Friday, November 23, 2007

Thousands rally in Tel Aviv in support of teachers’ strike

Jerusulem Post

100,000 gather in Tel Aviv to support teachers

The teachers' strike goes into its 39th day on Sunday, boosted by a massive solidarity rally held in Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin on Saturday night. Organizers said at least 100,000 people participated in the demonstration.

As well-known performers sang in the background, thousands of teachers, students, parents and grandparents held signs baring slogans such as "No education, no future," and "Cheapening education will cost enormously."

The keynote speech was delivered by Secondary School Teachers Organization chairman Ran Erez, who issued a clarion call on behalf of the country's educational system.

"All these people who support the struggle are in favor of education," Erez said.

"With every social struggle in Israel, be it single-parent mothers, bread rallies, or others, people struggle alone and nobody succeeds," he continued. "We are together. We are struggling together for the welfare of the state!"

"Education is closing gaps, education is fighting violence, and staying away from alcoholism and all the bad things that are happening to the state," Erez declared. "That is our struggle. It's a shame that the government doesn't understand that. We are not against them, we are for them, and we want to tell them: The land is shaking. This volcano is erupting."

Protester Naomi Besser said her pupil organization in Jaffa had brought 15 busloads of pupils to the rally.

"We love our teachers, and we can make education work for all of Israel if all sides cooperate," Besser said.

The large show of support came as the standoff between the SSTO and the government enters its sixth week.

Before the rally began, Education Minister Yuli Tamir said that she stood firm on her determination to implement education reforms.

"If the process fails, it will be my failure and I will pay the price," Tamir said during an appearance in Holon. She added that it was important to focus on a change to the system, rather than just populistic steps.

"There are people who think that the value of a politician is in the power of their scream, but that's not me. I got the educational system more than any of those 'table turners' - more than 10 billion shekels."

Earlier on Saturday, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) called on Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to impose parliamentary sanctions on the government for letting the strike last as long as it has.

According to a report on Army Radio, Paz-Pines suggested that Itzik delay discussions on new bills - including the 2008 budget and the Economic Arrangements Law - to pressure the government to intervene and end the strike.

Efforts to end the school shutdown produced no results last week as representatives from the SSTO, led by Erez, gathered at the Prime Minister's Office instead of attending a meeting with the Finance Ministry that was scheduled to take place in Airport City on Friday.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was not in the building, declined to meet with the teachers.

After waiting in vain for the teachers' representatives in Airport City, Finance Ministry Director-General Yarom Ariav said that the SSTO had turned the struggle itself into its primary goal.

"We have come today to conduct professional negotiations as we agreed yesterday but we didn't find our partners on the other side," added a disgruntled Ariav.

Referring to the planned rally, Ariav went on to say that the teachers were "busy arranging demonstrations instead of trying to resolve the crisis."

On Friday, Olmert urged the teachers to conclude negotiations with the Education and Finance ministries and end the strike.

In a letter published in Yediot Aharonot, Olmert pledged to respond to several of the requests made by teachers in recent weeks.

"I am committed to giving a dramatic pay rise of between 26 and 34 percent to SSTO members. I am committed to reducing class sizes. We will increase the number of hours in the school system and we will raise the standards for teachers and principals," he wrote.

The prime minister added: "If I could, I would come and speak to you at [Saturday's rally in] Kikar Rabin, but I wasn't invited to the demonstration and I don't want to turn your event into a taunting session."

Eva Cohen contributed to this report.

On November 17, an estimated 70,000 gathered at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv in solidarity with the ongoing teachers’ strike that has entered its fifth week.

The secondary school teachers are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. According to Ha’aretz, many of the demonstrators were children there to support their teachers.

During the rally, teachers waved signs reading, “The education system is bleeding, and the government is in a coma.”

The chairman of the Middle and High School Teachers’ Association, Ran Erez, said, “I did not believe the square would be filled with a 100,000 people. We are embarking on a social struggle for a welfare state.”

Histadrut declares official disputes in Israir and Haifa port

On November 18, the Histadrut Labour Federation declared a labour dispute in the Israir airline. The dispute results from flight attendants’ protests against their working conditions.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israir employees’ complaints include an alleged failure by the company to pay the minimum wage, being forced to sleep on the floor of the aircraft, and to pay the costs of their own training.

The flight attendants are demanding a collective employment contract in place of the current individual agreement on which they are signed.

Israir flight attendants are currently paid only for the hours they spend in the air and not those they spend preparing and cleaning the plane before and after flights. A statement by the workers’ committee said, “Our current contract as it exists does not define working hours or resting hours and it leads to situations where we are forced to work for 16 straight hours, given a four-hour break and then forced to work another transatlantic flight back to Israel.”

If no agreement is reached within 14 days, the airline workers could take industrial action.

The following day, Histadrut declared a labour dispute at Haifa port. If agreement cannot be reached, a strike will be staged at the port from November 29.

Workers strike in West Bank factory

Ninety Palestinian workers at the Sol-Or factory in the West Bank took unlimited strike action last week. The Sol-Or factory, which is located in the Nitzanei Oz industrial zone, near Tul Karm, manufactures and markets gas and petrol containers.

The workers cite dangerous working conditions and low wages as reasons for their strike. Muhammad Baladi, the acting head of the impromptu union formed by the striking employees, said, “The working conditions are unbearable. We earn between 60 and 150 shekels per day, and most of us earn less than 80 shekels per day. We have no insurance and are working in unsafe conditions. Up to now three employees died in work related accidents in the plant.” Workers at the factory are demanding the Israeli minimum wage—as required by law—improvements to working conditions and insurance. They claim that they wrote a letter to management, but rather than deal with the issues management chose to fire the worker who signed the letter. The factory is part of the Sol-Or group, a private holding company that owns additional factories and provides various services.

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