By David Merhav in Haifa
After long months of bitter fights over the austerity plan of Israel's Finance Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Histadrut (the Israeli TUC), Amir Peretz MP, reached an agreement that will end the public-sector labor actions of the last three months. Many Israeli trade unionists who wanted a determined struggle and victory were disappointed with the "disgraceful deal with the capitalists".
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported, "Netanyahu said the government will continue to cut the fat off the public sector while taking into consideration the needs of the workers who will leave the civil service. He said 3,700 government workers have agreed to leave and 800 were fired in the course of structural changes".
The deal with the Finance Ministry sums up a long period of bitter struggle in which the Israeli National Labor Court blocked the Israeli trade unions from carrying out unlimited or 24-hour general strikes. Peretz refused to break the law and call an "illegal strike", in spite of militant voices within and outside the leadership.
Haaretz reported: "The two sides agreed to increase the monthly allotments to pension funds from 17.5 percent of an employee's salary to 20.5 percent. The Treasury had wanted most of this additional 3 percent to be contributed by the employee, but ultimately agreed to split this amount evenly, with the employee paying 1.5 percent and the employer the rest
"The Treasury also dropped its demand to limit the amount of salary increases for pension purposes to 2 percent per year, based on the worker's 1996 salary level. Instead, it was decided to link the increase of pension-covered salary to the average wage increase in the economy, and to set the base date for this calculation at October 2003."
The Finance Ministry agreed to the Histadrut's demand that there will be no collective layoffs in 2004. The Israeli trade unions also succeeded in pressuring Netanyahu not to abolish the pre-retirement promotion that is commonly rewarded to civil servants and boosts their pension level. Netanyahu, on the other hand, was able to get the Histadrut to abandon the current system of calculating pension payments according to a worker's last three years of employment.
Socialists in Israel demand a new mass workers' party, based on the trade unions and socialist policies. It is necessary to reorganise the radical left and create the political basis for this new mass party - a working-class party which will carry forward the next struggles, advance new victories and overthrow the bosses' government headed by Sharon and co.
Sharon's threats meet new militancy
Over the Xmas period Sharon threatened to take "unilateral action", effectively to annex much of the West Bank and ghettoise the Palestinians in small pockets surrounded by Israeli control, unless the Palestinian leadership represses militants and negotiates to Sharon's satisfaction. Meanwhile a full-scale incursion is taking place in Nablus, and the building of the Separation Wall continues. David Merhav reports on new developments in the Israeli opposition to Sharon.
Hundreds of demonstrators protested on Saturday 27 December in front of the Israeli Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. The demonstration was initiated by Israeli Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom, the Communist Party and other activists, after the Israeli Occupation Forces badly injured a young peace activist protesting at the Wall by firing live bullets at him.
Demonstrators blocked the road in front of the Ministry for hours , the police arrested eleven. Others continued their sit-in on the road.
When a prominent anarchist activist was released from a police station where he had been held, it was decided to end the demonstration and march collectively to that station and demand the release of detained activists.
These events mark the beginning of a higher, new, stage in the development of the anti-occupation movement within Israel. More and more young Israelis are willing to take the risk and fight for their future even by risking their lives.
The direct actions in front of the Defence Ministry and within the Occupied Territories are a symbol of determination of young Israelis to put an end to Sharon's war government. It is the first time that the Israeli unorganised left has appeared from nowhere, with new faces and young militants.