In view of the campaign against the workers by Israel’s right-wing government, WAC-MAAN’s annual General Assembly will discuss the organization’s strategy for the next year. In contrast with the Histadrut chairperson, who continues conservative policy of defending an exclusive group of highly paid workers, WAC-MAAN opens a new approach to confronting the government and the establishment, protecting the unorganized and the poor: Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, and demanding along with workers and youth of the entire region, from Tahrir to Taksim, social justice for all.
The annual General Assembly of the WAC-MAAN workers’ association is about to convene for the 14th time in June 2013. The emphasis will be on expanding our organization among Jewish and Arab workers. Attending will be representatives of workers’ committees that have organized during last year, including truck drivers, agricultural female workers, construction and industrial workers, and college teachers.
Our task is challenging, given that the government, established in March 2013 by the political and economic right-wing parties, is acting to pass an anti-social budget and planning a general attack on organized labor. At the same time, this explicitly right-wing government is intensifying the tension in the region, blocking progress towards peace, and increasing animosity and racism.
The difficulty is heightened by the fact that there is no consistent political and social opposition in the Knesset. In the past few weeks, however, we have witnessed a lot of public rage against the government, especially concerning the drastic budget cuts. The rage has brought protesters back to the streets after two years of stagnation. New groups of workers are joining WAC-MAAN as well as other workers’ organizations. This indicates the growing awareness among many people in Israel of the brutal attack on living standards and workers’ rights that is expected in the coming years. The injury to wages, working conditions, and employment security is not confined to the non-professional and uneducated labor force. Outsourcing and privatization continue as a trend in municipalities, government services, schools, colleges and hospitals, as well as in high-tech.
Israel is not Egypt, and the workers here are far better off than our Palestinian peers beyond the separation barrier. But today the workers in Egypt, Palestine, and Israel have more in common than they have differences. More Israelis are being shunted into part-time jobs or unemployment. They are forced to labor long hours without employment security. In order to change this reality, a dynamic trade union is needed.
Unfortunately, this is not the message broadcast by the chairperson of the New Histadrut, Ofer Eini. Rather than confronting the Netanyau-Lapid- Bennet government and combating its offensive against the workers, Eini is trying to reach understandings with that government, aiming to prevent any suffering on the part of his own power centers. The agreement that was reached between Eini and Treasury Minister Lapid on May 9, 2013 was an attempt to draw fire away from the major unions that Eini relies on and aim it instead at the wider population of those who work for minimum wages and with no rights. This is the same public of poor non-organized workers that the Histadrut abandoned long ago. Eini also supports the government’s aggressive and racist agenda, which injures the chances for citizens of Israel and the entire region to progress towards a life of prosperity and peace.
WAC strongly disagrees with Eini’s line. Instead of the guild-like viewpoint that defends only the narrow interests of the privileged, WAC offers a social and political vision of universal responsibility, guided by the slogan: “One justice for all!”
WAC is an active player in the protest movement. It is committed to partnership with those who oppose the right-wing government. It encourages participation by Arab workers and youth in the social protests. Within the protest movement, WAC-MAAN represents the struggle for social justice and peace as goals that are bonded together.
WAC is loyal to the workers living in the geographic and social periphery. Last year it assisted in organizing twenty-five workers at Jana Beverages in Upper Nazareth, of Russian, South American and Arab origin. They have formed a workers committee with the close support of WAC and are now on the threshold of signing a collective agreement with their employer. At the same time, WAC has managed to include in its ranks a group of 20 Palestinians from Jericho who work at the Levi metal factory in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumim. Formation of this committee is a very important step towards reaching the first collective agreement ever in a region with an extreme level of exploitation.
In addition to these achievements, WAC-MAAN’s campaign for the organization of teachers is making giant steps: a collective agreement was reached last year in the School for Visual Arts in Jerusalem; outlines for agreements were formed at the Minshar School of the Arts in Tel-Aviv; a new committee was formed at the music center in Rosh Ha’ayn; and the workers at the Sapir Technological College have begun to organize.
WAC is opposed to the illusion of a “non-political workers’ struggle and protest movement.” A non-political movement turns its back on the duty of workers to promote an agenda for peace and universal solidarity. We are building a union awareness based on the solidarity of all workers. We maintain that the Occupation and the neo-liberal economic policy are two sides of the same coin. This is manifested in the three-way alliance of Bennet, who is minister of the settlers and privatizers, Lapid, who represents the tycoons, and Netanyahu, the opponent of peace and standard-bearer of neo-liberal capitalism. The struggle for social justice and peace is the same struggle.
By organizing in WAC-MAAN, workers present a clear message and a strong social commitment. The question is not only about steady wages, pensions, and seniority promotion – basic issues that are essential for a workers’ union. WAC also offers an added value of struggle for a change of priorities in our society. It refuses to discriminate according to nationality, religion, or race, and it practices full equality for women. WAC-MAAN was established 17 years ago at the initiative of the Da’am Workers Party. It is the only place where workers in Israel can express their solidarity with workers around the globe, including Palestinians and workers from the Arab world, who are struggling for change and democracy.
When we look at the young people in Istanbul’s Taksim Square who are protesting against the conservative, capitalist Muslim regime of Erdogan, while throughout the Middle East, from Tunisia to Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, millions of people are on the streets demanding democracy and social justice, we realize that the winds of change will arrive here too. Even if the road to our spring is still long and complex, we have no doubt that through diligent and systematic construction of an open and democratic workers’ organization, educating its members for tolerance and solidarity beyond borders, we shall make a real contribution to freedom and social justice.
* Assaf Adiv is the National Coordinator of WAC-MAAN.