1,000 port workers join Likud to stymie reform

Union leader says public should resist construction of new ports; transportation minister insists reform will go ahead

Alon Hassan (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Alon Hassan (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Recent days have seen more than a thousand Ashdod port workers and their families flocking to register as members of the Likud party with the goal of preventing the construction of new ports in Israel, two high-ranking members of the Ashdod Port workers’ union announced Tuesday.

“This is a mistake,” union chairman Alon Hassan and secretary Avinoam Shushan said in a statement regarding the planned construction. “There is no need for new ports in Israel, especially when the established ports don’t have enough work as it is. The Israeli public must oppose a plan that will once again waste the public’s money for nothing, just as they buried in the sands of Tel Aviv 17 billion shekels ($4.8 billion) on a subway that hasn’t yet been built. This is how [Transportation Minister] Yisrael Katz wants to sink another 10 billion shekels into unnecessary ports?”

Presumably, Shushan — who was suspended last year amid allegations he had used his position to promote personal and family interests at the port and in the city and was later reinstated — and Hassan are attempting to gain power for the union in Likud, the leading party of the ruling coalition, so that they can exert pressure on the government to halt the impending establishment of  the two new private ports. The two also sit on the Ashdod city council.

“I’ve been told that according to news reports Alon Hassan and his friends decided to cross over from the Labor Party to Likud in order to pressure, to threaten me and attempt to prevent reform at the ports,” Katz said in a statement posted to his Facebook page. “I have news for them. The reform will continue and the new ports will be built full steam ahead. If it is [a choice between] the public or Hassan, I prefer the public.”

The government issued tenders for two new ports in July, with Katz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid all hailing the event as a landmark end to the monopoly held by the port workers’ union that would lower the cost of living in Israel by increasing competition at the ports and diminishing the union’s ability to threaten the economy with strikes.

“I won’t accept this monopoly. I want to tell my friends in the Histadrut [labor federation] — it’s over,” Netanyahu said at a press conference presenting the tenders. “Two thousand people won’t cripple the country.”

“We won’t stop here. I promise nothing will deter us,” he added, alluding to the government’s willingness to quash strikes.

Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.

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