Israeli railway workers struck a blow against exploitation and discrimination when on 10 September a Tel Aviv Labour Court issued an interim injunction against the dismissal of Arab workers by Israel Railways.
The struggle began in March 2009 when the state-owned company introduced a policy stipulating that railroad crossing guards had to have a license to carry weapons, a move the company said was based on “practical and security considerations” even though the job of railroad guard has never entailed the carrying of weaponry. Given that most people obtain such a license through military service (from which Israeli Arabs are exempt), the move would’ve resulted in the dismissal of 150 Arab workers. Although Arabs are 20% of Israel’s population, they are only 5% of public sector workers. The move would also have excluded recent immigrants, disabled workers, and refusers from the post.
Even though an April court hearing suspended the application of the policy (and consequent dismissal of Arab workers), Israel Railways began recruiting new guards. The most recent injunction provides a guarantee that no workers can be dismissed under the new policy while court proceedings are still ongoing. This latest development is not a final victory, but certainly buys the workers and their campaign time.
This is not the only instance of class struggle on the railways in Israel this year. In February, large sections of the national railway network were shut down after workers in Haifa launched wildcat strike action following the victimisation of union activists.
Sawt-el Amel (The Labourer's Voice), the campaign organisation that led the fightback by the Arab workers' dismissal, is just one of many organisations in Israel and Palestine organising workers to fightback against discrimination, low-pay, militarism and racism. The existence of such organisations and struggles expose the falsity of much of the international left’s crude picture of the region, in which all Israelis are bloothirsty colonial-settler hawks and all Palestinians are “heroic” Hamas fighters.
Israeli and Palestinian society, like all societies across the world, are characterised by class division and class struggle. The job of the left and the labour movement across the world is to support workers — whether in Israel or the occupied territories — whenever they organise against their bosses.