WAC-MAAN, the Workers Advice Center (a registered non-profit association), is an independent Representative Workers Organization, uniting workers regardless of nationality, religion, gender or the color of their skin. WAC seeks to organize the unorganized into a broad-based labor union.
WAC was established at the end of the 1990’s to provide a remedy for burgeoning unemployment, the growing number of destitute workers, and deepening social gaps. Today the minimum wage is the maximum. Most have no pension plan. The bosses do not abide by existing collective agreements and fight all attempts to organize.
Only a third of the three million workers in Israel are unionized. Of the rest, thousands will find in WAC support, advice, legal protection and aid in organizing.
The global era and privatization
Since the mid-1990’s, when Israel entered the global era, an epidemic of privatization has spread through its economy. Organized labor has been reduced, first in the service sector (e.g. cleaners, security guards), later also in construction, transportation and industry. Facing budget cuts, government ministries themselves encouraged the use of subcontractors and temporaries. All branches of the economy followed in step.
There has also been a massive importation of migrant workers under conditions of indentured servitude. Manpower companies made fortunes from this modern form of slavery. Migrants from China, Thailand and other lands were at first brought to Israel at first to replace Palestinians, whose entry was forbidden beginning in 1993. The entry of these unorganized workers, shorn of their rights, into construction, agriculture and personal care, had the effect of lowering wages across the board.
Opposing discrimination against Arabs
Arabs, who make up about 20% of Israel’s inhabitants, find themselves at the bottom when it comes to jobs, wage conditions and chances for advancement. WAC seeks to advance their status and opportunities in order to create a basis for equality and partnership throughout the society. WAC raises a banner against all forms of discrimination.
Social gaps have changed Israeli society
The Israel of 2010 does not provide employment security. Young workers are almost certainly destined for exploitation, lack of social rights and the minimum wage. The structure of the welfare state, which characterized Israel in its beginnings, even then discriminated against its Arab citizens, but it supplied a broad safety net for Jewish workers. This has changed. In the last two decades a social and economic system has developed that is marked by huge income gaps. These have created a sense of alienation and unrest among both Jews and Arabs, especially on the geographical periphery. Even with progressive labor laws, or when a collective agreement is signed, the achievements remain in the hands of a few. Without the means to enforce the laws, and given the weakness of the Histadrut since the 90’s, most workers are left with no protection against the small group of super-rich families who in effect rule Israel politically and economically.
Ending the occupation
The establishment of a new labor union movement requires basic political change in Israel’s laws, priorities and policies. The occupation must end. Any future peace agreement must be bases on two sovereign states. In this WAC sees the key to social change and to the building of an egalitarian society.
WAC sees it as a basic moral duty to help workers who live in the occupied territories. WAC demands equal rights for all workers—Israeli, migrant and Palestinian. WAC demands that the government end its policy of importing cheap workers deprived of all rights.
WAC and the international labor movement
WAC maintains close relations with labor unions abroad. It is a partner in their campaign to preserve the achievements of the labor movement at a time when the neoliberal capitalist system has failed. In the international movement of today there is a quest for creative ways to deepen the connection with workers and return labor to its rightful place at the center of political life. WAC sees itself as part of this trend. Having suffered the trampling of their rights, the workers in Israel must mobilize and fight. WAC is relatively new—as a labor union it is just starting. The support of the international labor movement, with exchanges of ideas and experiences, is of vital importance. It can help WAC greatly in its campaign for the rights of the workers in Israel, Jews and Arabs alike.