Israel's unions are preparing for a general strike

As the attention of the world is focused on the war in Iraq another war is breaking out in Israel - the class war. The past two years have seen Israel thrown into a severe economic crisis. As a consequence, a few days ago Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced huge cuts from government spending.

As the attention of the world is focused on the war in Iraq another war is breaking out in Israel - the class war.

A few days ago Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to cut 11.4bn shekels (£1.5bn) from government spending. This is because the budget deficit has reached the unprecedented high level of 6% of gross domestic product.

The past two years have seen Israel thrown into a severe economic crisis. Unemployment (almost unknown in the past) has shot up close to 15%. Israel’s hi-tech bubble burst a couple of years ago and stock values plummeted.

At the same time Sharon has been concentrating his efforts on holding down the Palestinian people. Now he plans to go as far as to build a massive wall right round the whole of the West Bank. Initially it was presented as a fence to "keep out the terrorists", but now he plans to extend it around to the Jordan valley as well. This amounts to building a massive prison for the Palestinian people, who are already pinned down by the Israeli army. He has also been increasing defence and security spending.

At the same time Sharon has also been supporting the settlers and making big concessions to the ultra-right orthodox Zionist parties. This has been because he has had to appease these parties in order to keep them on board in his coalition. Thus a combination of a slump in the economy, which led to falling tax revenues, and increased spending on defence led to the budget deficit spiralling out of control.

Thus instead of cutting this expenditure Sharon is looking to cutting social expenditure. Israel also receives more than $4bn a year from the USA in aid. Recently the US promised a $10bn package, but this comes with strings attached. Netanyahu, the Finance Minister, has explained that this money will be provided if Israel comes up with a "coherent economic plan". What that means is that the US will provide money on condition that the Sharon government cuts social spending and introduces wide ranging measures of privatisation.

This reveals one thing very clearly. The allies of the US in Israel are not the ordinary Israeli workers. It is only the Israeli ruling class that is allied to the US. They have the same interests. So while the US is at war in Iraq, it is pushing Sharon (as if he need the pushing anyway) to launch a war on the working people of Israel.

But, as the saying goes, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The main Israeli trade union federation the Histadrut, has expressed anger at the government's plans to eliminate thousands of jobs in the public sector. The government is also planning to cut wages.

Last Sunday, the Histadrut declared what is technically known as a "labour dispute". This would then allow it to ballot its members over strike action. What is being prepared is a general strike, that if it goes ahead would hit government departments, most transport services, and also municipal services. Many private companies would also be affected by the strike, and this could bring the economy to a standstill.

The chairman of the Histadrut, Amir Peretz, was quoted as saying: "The Histadrut will not be the victim of the economic programme, and will fight against it without compromise to cancel it. We have no intention of losing this battle."

As we have pointed out many times, the crisis of capitalism will inevitably have an effect on the Israeli workers, like workers the world over. The Zionist ruling class has managed to tie the workers in Israel to their boat. But was has capitalism to offer the Israeli workers? Now it is clear. What it is offering is cuts in social spending, which means cuts in pensions, education, healthcare, etc., combined with privatisation of the state utilities, which means they will become like those in Britain.

This is a recipe for the awakening of the class struggle in Israel, and this is only the beginning. Once the workers of Israel begin to move many things will be clarified. They will learn from their own bitter experience that their real enemy is not the Palestinian people, but their own government. We are confident that with time the Israeli workers will take their rightful place in the struggles of the workers of the world that is unfolding on all five continents.