Israel: Mass working class action to stop privatisation!

Once again Sharon and Co have provoked the working class in Israel with further dismissals of workers in the public sector in an open violation of the agreement that was reached last May. On Monday, some 50,000 civil servants launched an open-ended work-to-rule. Additionally, hospital workers are preparing to join the strike after Yom Kippur.

The Israeli bosses' government has declared war on the working class. Once again Sharon and Co have provoked the working class in Israel with further dismissals of workers in the public sector in an open violation of the agreement that was reached last May.

On Monday, some 50,000 civil servants launched an open-ended work-to-rule. Additionally, hospital workers are preparing to join the strike after Yom Kippur. These workers engaged in only a limited work-to-rule on Monday: They held a protest meeting in working hours, during which time they refused to work. The civil servants are also striking over planned cuts in various government ministries, including the privatisation of the Public Works Department (Ma'atz), and the closure of a few government hospitals. These cuts will result in layoffs.

The Finance Ministry responded by intimating that it may turn to the courts to obtain back-to-work orders against those striking workers who are responsible for essential services on Tuesday morning. These include customs workers at the country's ports and airports. The government believed that it would be able to win this round as easily as the last one, due to the compromising actions of the Histadrut’s bureaucracy last spring, which resulted in an "agreement" under which 700 civil servants were to be fired and the salaries of public-sector workers were cut by an average of 4%. What the representatives of the bankers and the owners of big industry did not take into account was that the port workers would join in to prevent the privatisation of the ports, i.e. the giving away of public property to their rich friends.

Some 2,500 workers at the three seaports - Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat - began their strike at 6am on Tuesday after a breakdown in overnight talks. The capitalist government is ready to use any means to defeat the seaport workers. Sources at the Treasury said Tuesday evening that, "the government would do everything it could to maintain Israel's international trade, despite the strike."

When the representatives of the ruling class are threatening to use "any means" to break a mass strike it could mean many things, from the use of strike breakers, hired goons and the courts, to the deployment of the police and the army, i.e. the entire capitalist state apparatus.

24-hour militant strike now!

The Haaretz daily reported that the Histadrut labour federation's strike committee has decided against stepping up the sanctions, at least until after next Monday's Yom Kippur holiday. After Yom Kippur, the labour federation will consider the possibility of further escalation, including delaying flights into and out of Ben-Gurion International Airport.

This is not a decision of a leadership that is prepared to lead the battle that is before us. What is required is a total shut down of the economy. The road to a militant strike of 24 hours is being paved. An organized strike can demonstrate how powerful the workers class in this country is. The previous strike failed after the trade union bureaucracy betrayed, as we had predicted it would. It is time to ask the trade union leaders directly: "put up or shut up - are you for organized working class action or not?"

We agree with Ofer Eini, head of the Civil Servants Union, that insisted Monday that the strike was justified, and that the violation of all its promises on the part the government justified the Histadrut's violation of its pledge to refrain from strikes until July 2005. There is an elementary lesson to be learnt here. In these conditions, any agreement with the bosses and their government will inevitably be violated by the bosses themselves. If the militant trade unionists, the rank and file members of the unions and the authentic leaders of the trade unions do not take this lesson on board, the government will have another opportunity to manipulate and defraud the workers.

The In Defense of Marxism circle is suggesting a program, a strategy and tactics, that could lead to victory. Now is not the time to play softball with the government and the ruling class. The workers must build their own workers' committees on a regional and national basis. We must defend our gains and rights, which were achieved over decades through many struggles on the part of the workers, which took place in spite of the Zionist-capitalist governments that tried throughout the years to carry out a class collaborationist project of "national peace" - peace between the workers, the unions, the capitalists and the government.

The government's new measure of trying to destroy our gains by using the ports in Egypt and Jordan must be confronted with a call for united working class action of the workers in Israel, Egypt and Jordan. We are all facing the same class enemy - the exploiters of the workers, both Arabs and Jews. Sympathetic strikes of the workers in Egypt, Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and Aqaba in Jordan would bring the government to its knees. In addition sympathetic strikes by workers in Europe and other parts of the world where workers should refuse to load and unload goods to Israeli ports would be of great help.

If there were any illusions that Netanyahu is the bad guy and Sharon is the better one, these illusions are dying as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated that it was easy to see that the port workers' strike was a political move aimed at disrupting the work of the government. This measure of using ports in Egypt and Jordan to break the strike may come as a shock to the nationalists who believe in the bosses’ propaganda that the real contradiction is between the Arabs and the Jews. In reality this measure confirms the Marxist position that the real war is not between nations but between classes. The lesson that must be learnt by the working class is that the workers of the entire world are brothers and sisters facing a common enemy - the capitalist class. Now is the time to declare a war of the working class against the class enemy.

This, however, is not what the Histadrut’s nationalist bureaucracy has in mind. They want to delay the necessary actions in order to bring about political demoralization in the face of a determined enemy ready to use any means in their possession. They are afraid of losing control over the growing militancy. If the trade union leadership cannot fulfil the important mission of defending the working class, it should be removed and replaced by a dedicated leadership fighting for victory.

What is to be done?

The defence of our rights and gains requires a real proletarian program able to mobilize the entire working class, and all of those who suffer, around militant action including mass political demonstrations in support of the 24-hour general strike. Such a program should contain transitional demands that raise the need for working class power, of both Jewish and Arab workers, throughout the entire country. Such demands would start with the call for minimum wage of 6000 Shekels ($1500), for better medical care, for proper public housing, for free quality schooling from kindergarten to university, for the needs of the disabled and the single mothers. This would unite the workers and the poor in this country.

To prevent the rulers from using their favourite tactic of divide and rule we must demand the end of the national oppression of the Palestinians inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories. Our Palestinian brothers and sisters deserve their right to self-determination. Only the workers at the head of the oppressed in power would be able to guarantee this right.

In order to prevent the government from using the army against the workers, we must tell our children, our brothers and sisters - the workers in uniform - that we are fighting for their future as well.

But we should not stop here with simple reforms. If we stop short of struggling for power the government will eventually defeat us. It is necessary to raise demands such as a shorter working week without any loss in pay for those in employment and decent benefits for the jobless. In this way we would unite the employed and the unemployed workers.

We must demand the reversal of the privatisation of the public properties that have been given away as gifts to the capitalists. It is time to fight for full nationalization of all the banks and the major industries under the democratic control of the workers. We must organize joint Arab and Jewish workers self-defence against the physical attacks by the government and private goons that are likely to be used if the strike continues. This struggle is not going to be limited to a day or two. It is a question of the coming period before us.

This struggle must aim at bringing down the government of the capitalist class and replacing it with a workers government in the entire country. Such a government would carry out socialist policies and build a system that would base itself on the needs of the majority - not on the profits of the minority. It would solve the national question by forming a new federated socialist state that would guarantee both nations, the Israelis and the Palestinians, their own autonomous territories within a common socialist state. It would fight to unite the entire working class in the region in a socialist federation of the Middle East. Either this, or a continuation of capitalist policies, which will mean all workers, whether Jewish or Arab, will continue to suffer. The choice is clear.