadrut has also abolished the “shoulder to shoulder” phenomenon in the public sector.

When contract workers are employed shoulder to shoulder, next to their directly employed friends in the same workplace in the same job, then after nine months of work a parity committee (including representatives of the Histadrut) will decide whether the employee should be absorbed.

If the worker is not absorbed, it is not allowed to bring a different contract worker in his/her place. In effect, this will end “shoulder to shoulder.”.

Social benefits will be equalized, the numbers of workplace inspectors increased, and the linkage to public sector wage agreements will mean significant wage improvement of cleaners and security workers in the public sector.

The deal has its critics. Stav Shapir, a social protest leader argued that:

‘The only way for a truly significant achievement is through direct employment of contract workers. As long as the employment system does not change, the situation will not change essentially.’

And Haaretz noted that:

‘only a relatively small number of these workers in the public sector will be hired directly.’

It is true that the Histadrut wanted 80,000 security guards and 60,000 cleaners transferred directly onto the payrolls of the government, local authorities, universities, hospitals and the rest of the public sector, and that will not happen.

However, the agreement secured for those workers an increased minimum wage of no less than NIS 4,500 a month and they will be included in any pay hikes given in the public sector.

Nonetheless, the big picture is that Histadrut has done what UK unions have struggled to do. It has put the issue of precarious workers right at the top of the public agenda, shutting down the country for four days in solidarity with the most vulnerable group in the Israeli labour market. From that we can learn.

The UK unions might learn three lessons.

First, social movements and trade unions can draw strength from each other.

It was the summer social protests, the largest (per capita) in the world, which transformed Israeli public opinion and put social and economic justice at the top of the national agenda. That new mood was the real driver behind the general strike.

Nehemia Shtrasler wrote in Haaretz:

‘Anyone who still claims that the summer protests didn’t achieve anything is wrong, big-time.’

A fight for equality and a levelling up, can be a powerful agenda for any working class movement seeking to sow back together the divisions that thirty years of neo-liberalism has created.

Second, there are powerful progressive forces within Israeli society standing for social democratic values. And they will be more than a match for those who threaten Israel’s democracy, especially if we support them rather than shun them.

Third, therefore, UK unions should be building links not breaking links with one of the most important sources of democratic renewal, the Histadrut.

As Eric Lee of LabourStart wrote puts it:

Unions outside of Israel who sometimes think about boycotting the Histadrut should instead be working closely with it, not only to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, but also to share experiences of struggles that are relevant to trade unionists everywhere – such as the fight against precarious labour.

See also:

Israel-Palestine in 2012Seph Brown, January 5th 2012

Look Left – Tories past and present battle to out-nasty each otherShamik Das, November 20th 2011

Building links not breaking links: Lessons from the Nablus ProjectProfessor Alan Johnson, November 20th 2011

UCU is actively alienating its Jewish membersAdam Langleben, June 4th 2011

Sunday’s violence on Israel’s borders represents new phase in Middle East conflictSeph Brown, May 18th 2011

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  • Anonymous

    So lets see. Civil servants using Limited companies.

    Now they have to be taken onto full employment. Can’t cut their rates so they will be paid at the rate they were before. It’s hidden employment after all.

    Then they will get back dated pension rights, to put them on the same footing as existing employees.

    Nice. I suggest they all try this route.

    Only the rest of us get shafted.

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  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    The rest of the 1% might lose a few percent off the stocks, so that people have pensions?
    UNACCEPTABLE!

  • Anonymous

    Like you. I know your approach. You want to shaft the 99% so you can enjoy your gold plated public pension.

    AThe truth is unconfortable. The state owes you, but the state hasn’t the money to pay you. The rich 1% hasn’t. The ‘rich’ 50%’ hasn’t. The 100% of the UK hasn’t enough.

    You’re confusing the truth that the cash isn’t there with some revenge motive.

    You’re also confusing the solution, which is asset based saving with an ideological attack. It isn’t. It’s pure praticality.

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  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    The pension I don’t have. The myth you repeat, 1%er, to try and hide your slash and burn policies. Keep sucking that corporate welfare teat, corporatist.

    Your attack on the 99% is not ideological, no, it’s about cash. Cash trumps all, and it has to be only in your hands. Never mind the damage you do along the way.

  • Anonymous

    You do have one. I know it narks you when it keeps being pointed out that

    a) The government has debts
    b) That means you won’t get your pension.

    That is a statement of fact. It’s not a question of gloating. It’s pretty dire for you, but its not me that is defaulting on it, it is government. They don’t have the money to provide their promises or to pay their debts.

    End result, people are going to be shafted.

    Now, if you had a pension with a fund, and that fund is in your name, you would be better off, as well as safer.

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  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    No, I do not. Your persistent failure to recognise reality makes me think you’re frankly psychotic.

    There is a difference between a state pension and a public pension.

    And, yes, right, keep repeating that you want to shaft the 99% from pensions entirely so the “real” 1% can enjoy 0.1% profit this quarter. Typical…

    (And no, I would not, since I’d be paying FAR more than I do into NI *JUST*for healthcare. Not to mention the situation as in America where people die for lack of inexpensive healthcare when they simply run out of cash, as poorer people. Keep on advocating that happening here…)

  • Anonymous

    There is no difference.

    Both result in people being taxed, and from those taxes money goes on paying the pensions, and doesn’t go on services.

    The state pension also results in lower payouts by a considerable amount compared to what people would have received if they had been allowed to invest the money. 19K versus 5K (and worse terms) for a median worker on 26K a year. 26K a year doesn’t put you anywhere near the rich band. So the state has ripped them off to the tune of 14K a year in their retirement. That is a massive transfer from the poor to the rich fat cats in government.

    That is the reality, and its why I keep banging on about it. Until you take on board the extent of the damage that the government has done primarily to people who aren’t rich, you are the one who is deluded. To do that you need to put the numbers to it. That the left and people like yourself won’t put any numbers to it is the prime evidence of that denial.

    I want the 99% to have what the 1% have, and that means they have to save in a fund in their name. You think, quite rightly too, that the 1% are doing well. Well lets get the other 99% into the same situation.

    However, it does mean that civil service pensions are under pressure.

    Civil service pension or health care? Which do you choose?

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  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    I see, no difference,

    Well, there’s no difference between you and Nick Griffin then, you’re both English, after all. Next!

    And I see, you want the 99% to have to pay for what the 1% chose to. So they get shafted even HARDER. Neat-o. You want them to have to pay out of pocket for healthcare AND and pensions. Got it.

    Wait, what’s America’s gini coefficient again? Right, you’re blowing smoke.

    Back in reality, redistribution is necessary – as the Nordic countries show – to achieve anything significant for the 99%.

  • Anonymous

    So what is it? You’re Scots? Probably explains the addiction to other people’s money.

    Redistribution isn’t needed. What redistribution has achieved is a large transfer to a small minority at both ends of the spectrum. From bankers getting rewards for failure, small numbers of civil servants getting vast pensions way beyond normal people, and people getting 172K a year on benefits, its been a disaster for the poor to the middle class.

    On top of this redistribution the state is left with debts of 7,000 bn on tax revenues of 550 bn.

    So what happens now is taxes go up, and services go down.

    Then people like you decide that you’ve milked the system as much as you can, and leave taking your taxes and assets outside the UK because you don’t like paying the bill.

    Sensible, but selfish.

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