Readying to strike for the ‘modern slave’

Readying to strike for the ‘modern slave’

The upcoming strike to agitate for contract workers' rights is the big domestic story of the day

Protesters hold banners and chant slogans during a demonstration against the current employment status of contract workers in Jerusalem (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Protesters hold banners and chant slogans during a demonstration against the current employment status of contract workers in Jerusalem (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Four newspapers, three lead stories. That’s how it looks across the front pages of today’s Hebrew newspapers. As is often the case, it was a battle between domestic issues and external political ones for Page 1 supremacy.

Both Haaretz and Israel Hayom lead off with stories about the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which will allow Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, to keep his place during the transitional government. The move, a long time in coming, paves the way for new Palestinian elections. However, Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, the man many saw as the real architect of a future Palestinian state, will have to vacate his seat for a Hamas prime minister to take over, a fact which most Israeli reports papered over.

The deal, which puts the more moderate Fatah on an equal footing with the hard-line Hamas, has many in Jerusalem worried. Both Haaretz and Israel Hayom note Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to Abbas that he could make peace with Israel or Hamas, but not both (Haaretz says Netanyahu spoke before the deal, Israel Hayom says after). Israel Hayom also quotes unnamed sources in the “political echelon” who likened the deal  to spitting in the face of Europe.

Reuven Berko, writing in Israel Hayom, is pessimistic about the attempt at reconciliation even taking off. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has already backed a move to cut off tax transfers to the PA and unless Hamas renounces terror and recognizes Israel, the international community likely won’t fund the PA government either.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its paper with the big domestic issue of the day, the upcoming general strike, expected to kick off tomorrow barring any 11th-hour agreements. Rather than go with the straight news, though, as Israel Hayom chose to do with a strip across their front page, Yedioth features a picture of a man who makes NIS 10,000 a month and a woman who makes NIS 5,000, alongside the headline, “Why do I deserve only half a salary.” Yet it’s not a gender issue, but rather an issue of contracted workers, or temps, that is the driving force behind the strike. Many employers in Israel, including most government ministries, employ outside contractors for various jobs. In the case on Yedioth’s front page, both have the same job at the tax authority, but because one is officially employed by a contractor and not the government, she only makes half of what her colleague pulls in.

The personal story and breakdown of exactly who gets what and why (contract workers also get fewer vacation and sick days, among other perks, according to the story) is a piece that has been missing over the course of the saga (Maariv also has short personal stories from two contract security guards in Modi’in). Most readers, however, are bombarded with the stories in all four papers of recriminations between Histradrut Labor Union chief Ofer Eini, who is orchestrating the strike, the second in a few months, and the Finance Ministry and prime minister, who hold the purse strings.

“If a man gets up every morning to go to work and he is still poor, it’s because he doesn’t have labor rights,” Maariv quotes Eini as saying.

The list of striking bodies includes: post offices, government offices, the airport, banks, Israel railways, local governments and more. About the only thing not on strike will be schools.

As can be expected, the talking heads are having a field day with the planned strike in all the papers. Maariv runs a feature with commentators in favor of (Ruth Ben Yisrael) and against (Omer Moav) the strike. “Contract workers are poor workers, invisible people, that stay poor even though they work. They are the modern slaves,” writes Ben Yisrael. “The public needs to understand that the Histadrut is one of the chief reasons for the low standard of living for the middle class,” Moav shoots back.

Writing in Yedioth, Rona Kuperboim says Israelis should be happy to walk past piles of uncollected garbage, crowd onto buses because the train isn’t running, and so on, because it’s worth it to end the situation where working people can’t support themselves. “In the winter the socioeconomic protests slinked back into the homes, taking feet off the streets. But take note, it will return soon, harsher than it ever was,” she writes.

In Haaretz’s op-ed page, Nehemia Shtrasler writes that while of the workers’ cause is a just one, Eini is playing political games and contract workers should not be given tenured government positions. “We cannot be the exception and turn into the first Western country that forbids outsourcing,” he writes. “It will harm the economy, investment and growth. Eini’s strike would have been appropriate if it had focused on improving employment conditions for cleaning workers and security guards.”

Yishai trying to deflect heat

Going against the grain, Maariv leads its paper with a report that Interior Minister Eli Yishai will go to the Supreme Court against an upcoming State Comptroller report that will be critical of him and may call for his removal. The state watchdog report will focus on government failings in the Carmel fire disaster of December 2010, which saw Israel’s firefighting services largely outmatched by the largest blaze in the nation’s history.

Both Maariv and Yedioth feature paparazzi-like pictures on their front page of a father, accused of shaking his baby to death, being interrogated at the grave site yesterday, a strange tactic to be sure.

Haaretz filled out its front page with a breathless analysis by Ari Shavit of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, who will soon be leaving her post and who spoke to reporters yesterday, but didn’t say much of substance beyond defending the independence of the court (not that you would know that by reading the paper in order). Under the headline “Standing at the gate,” Shavit writes: “Beinisch is an enlightened, wise, fair, hardworking and brave judge — a judge with human dimensions.”

Maariv op-ed writer Ben-Dror Yemini is less taken with Beinisch, writing that she gave off an air of infallibility, as if she and the court were immune to mistakes or criticism. “All her years [on the bench] there wasn’t one thought of taking account of her actions. In this, she is an excellent inheritor of her predecessor, Aharon Barak, who was also struck with infallibility. He also refused to hear any differing opinion.”

In Israel Hayom on the occasion of the minor Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat, which honors trees and nature, beginning tonight, Elad Yanaa laments Israeli Jews’ abandonment of agriculture and says the holiday represents a chance for us to return to our roots in the fields. “There is hope,” he writes. “The key to leaving behind the consciousness of the Diaspora is hidden within the realization that working the land for Jews is the same as studying Gemara or finance.”

The award for most tasteless thing in a newspaper today goes to Yedioth Ahronoth, for running a Subaru ad (for the second day now) of a wall graffitied with the words “Price-list tag,” an obvious reference to the “price tag” attacks by the radical rightist Jews on Arabs.

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