Israel: the struggle against the attacks on the working class begins

Vicki Knafo, a single mother,  recently walked all the way to Jerusalem from her home in Mitzpeh Ramon, a poor town in Southern Israel, to protest against the government's welfare cuts. Her case has become a symbol of determined struggle against the government's austerity measures and has highlighted the plight of many working class people in Israel. The story of Vicki Knafo epitomises the story of the entire Israeli-Jewish working class that is struggling against the historic attack on its rights and gains. Vicki is a single mother who recently walked to Jerusalem from her home in Mitzpeh Ramon, a poor town in Southern Israel, to protest against the government's welfare cuts. Knafo has become a symbol of determined struggle against the government's austerity measures and in the previous week she had even met with Israel's Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to discuss her opposition to the cuts.

Netanyahu knew that there is mass opposition to the government's austerity plan and wanted to silence Knafo by proposing some benefits for her. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the meetings with Netanyahu and his ministry's officials, the sides agreed that Knafo and her advisors would continue to be in contact with the Finance Ministry in an effort to ease the cuts faced by single mothers. Representatives of single-parent families also participated in the meeting. Knafo demanded that the Finance Minister should suspend the cuts in welfare supplements for children.

Knafo is now treated with great respect by the wider public after she cancelled a meeting with Netanyahu a day before their meeting was due because she was angry with him. "He can wait for me," she commented. Knafo mustered the support of tens of thousands of working class Israelis, while hundreds actually took active part in her protest. Netanyahu made Knafo two offers when they met late Tuesday night - a chance of getting an academic education and… cheese cake! "She gladly accepted the cake, which she took back to battle headquarters, but the offer of an academic education she had to turn down. "First let me finish high school and get my matriculation," she told him, (reported in the daily liberal Haaretz).

Knafo earns almost NIS 1200 (less than US$300) a month cooking for kindergartens in Mitzpeh Ramon - a small town which is known for its mass unemployment. As a direct result of Netanyahu's austerity measures, the same amount of money - NIS 1200 - was cut from her welfare benefits. Knafo gets on a monthly basis a small benefit of NIS 1300 paid by the National Insurance Institute and an additional NIS 600 in child support. This small amount of money - less than the minimum salary in Israel's economy - is supposed to finance her and her three children. "I will only go back to Mitzpeh Ramon with a victory, only with a trophy," says Knafo.

Another woman followed Knafo's protest: The daily Jerusalem Post reported, "Ilana Azoulay embarked on her own walk on Friday to the capital from Arad, media sources report. Azoulay, however, has a 17-year-old son confined to a wheelchair, and she is bringing him with her. Azoulay says she receives NIS 1300 per month for her son, and about NIS 300 for herself, and that she steals from the supermarket with no shame. In another unlikely scenario caused by economic pressure, reported earlier in the week by Maariv, army reservists have been refusing to demobilize after too much show up for Miluim [the Hebrew term for reservist service in the army] duty."

Economic crisis creates anti-capitalist popular movement

Israeli analysts expect a minimal growth of 0-0.5% in Israel's Gross Domestic Product. Unemployment will go from 10.8% to 12.9%. Although the Central Bureau for Statistics claims that "only" 300,000 Israelis are unemployed, a recent poll of the Geo-cartography Company found that more than half a million Israelis are unemployed. More than 50% of Israeli workers earn US$800 per month - Israel's minimum wage. Unemployment in Israel hovers between 18 to 20%. The government report on the number of unemployed Israelis is considered mistaken due to thousands of unemployed who are no longer receiving unemployment insurance and are no longer counted in the official labour pool.

The situation in Israel will become even worse after Netanyahu announced his intention to privatise the banks and state-owned companies. Steps in this direction have already been taken and thousands of Israelis will lose their jobs as a result of this all-out sell-off of Israel's economy. Masses of Israeli workers and youth will be affected.

The crisis of Israeli capitalism, combined with the crisis of Israeli society after three decades of ongoing struggle against the Palestinians' right for self-determination, have created the conditions in which the mass of workers and youth are beginning to understand that unless they take to the streets and prevent Netanyahu from carrying out his plan, the entire social structure of the moribund Israeli welfare state could be severely damaged

The mass protests against Netanyahu and Sharon have undermined their legitimacy to carry forward their cruel anti-working class measures. A different type of protest has appeared over the recent weeks. Israeli men and women from poor cities and towns have been raiding shops and taking basic consumer goods without paying. Others have gathered in front of Israel's parliament in order to express their hatred toward Netanyahu. Several single mothers protested in front of the Prime Minister's Sycamores Farm, his personal residence in the Negev. More and more Israelis understand that unless they fight for their rights and defend their gains, no one will do it for them.

The daily liberal Haaretz reported on Sunday (July 13) that the Finance Ministry is planning to force unemployed people to work in state-sponsored projects and to give single mothers a work grant to try to reduce unemployment and ward off social unrest. This, however, is a false claim as the real intention is simply to put the blame for the cuts on these single mothers who are unable to work in a full-time job. This is clear even for those who read the capitalist newspapers.

