by Isaiah Gutman
On Monday, July 1, the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) hosted an event with Israeli labor organizer, Assaf Adiv. Adiv, who originally planned to speak in person, ended up calling in from New York City after travel problems. Adiv spoke at length on both the labor situation in Israel in general for Palestinian workers and his group’s own efforts in organizing Palestinian workers in West Bank settlements and Israel proper. His organization, the union WAC-MAAN [Workers Advice Center], recently released a report on their efforts over the past ten years.
Adiv first gave a presentation covering information contained in WAC-MAAN’s report for those gathered at the TCWC. He described the state of workers living in Palestine and working in Israel or the settlements in the West Bank, which he deemed quite poor. According to Adiv, there is an apartheid system at work in the West Bank, where Palestinian workers do not, in practice, have the same rights or access to representation as Israeli workers and residents. Palestinian workers must have permits in order to travel to work in Israel, and every day they must go through checkpoints to reach their places of employment. Under the Palestinian Authority, minimum wages are about one-third of what they are in Israel, so many Palestinians are encouraged to work in Israel. Once working in Israel, Adiv explained, Palestinian unions can no longer represent Palestinian workers, and most Israeli unions have no interest in helping them. Instead, Palestinian workers enjoy no job security or social benefits and are often underpaid. At times, workers are disallowed from entering Israel for their much-needed work simply on the basis of their last name, missing work for months due to erratic bans attempting to target families or individuals based on suspected activities. The picture Adiv laid out for the group was not very bright for Palestinian workers, of which there are around 150,000 in Israel and the settlements
Despite all the negatives, Adiv did provide the group hope as he described the efforts of WAC-MAAN. As an Israeli union, WAC-MAAN has the legal right to collectively bargain on behalf of Palestinian workers in Israel. They can also organize and announce strikes of these workers, a valuable tool when they have very few existing protections. WAC-MAAN has already used these tactics, which Adiv described as generally successful so far. WAC-MAAN uses Facebook posts to reach out to workers, informing them of their rights and updating them on actions relating to their work. In one example, Adiv told of garage workers who unionized with WAC-MAAN, which helped them call a strike. After police arrested a lead organizer and got him fired, WAC-MAAN worked to successfully reinstate him and his company paid him for the 21 months he was wrongfully dismissed. In 2017, these garage workers reached a collective bargaining agreement, which Adiv characterized as helpful in multiple ways. Not only was this agreement a boon for the garage workers, it also encouraged other workers to approach WAC-MAAN for help. Now, WAC-MAAN holds two to three meetings per month with workers hoping to organize or in the process of doing so, on top of individuals reaching out to them for help. As recent as May 2019, WAC-MAAN helped organize a wildcat strike among workers in Jericho.
Even as WAC-MAAN achieves all these impressive wins, Adiv stressed that there is much more to do. He explained that Palestinian workers, even with the higher pay in Israel and their unionizing efforts, must pay up to half their salary just to get a permit to enter Israel. To even get to work, many must wake at 2 am every day due to the slow proceedings at checkpoints. Adiv also emphasized the dangerous working conditions that still exist for Palestinian workers, especially for construction workers, of which there are almost 70,000.
Adiv ended his presentation by situating the work of WAC-MAAN in a broader Middle Eastern and global context. He mentioned Sudanese, Algerian, and Egyptian social movements and uprisings as examples of widespread unrest and dissatisfaction with the current ruling classes in the region. He characterized the regimes in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt as also being hostile to the struggles of the Palestinian people. Finally, he related the Palestinian labor struggles to the need for a fight to save the planet, explaining how the fight for Palestinian land is important as well in both contexts.
Isaiah Gutman is an Intern with the TCWC. He graduated several weeks ago from Ithaca High School and is soon on his way to Grinnell College in Iowa.