general strikes in israel

map of israel

1997, december 3 - 7 - general strike scores decisive victory for histadrut labor federation
the general strike was declared at an emergency gathering of thousands of union members in the israeli capital. the declaration came as a response to indications that the treasury was attempting to violate wage and pension agreements signed in 1995 and 1996. israeli workers are also concerned with government privitization plans which would entail large-scale lay-offs. after the emergency, histadrut chairman amir peretz said, "the strike is a spontaneous reaction to the measures which the government has taken against the workers, and is intended to determine the rules of the game between the workers and the government."

there was also much anger among unionists toward a recent statement by finance minister yaakov neeman, in which he referred to workers as "exploding bombs" which were as much a threat as the bombs of terrorist enemies. he also stated that "this [strike] hits at the very foundations of a developed society. the government is against anarchy, against illogical strikes." however, when roundly criticized for the obvious attempts to paint the strike of bomb-throwing anarchists, neeman quickly recanted, "i did not speak of the workers as bombs, if there was one worker that understood me like that, despite me not saying that, i must apologize before him." peretz rejected neeman's rhetoric, saying "you can't call the workers terrorists and then say: 'oops, i didn't mean it'."

in addition to slandering the israeli workforce, neeman also attempted to restrict the strike to a 24-hour period, based on an unrelated court ruling. despite his efforts, however, 700,000 workers went out on strike and stayed out. the country was paralyzed, with airports, seaports, banks, government offices, state-owned industries and the national stock exchange effectively shut down. After the first day of the strike, the nation's teachers joined in the walk out and the national journalists' association declared their support for the strike. among those opposed to the strike were high-ranking government officials, the manufacturers association, the israeli merchants association, the banks association and the national religious party.

at the end of the fifth day of the general strike, the government's finance minister conceded on nearly all histadrut demands. the treasury agreed to halt plans to tax study funds and to uphold the wage and pension agreements signed in 1995 and 1996. the government also agreed to consult with the histadrut on the development of future economic policy. two other issue be addressed in later negotiations include the transition from budgetary pensions to accumulated pensions and the eligiblity for pension deductions.

written by a wobbly.

an article on this strike was also published in the people's weekly world, a publication of the communist party u.s.a..

another report on this strike was released by the international federation of chemical, energy, mine and general workers' unions (icem).

1997, september 28 - largest strike in israel's history called to protest netanyahu's anti-labor policies

the histadrut, israel's national trade union organization, organized a wave of industrial actions which culminated in a general strike beginning september 28. the actions and the strike protested the anti-labor policies of the netanyahu government. the main issue was the consistent government refusal to honor commitments made to the histadrut, particularly in the area of pensions. the histadrut had also expressed concern about the government's privatization program. several months earlier, prime minister netanyahu gave an interview where he defined his social and economic program as a "thatcherite revolution."

while only 30% of israelis understood the issues prompting the general strike, 31% of the israeli public believed that the strike was justified. even conservative labor leaders associated with the rightist likud party had paid for ads in the daily press denouncing prime minister netanyahu. the strike was aimed at the public sector and, while histadrut did not actively attempt to organize private sector workers into the general strike, 150,000 of them joined the work stoppage. the entire public sector in israel was shut down, including nearly all trains and buses, the airports and seaports, all government offices, hospitals, schools, and many industries. nearly 700,000 workers were involved in the shutdown.

israel's finance minister, yaakov ne'eman, cut short his world bank/international monetary fund meetings in hong kong to negotiate with histadrut leader, amir peretz. while the finance ministry was not successful in getting the courts to declare the national strike illegal, they did manage to get a court order restricting the action to 8 hours. while the histadrut has defied court order in the past, they did comply this time around and called off the strike at the end of the first day. negotiations with the finance ministry resumed until the rosh hoshana holiday, which began october 1. they are expected to resume in november, after the end of the holiday season.

report summarized from general strike in israel: news briefs, part of eric lee's the labor movement and the internet: the web site (now laborstart).

an article on this strike was also published on the website of the international federation of chemical, energy, mine and general workers' unions (icem).

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