"Following the Hudna and improved security for the first time in years, the treasury is anticipating waves of dismissals and is planning public works like gardening, forestry, archaeological digs and road building for the unemployed," reported Haaretz.

It added, "Those who refuse to work would forfeit unemployment benefits. Single mothers who agree to go to work would be paid a monthly NIS 800-1,000 as partial help for a nanny to look after the children during work hours. Treasury officials fear the 10.8 percent unemployment rate will rise in the next few months as security guards are laid off in shopping and entertainment centers. The situation is expected to worsen as public service dismissals are also coming and no new jobs are being created."

The ruling class is afraid that it is going to face a large movement in opposition to the cuts, as Haaretz writes: "They also fear that one-woman demonstrations of single mothers, like Vicki Knafo and Ilana Azulai, could snowball and threaten the social balance or even throw the country into turmoil."

The illusions that a capitalist "peace" could bring prosperity to the masses is being proved once again to be a total fraud, as was the case during the years 1993-2000 in which Israel and the Palestinians implemented the Oslo Accords. Their aim is not only to provoke a civil war among the Palestinians, but what they call peace is nothing but a war on the workers and youth both Arabs and Jews.

But wars usually do not remain a one sided affair. In Israel, the planned "peace" will bring escalation in the class struggle due to the double exploitation of Israeli and Palestinian workers by their bosses. The state-sponsored projects will create a mass layer of working class Israelis and Palestinians (who are already the majority within society) that will be forced to work harder but will be paid less than they used to get in the past. An enormous layer of workers on the minimum wage (US$800 for a full-time job) will grow rapidly and a mass struggle against this war on the labouring masses will begin.

The mass dismissals in the public sector and the private companies and factories, including workers in the public services and workers in manpower companies, are paving the way for mass protest movements against the government.

The Alternative

In order to fight against Binyamin Netanyahu's austerity plan and defeat the attack on the working class, the Israeli and Palestinian proletariat needs a genuine revolutionary leadership, trained and capable of leading these struggles toward victory. The Marxists in Israel, in political solidarity with the In Defence of Marxism web site and the international Marxist tendency gathered around it, will use their experience and training in order to assist the struggling workers to build genuine revolutionary leadership within the unions and throughout the class itself.

Nonetheless, mass actions requires responsibility and willingness of all those who consider themselves Marxists to work in the mass workers' organizations, including political reformist formations. Although the Histadrut - the trade union federation in Israel led by Amir Peretz and his partners in the Labour party and the Likud - has systematically betrayed every union struggle and signed anti-working class agreements, our role is to organize a combative workers' faction. Thus, we urge the Communist Party's faction in the Histadrut to break with the bureaucratic leadership and build a solid opposition inside the trade unions.

The Communist Party of Israel (CPI) and its Front for Democracy and Equality, is the only workers' party that unites Arab and Jewish workers in Israel. It is a non-Zionist party with a serious record of defending the workers' rights and gains in Israel. However, due to its mistakes it is unable with its wrong methods to become a mass workers' party based on the workers inside and outside the Histadrut.

The policy of popular frontism, which means class collaboration between proletarian parties or groups and bourgeois or petty bourgeois elements, that subordinates the workers to the parties of the bosses rather than fighting for the independence of the working class, is the main obstacle which is preventing the CPI from winning Arab and Jewish workers and youth.

The opportunist electoral deal with the Arab Movement for Refoundation (Ta'al, led by the neo-liberal Ahmed Tibbi MP, who was the advisor of Arafat) - a bourgeois nationalist party - did not add any strength to the party. The opposite is the case, as the workers saw the alliance as an unprincipled combination and this caused a rift between Jewish and Arab members in the party and the front.

The comrades in the CP/Hadash should reclaim their party, build mass workers' movement against the war on the working class, adopt a Marxist platform (like the one the party had before Stalin took control of the Third International) and carry forward the struggle for a socialist revolution and a federal workers' state that will provide full democratic rights and autonomy both to the Jews and the Arabs, within the framework of a Socialist Federation of Middle East.

We suggest to all those who want to defeat the bourgeois enemy, to unite around immediate demands as well as on demands that can act as a bridge to workers' power:

* Stop the dismissals and privatisations now!
* For a minimum wage of US$1,500 (NIS 6,300) for every Israeli worker!
* Massive investments in infrastructure - healthcare services, public housing, public education, national transportation and so on under the democratic control of the workers themselves.
* No to employers' game of dividing the local workers and the newcomers: Full rights to foreign workers in Israel.
* End the occupation of our Palestinian brothers and sisters now!
* Every company that fires workers should be nationalised under democratic control of the workers in that company!
* Build Committees for mass Jewish-Arab Struggles now!