May Day: Music and solidarity work overtime!

Music played the key role in the May 1 celebration held by the Independent Trade Union Centre WAC-MAAN, which brought Palestinian workers from Mishor Adumim together with music and art...
ג'ס קורן (סקסופון) ומחמד ח'לף (כינור) מאלתרים ביחד. צילום: אורי רובינשטיין

Muhammad Halaf (violin) and Jess Koren (saxophone) improvise together. photo: Uri Rubinstein

Music played the key role in the May 1 celebration held by the Independent Trade Union Centre WAC-MAAN, which brought Palestinian workers from Mishor Adumim together with music and art teachers from Israeli colleges and Arab agricultural workers from the Umm al-Fahm region. The music lifted the spirits of activists and workers’ committee members, and proved it is possible to create a new culture which brings together those who struggle daily for their dignity as workers – whether they speak Hebrew or Arabic – and engenders an amazing and inspiring partnership.

אורית גורי, ועד המורים, מרכז המוסיקה, ראש העין

Orit Guri, fluit, Rosh Haayin Music Center. Photo: Erez Wagner

קובי הגואל, מרכז המוסיקה, ראש העי

Kobi Hagoel, drums, the Rosh Haayin Music Center. Photo: Uri Rubinstein

יוסי מר חיים, פסנתר, מוסררה. צילום: אורי רובינשטיין

Yossi Mar Haim, piano, the Musrara School of Art. Photo: Uri Rubinstein







It was not by chance that music played such a key role in the event, which was held at Beit Hayotzer in Tel Aviv Port on Saturday, April 30: the event marked the collective agreement that WAC reached together with the workers’ committee at the Rosh Ha’ayin Music Centre last January after over two years of struggle, including labor disputes, a strike, a protest concert and a legal battle.


Photo: Erez Wagner

The event was produced by the musicians Yossi Bar-Haim (piano) from Musrara College and Kobi Hagoel (drums) from Rosh Ha’ayin Music Center, assisted by Ruthi Amano, formerly from Beit Bialik (also organized by WAC-MAAN). But even the producers could not have foreseen the event’s climax, when the saxophonist Jess Koren, who played with Kobi Hagoel on drums, invited the violinist Mohammed Mussa Khalaf from Jatt and Pianist Yossi Mar-Haim to improvise with them on stage and create a common musical language.

There was no shortage of excellent music. Orit Guri’s flute, accompanied by Kobi Hagoel on drums , moved the audience deeply; Alt singer Alon Harari and pianist Avichai Yaacobin offered an extract from an opera and a Leonard Cohen song; and Tenor singer Yotam Cohen sang a song by Bertolt Brecht and  Kurt Weill with Mar-Haim on the piano.

Alon Harari (alt) Avihai Yaacobian piano. Photo: Uri Rubinstein

אסף אדיב, מנכ"ל מען. צילום: ארז וגנר

Assaf Adiv, WAC-MAAN director. Photo: Erez Wagner

מוזה גאנם, בשם עובדות החקלאות המאורגנות במען. צילום: אורי רובינשטיין

Moza Ghanem, WAC women and agriculture project. Photo: Uri Rubinstein.


The long struggle for the collective agreement was summarized by workers’ committee activist and flautist Orit Guri, who explained how music teachers in Israel had gradually lost their status as state employees and became agency employees. She noted the reasons for the success of the current struggle:

“The first reason is connected to the social protest movement of 2011, which made the public aware of the plight of the agency workers. Suddenly, we received surprising support, and backup from students, parents and friends. Secondly, the steadfastness of the teachers, which was not an easy thing. Many of the music teachers are new immigrants from Russia, older people ready to work under any conditions and very fearful of dismissal. But we gained their trust and they voted in favor of the struggle. Thirdly, the team leading the negotiations, thanks to their integrity and modesty, and the fact that they did not think only of themselves but strived for what was best for all the teachers. We were realistic and understood the limits of our power, because it is hard to draw music teachers into a battle. For this reason there is a huge difference between what we should be getting and what we in fact get. For example, we agreed to a paid holiday for only half of August, but still, this is a start. And the most important thing was WAC-MAAN’s assistance. The people of MAAN stood by us, hand in hand, and assisted us with every letter, every step. Sometimes, when we were exhausted, they urged us to continue, and they did all this with professionalism and efficiency.”

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