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.
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.
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.
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.”
There were a number of moving moments. One was when Hatem Abu Ziadeh, the Palestinian workers’ committee chair at the Zarfati Garage in Mishor Adumim (Area C, under Israeli occupation), announced that he was returning to work after some 20 months of absence. The employer had dismissed him and leveled false charges against him in the hope of preventing the Palestinian workers from organizing and avoiding a collective agreement. The workers’ huge excitement reflected the enormous efforts they had made, and Hatem was carried on the shoulders of the garage workers in a celebration of their victory.
Moza Ghanem from Zemer, (Triangel) is a former female agricultural worker and today a cleaner at the Seminar Hakibbutzim College. She spoke about how her life had changed when she stopped being a seasonal worker employed via a subcontractor, and began working in a permanent position via WAC. She also spoke of their joy when the workers went on holiday to Greece with the faculty of the college. She outlined their double struggle: the struggle against government policy which fails to provide jobs for Arab women and even imports Thai workers who take on most agricultural jobs; and the struggle to raise the status of Arab women in their own society and the important role played by employment in this struggle.
Speaking for the teachers at Musrara College, Dr. Yoni Neve thanked WAC, which signed its third collective agreement at the college and has improved the teachers’ status there.
“WAC-MAAN is not just another workers’ organization that wants to get better terms for workers. Yes, we struggle for better wages and terms for the Rosh Ha’ayin music teachers, for the drivers at Movilei Dror, for Palestinian workers in Mishor Adumim, and for Arab workers in agriculture. And we do this with professionalism, perseverance and sagacity in order to achieve the best results for the workers we represent.
But at the same time, we are struggling for something much larger. We aim to build a united social force of workers who known how to bravely face down employers, because only a social force of this kind will be sustainable. We create real cooperation based on equality between Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian workers. We will not tolerate racist worldviews which humiliate a person because of his ethnicity or the color of his skin, because what we have in common is greater than our religious or national differences. We are building a democratic workers’ organization which rejects corruption and personal interests for the sake of a dynamic organization striving for cooperation with other social groups. And above all, WAC supports a just peace and equality among peoples, and opposes the occupation which makes the lives of an entire people hell, causing bloodshed whose end is still not in sight.”
The official program was brought to a close with Yotam Cohen singing the International, accompanied by Hanan Manadra who moderated the event and Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, who both joined in singing in Arabic. The unofficial program continued with a party, led by the Zarfati Garage workers, who made sure all the audience joined them in their celebration.
Translation: Yonatan Preminger