Unionizing for Social Change – this was the slogan of the Workers Advice Center’s annual general meeting, held June 11, 2011 at the Minshar School of Arts in Tel Aviv and attended by representatives of workers committees and WAC branches from around the country
Among those present were members of the workers committees at Salit Quarries, the Musrara Art School and the School of Visual Theatre, truck drivers and agricultural workers, restaurant employees, and construction and archeological dig laborers. Also present were guests from the Social Workers Union (SWU) who were among the leaders of the social workers’ strike. Today they continue to struggle against the flawed agreement signed, to the anguish of most of the workers, between the Histadrut’s leadership and the Finance Ministry.
The simultaneous translation and the easy switching between Arabic and Hebrew created a feeling of partnership and harmony between the members of the union. This Jewish-Arab unity characterizes WAC as an organization maintaining genuine partnership, in contrast to the atmosphere of animosity that has taken over the street in Israel in recent years. Notable were representatives of various attempts at unionization supported by WAC. The organization’s success in the past year in signing a collective agreement at Musrara and the start of negotiations in a number of other places reflects workers’ faith in WAC as a serious player in industrial relations in Israel.
The main report was submitted by WAC’s National Coordinator Assaf Adiv. Adiv noted that there is a link between the popular and workers’ struggles in Egypt and the Arab world and the situation in Israel where an increasing number of workers are looking to unionize and demand their rights. He said WAC has become an important address for an increasing number of workers without representation from the most exploited strata of society. Today WAC is active in organizing truck drivers, art teachers, waiters, construction and agricultural workers, quarry workers, and workers in other sectors.
After Adiv’s introduction, the spokespersons from the various workers’ committees were given the floor.
Amit Drori, chairperson of the workers’ committee at the School of Visual Theatre, spoke of the difficulties raised by the management as the teachers began organizing with WAC. At first, unionization with WAC was presented as undermining the special “family” atmosphere at the school. “We reject this claim and believe that unionizing for arranging employment relations will contribute to the school, and ensure that the teachers’ rights are respected and that they are treated fairly,” he said.
Niaz Qadadha, a member of the workers’ committee at Salit Quarries, emphasized the difficulties of working in a quarry in the middle of the desert where employment terms are poor and even basic rights are not respected. He described unionization with WAC as “joining the ship of the desert” for the Palestinian workers, who are certain the ship will lead them to safe shores. He also noted the collective agreement discussed by WAC and the workers’ committee vis-à-vis the management for over a year, expressing his hope that it will soon be signed (a few days later the management refused to sign and the workers began a strike; see articles on the Salit Quarries strike on the WAC website).