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Issues of the Day Striking Against Contract Labor Abuse

The current leadership of the Histadrut, Israel's trade union federation, is decidedly unimpressive. The institution, which historically was a pillar of Israel's state-building process and the primacy of labor in it, has been conspicuously meek in recent years: It has been ineffectual in resisting the radical privatization economics that has been in force in the country for the last two decades.  The social toll of this economic  program was the catalyst for the recent protest movement that swept across Israel. Here too, the Histadrut was conspicuous by its passivity.

In recent days, the Histadrut has risen from its slumber and challenged the government on the increasingly prevalent use of  contract laborers to fill  both menial jobs (office cleaning, security checks in public places) and increasingly more skilled ones, such as school teaching. Today, a two-hour general strike of public sector enterprises was instituted. It was a warning strike. If negotiations between the Histadrut and the Finance Ministry fail, a total public sector strike of indefinite duration will be called.

The dispute follows the increasing prevalence of jobs being outsourced to labor contractors in the name of economic liberalization and efficiency. The contractors have taken advantage of the government's permissiveness to squeeze these workers, among the country's most vulnerable, to a pulp. They pay minimum wages and offer few if any social benefits to these laborers,  many of whom are immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The conditions under which they work are onerous. Many have no other employment options.

This phenomena is part of the a determined policy of recent governments, primary those of the Likud and Kadima, whereby capital interests have been favored at the expense of working people, both poor and middle class.  

Viewing workers – and consumers – as instruments for profit, whether by the country's tycoons or increasingly empowered private contractors, has led to exploitation and abuse, further splitting the society between those who have and those who have not.

This is a surefire way to erode solidarity in the society. The implications are dire.

The Histadrut, on this issue, should not let up the pressure. 

© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved