Cutting through the bullshit.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The shape of things to come...

In yesterday’s Ha’aretz, Simone Kurkos provides a glimpse of what the future holds in the viable Palestinian state…

The company doesn't have a name, and I doubt it is even registered. I get 100 shekels per day for nine hours of work. There are 30 employees here. There's hardly any protection against the sun or rain, and the factory has no flooring. In the winter we stand in the mud. There is no toilet, and we are not allowed to leave, because this iron door opens only at 4 P.M. Can you imagine how dirty it gets, with 30 men? Two years ago, I finally found the courage to complain. You know what happened? I was sacked on the spot and sent home without pay. Two weeks later the phone rang. It was my boss. He said he would give me a last chance, but I had to shut up."

And that's what J. did. He doesn't complain about the lack of protective clothes, and he was silent when the boy Namer accidentally shot himself in the abdomen with the electric stapler and was sent home without pay.

But he admits he's furious. "The worst thing is, the manager doesn't really care. It's not that he treats us like animals. He just doesn't see us."

Abdelatif Abu Raye, a young man with bright blue eyes, tells me that several months ago, his hand was sliced in two on a cutting machine in the carton factory. After the accident, his employer sent him home and stopped paying his salary. The accident left him partially paralyzed. The Tul Karm hospital could not perform the operation to save his use of his hand, and he cannot reach an Israeli hospital that would help him.

"My employer didn't pay me any indemnification, and because of my injury I can't find work elsewhere. My magnetic card (the permit to work in Israel) was revoked. I talked to a lawyer who started court procedures in Israel, but I cannot even meet him because I'm not allowed to cross the checkpoint," says Abu Raye.

Another worker, Mohammed Abu Harma, was asked five years ago to build a fence around the Rational Systems factory in Nitzanei Hashalom, recalls his son, Majed.

"They used plastic barrels with chemical waste to support the fence. One of these barrels exploded, and my father was injured in the head. He died four days later, leaving my mother with eight children to fend for themselves. We never received any pension or indemnification."

Majed, then 22, had to stop studying to provide for the family. "We have been in court with my father's employer for the last several years, but the judges haven't come to any conclusions yet," he says.

Others tell stories of amputated fingers, injuries and breathing problems deriving from factory work. To hear the men's stories, work accidents due to occupational, safety and health hazards seem to be common practice here.

Need I say more?

[Thanks to Moshe Machover for the link.]


  1. What these people need is a union. If workers don't do the work, the work doesn't get done. And, in the circumstances described, I doubt if the bosses could find Israeli citizens to do the job for the same money, so the boss would be over a barrel.

    This isn't to say that unionising would be easy. It might bring harsh retribution on activists. But harsh treatment is often handed out anyway, so they'd have nothing but their chains to lose. And harsh retribution still wouldn't get the work done, so the profits wouldn't flow.

    Basically, what would be needed is to organise in secret and spring a strike on the bosses all at once. These things have happened in dictatorships before. What distinguishes this situation is that Israel is supposed to be a capitalist democracy. At least that's what it tells the world it is.

  2. There’s no doubt that one of the things they need is a union, abim, but I’m not going to hold my breath. You might not have read the whole article that I extracted those horror stories from, but there was quite a lot more information. These workplaces are in little industrial park type areas adjacent to the wall, I think of them as kind of Free Trade Zones, like the maquiladoras along the US-Mexican border, or the one where they lock up all the Chinese girls at the old leprosarium at East Arm in Darwin. As you’d be aware, even the most democratic of democracies don’t apply those kinds of principles in FTZs.

    The other thing is, you know how bosses always like to say, ‘If you don’t like they way I run things around here, there’s plenty more out there who’ll have your job’? Well in the West Bank, according to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, the Unemployment rate in 2005, the most recent estimates I can find (, was 20.3%. That is very high by anyone’s standards, but compounding it is the low Participation rate – only 42.9% of the population aged 15 and over is actually in the labour force, i.e. employed or unemployed, at all. It is very likely that a significant proportion of those outside the labour force are discouraged jobseekers – those who need a job and want a job, but have given up looking because there is no work and therefore don’t meet the standard definition of ‘Unemployed’. And I’m quite sure that things have only got worse since 2005. Israel is only allowing a few thousand Palestinians from the territories to work inside Israel anymore and the number has been decreasing steadily. In 1999, 22.9% of employed Palestinians from the territories worked in Israel and the settlements. By 2003, the last date I have a figure for, it was down to 9.7%.

    That alone would give the employers a great deal of confidence to sack the whole workforce if that’s what it took, for striking, in the sure knowledge that the reserve army would come to their aid. But in this case, the reserve army isn’t just a statistic – it’s queued up outside the gate every morning hoping for an opportunity to be superexploited. And everyone inside and outside that gate desperately needs the income. Even if they have the good fortune of a relative employed by the PA, as we all know, they haven’t been paid much lately, and prices aren’t decreasing, either.

    Under the circumstances, you’d have to be crazy to try to unionise within the workplace. The only way to go about it would be to organise the whole labour force, employed and unemployed, plus the discouraged jobseekers, into – you’ll like this – one big union and mount a general strike. Anything short of that would almost certainly just result in the immediate sacking, and probably permanent blacklisting, of the strikers, while others happily replaced them. And even if they could manage the OBU, there are sure to be people desperate enough to scab, and fuck the whole thing up. After all, there have always been collaborators with the occupation. Scabbing seems a comparatively mild form of betrayal under the circumstances.

    Still, I wouldn’t rule it out. Desperate people take desperate measures, and the Palestinians just might have the level of community solidarity to pull something like this off. That said, I don’t see any evidence of it actually happening, and that’s no surprise either.

  3. Yes, I did read the whole article. And the unemployment rate is actually lower than I had been assuming.

    What makes me still think unionising may be a goer at some stage is the example of South Africa. Under Apartheid, the bosses had trouble finding people to cross picket lines even when effective unemployment was 50%. Community solidarity was just too tight.

    It's true that Israel can get informers in every armed Palestinian group, but informers can do their job on the quiet. A s*** has to do their dirty deed in public.

    What is holding the Palestinian workers back? I can only suspect it's a lack of basic class consciousness, of the domination of nationalism and religious dogmatism. The South African struggle was an explicitly Leftist one, with strong influence by the South African "Communist" Party. Although the SACP played a dastardly role with their two-stage liberation strategy, they at least were effective in teaching people the power of a union.

    Something tells me neither Hamas nor Fatah would be terribly happy about the Palenstinians learning what a real union could do.