Haifa Chemicals’ employees demonstrated on 11 January, demanding that workers employed by contractors be taken on as permanent employees. The management, fearing embarrassment, cancelled a ceremony that was scheduled to take place on site. A united struggle of Arab and Jewish workers is unfolding against contract labour and for decent wages.
Haifa Chemicals’ employees are struggling for the taking on of contracted workers as fully-fledged employees. More than 100 contractor workers work for Haifa Chemicals, mostly Arabs from northern Israel, and forced to work in appalling and degrading conditions - in addition to poor wages. Until recently, contractor workers were forbidden from entering the dining hall, showers and restrooms designated for permanent employees, and had to make do with improvised and smelly facilities. Notably, this international corporation made net profits of $175 million in 2008!
Haifa Chemicals’ shop stewards committee moved into struggle, demanding that the management take on the contractor workers as permanent employees. As a result, the management has been forced to allow the contractor workers to use the facilities designated for permanent employees. This is an important first achievement - but the struggle continues.
On Tuesday 11 January, the workers held a successful demonstration of several dozen workers at the Scientific Industries Center (MATAM) located at the coast of mount Caramel, where a ceremony was scheduled by the plant’s management and owner to celebrate the relocation of the staff department to MATAM from the plant site, located on the other side of town.
CWI comrades attended the demonstration, along with activists from the ‘Power to the Workers’ trade union and other supporters who came to strengthen the unified struggle of permanent employees and contractor workers for their livelihoods. During the protest, our comrades read solidarity greetings sent from the chief shop steward at Haifa-harbor tugboats, Sivan Eron, and from the shop stewards’ committee of Belgian chemical plant Bayer / LANXESS. Sadly, Histadrut (Trade Union Federation) representatives were absent, despite the fact that the permanent workers are unionised in the Histadrut, the biggest and strongest organisation of trade unions in Israel.
Management feared embarrassment - the ceremony was cancelled
Chief shop steward, Eli Elbaz, declared, to the delight of the protesters, that the ceremony was cancelled because the administration feared that the demonstration would embarrass them in front of their guests. From this perspective, the demonstration was a success even before it began. According to Elbaz, this is further proof that the employees have power and influence over the administration.
Several speakers, including the head of the workers’ struggle committee, Eli Lutatti, expressed harsh criticism against the threats of the management, which deterred many workers from attending the demonstration. Lutatti encouraged employees not to fold.
Many banners were raised in protest, that read in part: "You cannot dismantle the organisations of the workers", "Nadav Shahar - abusive CEO", "expensive chemicals - cheap workers", and "Jewish and Arab workers - unite in struggle - defeat the exploitation ".
Among the slogans chanted by the demonstrators were: “contractor companies, are organised crime!” / / “when the bosses attack, workers unite!” / / “contract workers, permanent employees; we will not be exploited!” / / “Jews and Arabs - we will not be exploited!”/ / “every worker is a worker - no type A and type B!” / / “the plant profits, and neglects the workers!”
Letter of Solidarity
Antwerpen, January 9th 2011
Dear comrades ,
We have just heard here in Antwerp, (Belgium) about your current struggle in Haifa in defence of your co-workers.
You have all our support and solidarity. Big capital and the bosses will always want workers to be cheaper and more flexible. Outsourcing and lay offs are used by the bosses to weaken the workers and their unions.
Your struggle is not easy but it is correct and justified. We hope you will win in the end. But whatever the outcome we wish you all the best and give you our solidarity.
In name of the ABVV Shopsteward Committee, Bayer/LANXESS Antwerpen