Interview: Union for the Dispossessed
Unions: Joel's Law
National Focus: Spring Carnival
Bad Boss: Fina and Fiends
Industrial: The Price of War
Economics: Who's Got What
History: Containing Discontent
Review: An Honourable Wally
Poetry: The Colours of Discontent
Governing the Corporates
The Price of War
By mid-way thru this week the leadership of the Histadrut trade union movement will make final decisions about calling a massive general strike against the draconian measures proposed by the right-wing laissez-faire Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
Histadrut chair Amir Peretz is under pressure from the key union leaders to give the green light to what will be the biggest strike in the 50-plus year history of Israel.
Eighteen top union leaders signed an open letter last week critical of Peretz, calling on him to defy a Labour Court ruling banning the general strike going ahead this past week.
In their letter they argued ambulance drivers don't stop at red light if they're trying to save lives, so the unions should ignore the Labour Court ruling and green light the general strike.
A strike may ignite a new debate about the connection between poverty and peace
But the strike could deal not only a blow to Israel's economy but ignite a debate about the connection between the economic crisis, and the on-going occupation of the Palestinian people.
As Israel's economy reels, more and more people realise that poverty is quickly becoming a bigger enemy than the security crisis created by the three year old Intifada.
The draconian Budget cuts proposed by Netanyahu will only make it worse for the low-waged and the poor - with massive cuts to social security, children's allowances, old age pensions and income support payments.
Already close to one in five families are below the poverty line. An average of almost one in three children live in poverty. That is a total of 1.32 million people in a population of 6.5 million.
The Netanyahu Budget will spiral, ever higher, the levels of poverty, as fewer and fewer people can access any welfare benefits.
Sharon and Netanyahu seem to understand that the strike could change the dynamics of political life in Israel.
They called a special Cabinet meeting to authorise an extraordinary special budget for a PR campaign to undermine the trade union movement's arguments for a general strike.
Once proud boast of egalitarianism is no more
Once Israelis proudly boasted of their egalitarian society - but now the country is one of the least egalitarian in the developed world.
Netanyahu is shredding what remains of the welfare state and attacking the historically central role of the trade union movement in the country.
It is this attack on trade union rights that has forced the Histadrut to become the most visible group organising against Sharon and Netanyahu.
Union leaders sotto voce on the Occupations effect on social services
Its leader Amir Peretz has even - sotto voce- started suggesting that there may be a connection between the cost of occupying the Palestinian people and the social services cuts.
Certainly Peretz, who is also a Member of Parliament, and his party Am Ehad - which stands slightly to the left of the Israeli Labor Party - have consistently taken a more doveish position on the peace process than has the Labor leadership.
And labour commentators regularly report that " inside the union rooms" Histadrut leaders all agree that they oppose the occupation and accept the analysis that the country's economic crisis will continue while the occupation is in place.
Jihad Akel, a deputy chair of Histadrut, was recently quoted in a left-leaning US journal - In These Times - as acknowledging this position but going on to say that the problem is that " when they come to the public, they don't have the courage to say it."
While Peretz prefers to push an economic focus, rather than a security focus, in his public pronunciations, his popularity among the working class, and the poor, gives him a real opportunity to shift the peace debate.
Labor's historical disconnection with the poor
Historically Labor has attracted more support from European, middle-class Jews - known as the Ashkenazi.
Sharon and Netanyahu have been able to garner the votes of the embittered Jews whose roots are in the Middle East, the poorer, working class Sephardi Jews who resent the connection between Labor and the Ashkenazi.
Peretz - unlike many other Labor and union leaders - is a Sephardi and many see him as the person able to re-capture for the Left the resentful blue-collar voters who vote for the strident anti- Arab policies of Sharon and Netanyahu.
Peretz's gradual re-positioning of the trade union movement and its visibility as the principle opponent of the Sharon-Netanyahu government's unpopular welfare policies - backed up with the talk of a massive general strike - has built up this new base of support.
Amir Peretz is seen as a threat to the political orthodoxy of Israel. He has had ambitions of organising a ' take-over' the Labor Party by his small party folding up its tents in an amalgamation process.
While the doveish section of the Labor Party want to see this amalgamation - and see the union leader as the person who can lead them back into government - right-wing sections of the party are furiously organising against the plan.
Extremist death threats
Certainly a small band of ultra-right extremists are worried about Peretz. Most shockingly over the last few days he, his family, and some other union officials, have been sent a series of death threats.
Opponents of Histadrut's actions have made the threats by telefaxes and phone calls to the Histadrut headquarters as well as to Peretz's family.
The international trade union movement was concerned enough about the threats to send an urgent appeal to Israel's PM, Sharon, demanding that bodyguards be made available to protect the union leader and his family.
The ICFTU letter noted that the threats had been accompanied by the scandalous character assassination of a man who personifies the struggle of the working people in Israel to obtain justice.
" We condemn these dangerous tactics by the enemies of the workers to undermine a just struggle to protect the rights of workers and retirees by peaceful means," the ICFTU said.
" We call on you Mr Prime Minister, to ensure the protection of the life of Chairman Amir Peretz, his family as well as other union members. We trust that the persons responsible for these despicable actions be brought to justice."
Last week was the anniversary of the assassination of former Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin - the last great leader pushing for peace.
In the same week Peretz, his family and some other top union officials, received death threats!!!!!.
It is understandable that many in Israel are dark rumbling about the effect that the extremists are having on their society, and making the comparisons between the threats to Peretz and the assassination of Rabin.
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