Now the government decides, not the Histadrut

Shay Niv

The Open Skies decision was a slap in the face for Ofer Eini, but he needs to reserve his strength for bigger battles ahead.

1. At 10:30 pm Saturday night, the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel) announced that chairman Ofer Eini made an urgent plea to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to avoid making a historic, harsh , and destructive decision." This statement, possibly more than anything else, tells the true story, the significance of which is much more far reaching than any aviation agreement.

People familiar with the Histadrut know that on the eve of a big strike, Eini chain smokes and waits for phone calls. His phone does not stop ringing. He is used to receiving urgent calls asking him to prevent the strike, but now, all of a sudden, the opposite has happened. He has both declared a strike and he wants to prevent it. Not only has the strike not been prevented, but the government approved the Open Skies agreement in its original format, even though the Histadrut had hoped to introduce some kind of amendment in it through negotiations.

A majority of ministers voted in favor of the agreement, even though, all morning, the Histadrut and the workers committee made hints about strikes at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel Railways, and the seaports, despite the fact that no labor dispute had been declared and such a strike would be illegal if it lasted more than a few hours in solidarity.

There is a new government in Israel, with "a knife between its teeth", as Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett likes to say. This is the message that Netanyahu has sent to Eini, and it was heard loud and clear. It is not about Open Skies; it is first and foremost about the state budget. Eini has been asked for public sector workers to contribute at least NIS 2 billion to reduce the deficit, and he faces more challenges down the road in the form of removal of import duties and structural changes.

We are ready for dialogue, the government is telling Eini, but we will set the rules. Eini, who, in 2009, was the architect of the Netanyahu-Barak government and the package deal for the economy, has now taken a light slap in the face.

2. Over the past couple of days, Eini has been busy analyzing the situation. Ego demands a harsh response, a show of force, and even letting loose the workers committees at the ports and Israel Railways. But the head calls for restraint. Eini knows that a general strike on this matter would play into the government's hands, especially when the public tends to believe that Open Skies will only benefit consumers.

In many ways, this is a lost cause, and it would be better for Eini to grasp the short lifeline thrown to him in the form of "dialogue" or "minor adjustments" regarding the Israeli airlines' security costs.

This is why Eini ordered a solidarity strike at Ben Gurion Airport, which will last a few hours on Tuesday. More than a solidarity strike, legally at least, he cannot do anyway. It is possible that with cold calculation, Eini will prefer to focus his efforts on the spending cuts and austerity measures in the state budget, where the public will support him, at least in part. On this playing field, he can even harden his positions, and when he calls strikes over the budget, he will also return the slap he received yesterday. This is called a tactical withdrawal to make a counterattack.

The questions are whether the head will overcome the ego, and whether Netanyahu will bother to seek a compromise even though Eini is in an inferior bargaining position.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on April 22, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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