Israel: Café waiters’ strike victory

Thirty-six employees of the Coffee To Go Café in Ramat Aviv have won a strike for union recognition and against the violation of their labour rights. It was the first ever strike in an Israeli café.

Photo credit: Oren Ziv, Activestills

Café waiters’ strike victory

The treatment of staff at Coffee To Go is typical of this exploited sector. Management take the tips collected by staff, keep a proportion for themselves and use some to pay the waiters statutory overtime pay. Management divides the remainder in an arbitrary manner with the staff, favouring waiters closest to management.

Management had prepared for the strike and brought in scabs and hired thugs to intimidate strikers. The director of the chain punched one of the pickets. The Strauss-Elite food conglomerate which owns the chain threatened to sue the three leaders of the strike for NIS 500,000, (£60,000) each.

Strikers organised round-the-clock pickets, which were also attended by social activists and students radicalised by the recent students’ strike. These have been very successful in turning customers away, despite the Café’s location in one of the richer parts of Tel Aviv.

Management put up signs saying “Business as Usual, there is no strike here” and brought in their friends and associates to pose as customers. They even offered free meals to people who attend the café. Strikers distributed leaflets calling on the public to boycott the chain, and also to unionise their own workplaces. The strikers posted a daily blog. Demonstrations outside the Tel Aviv and Haifa branches helped keep morale at a high level.

Coffee To Go is one of series of workplaces getting organised during the last few months. These include Castro retail chain, journalists in the Haaretz newspaper, the Coffee Tree café, and security guards.

Café waiters’ strike victory

A member of Maavak Sozialisti (CWI, Israel) played a leading role in the establishment of the Haaretz union and was elected to the leadership of the new union. We were involved (alongside other activists) right from the beginning of the Coffee To Go dispute, helping the waiters set up a union and develop a strategy for the strike.

The strike is an important development in Israeli society, introducing union organisation and militant methods of struggle to a new generation of young workers.

Café waiters’ strike victory

The active involvement of rank and file strikers is a new feature of struggle, which can also be seen in the teachers’ strike which is now in its fourth week. The Coffee To Go strike has been covered on national press and TV news and serves as an inspiration to a whole layer of young workers in unorganised workplaces.

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