shows progress in organizing Jewish and Arab workers
The independent trade union MAAN (formerly known in English as WAC) held its annual General Assembly in Tel Aviv on June 15, 2013. The hall was packed with Jews and Arabs, workers from the factories and the fields, as well as college teachers. The 81 delegates represented workers’ committees and MAAN’s branches. They included art teachers from Musrara College, the Minshar Art College, the School for Visual Theatre, the Musical Center (Rosh ha-Ayn), and the Sapir Technological College (Sderot); there were factory workers from Jana Beverage (Upper Nazareth) and Levy Wood and Metal (Mishor Adumim in the West Bank); there were archaeological workers from East Jerusalem, for whom MAAN has obtained direct employment with the Israel Antiquities Authority; there were female Arab agricultural workers; there were activists and volunteers.
The Hebrew speeches were simultaneously translated into Arabic, the Arabic into Hebrew. For three hours there was a feeling of solidarity between Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs, women and men, old and young, white-collar and manual laborers. The Assembly was a unique event in this deeply polarized country.
In the past year, MAAN has made significant steps in its effort to become a recognized union that plays a central role in Israel’s labor scene. It signed a second collective agreement at Musrara School of Art and new collective agreements at the School for Visual Theatre and the Halonot Association. In addition, it is conducting advanced negotiations toward signing with the Minshar Art School and Jana Beverage. At Levy Wood and Metal and at the Music Center in Rosh ha-Ayn, the struggle for collective negotiation is still in its infancy. In several other work places organizing is in its initial stages.
There was an additional important achievement this year when the National Labor Court ruled that the Antiquities Authority must implement Paragraph 12a of the Manpower Agencies Law, which orders that any manpower-agency worker employed 9 months at a firm, whether government or private, must become a direct employee of that firm. As a result, 21 workers unionized with MAAN have been directly employed. An additional group from East Jerusalem, who are represented by MAAN, await implementation of this judgment.
Elections of leadership
The AGA elected a new Board of 5 of the Union headed by Nir Nader and the memebership of Munir Qawar, Zipora Friedman, Ido Mehl and Muna Abu Esba.
It also elected a National Committee to lead the Trade Union activity (this body approves of disputes, strikes and collective agreements) headed by Assaf Adiv and with a membership of Asma Aghbarieh Zahalka, Dani Ben Simhoun, Erez Wagner, Hanan Zouabi, Wafa Tayara, Gaston Zvi Izkovitz, Nir Nader.
Winds of change are blowing in the region
“This year’s annual General Assembly (AGA) is a landmark, because winds of change and revolution are undermining the old order in the region, with demands for democracy and social justice. What unites those gathered here is the belief in our ability to achieve fundamental change, connecting with our sisters and brothers in Istanbul, Damascus, Cairo and Ramallah, becoming part of the emerging region.” These were the opening words of Assaf Adiv, MAAN’s National Coordinator.
Adiv went on to speak about the economic policies of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, which are accompanied by rejectionist policies on the peace issue that damage workers from both sides of the Green Line. “More and more workers in Israel are pushed into unemployment, or are forced to work long hours without job security. A new type of trade union is needed if this reality is to change,” said Adiv. “MAAN offers an alternative to the policies of a Histadrut that colludes in the right-wing government’s privatization and pro-settler policies. That is why those who choose to join MAAN opt for a clear message and deep social commitment. MAAN assures not only a regular wage, pension contributions, and advancement of seniority, but also the added value of struggle to change social priorities, support for peace and solidarity.”
Panel of worker representatives
At the MAAN AGA, a video by Nadav Harel was screened in which MAAN’s worker-representatives speak of the necessity to organize, assessing the difficulties and the advantages. Following the film, a panel explained the stages of their struggle; the representatives revealed that a Jewish music teacher in Israel and a Palestinian in the factory of a West Bank settlement have more in common than not.
“The teacher’s fear of ruining relations with the director, and the fear of being fired, have kept us on the job despite difficult conditions: being laid off every summer and working way beyond the hours for which we are paid.” So said Idit Krimolovsky-Shopen, a committee member at the Rosh ha-Ayn Music Center. “But when we saw millions being invested in the new music auditorium, while they are not willing to invest in the musicians who give it its soul, we decided to join a union. Within a fortnight we were able to bring 30 teachers to MAAN. We have sent a letter to the director, but we have received no official reply that he is prepared to negotiate. Every beginning is hard, but we are confident of our ability to reach a signed agreement with the management.”
Mohib Abu Rahma from the Levy metal factory in Mishor Adumim told of the difficult, unsafe working conditions there, of wages below the legal minimum, of the landlord’s unwillingness to negotiate, and of the continuous attempts to persuade the workers to leave MAAN and reach direct understandings with him.
Tami Farber, a social worker, also participated in the panel. Ms. Farber was a candidate for the leadership of the Social Workers Union and topped the list of the “social workers’ struggle” for democratic change in the union. “Despite our being unionized with the Histadrut, there is no one to look after us,” she explained. “After the failure of the union’s struggle in 2011 and the agreement forced on us by the Ministry of Finance and the Histadrut, we decided not to return to passivity. The strike of 2011 was for us a point of no return and since then we have continued to fight. I take my hat off to MAAN, which unites those whom the establishment will never look at. Equality, justice and peace are values that a union should adhere to, because it isn’t only about a wage, it’s about the kind of society we live in.”
“The social protest (movement of 2011) did achieve something,” explained Ayelet Bachar, the Minshar workers’ delegate, “because we began to see ourselves as a group and not as an aggregate of individuals each of whom comes to a personal agreement with the employer. There was something precarious about labor relations and we wanted to regulate that. In the discourse established with the director, new relationships began to form. The agreement that we are presently negotiating will strengthen our commitment to the students and allow for mutual respect.”
Niaz Qadadha, a West Bank resident from the quarry-workers’ struggle at Salit in Mishor Adumim, summed up the panel discussion. “I appeal to my friends the Palestinians who recently joined,” he began. “Without solidarity, without perseverance, and above all without faith in our union, MAAN, you will not achieve anything. Our strength is in our unity. Without the support of the union we would never have been able to achieve what we did [the Salit workers received full compensation when the company dissolved]. In MAAN I feel as though I am part of a family. Here they deal with human beings, not mere employees. MAAN is solidarity, justice, and equality.”