Preparations for an independent trade union to defend Arab workers

For the past four years the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA) has operated a Workers' Advice Center, including a special women's branch, the Arab Women Workers' Project. The center provides counseling, holds public campaigns, and engages in numerous court cases in defense of individual Arab workers. Its members are now preparing to turn it into a trade union. Some 25 of them met for this purpose on November 22 in the Baqa center of Majd al- Krum, a village in Galilee. The formal launching of this independent Trade Union Association is scheduled for May 1998. Speakers at the meeting included Assaf Adiv, coordinator of the Workers' Advice Center (WAC), Samya Nasser, who coordinates the Arab Women Workers' Project (AWWP), and Tzipora Friedman, who specializes for the center in labor laws. Assaf Adiv stressed the urgent need to create a new type of trade union that will concentrate on low-paid workers, especially Arabs. The latter are usually scattered among small Jewish firms, with the result that they remain unorganized and vulnerable. In most Arab towns and villages, Adiv reported, unemployment rates have reached 15-20%. This results from the introduction of cheap foreign workers into the fields of construction, agriculture, hotel and restaurant services – all sectors in which the main labor force used to be Arab.

The Histadrut, Israel's official Trade Union, protects mainly the workers in privileged sectors, such as energy, transportation and the arms industry. From all these fields Arabs are excluded. Adiv pointed out another problem as well: although Arab workers are a major component of Arab society, they have relatively little influence in internal Arab affairs. This is because the former national leadership, mainly middle class, has been co-opted into the mainstream establishment (and at very little cost to the latter). "A new, democratic trade union is therefore essential", Adiv concluded. Samya Nasser of the AWWP centered her report on the crisis in the textile industry. Thousands of Arab seamstresses have lost their jobs since the industry began moving its factories to Jordan and Egypt. This crisis has also hit thousands of Jewish workers, but in their case, at least, the government is under pressure to find alternatives. The Arabs are left out. Nasser gave examples of AWWP's struggles and achievements in the field. Tzipora Friedman reported on the experience that WAC and AWWP have acquired concerning labor laws and workers' rights.

It was decided at the meeting:

  1. To register WAC as an independent trade union association.
  2. To offer enhanced courses for workers on labor laws.
  3. To publish a book on Arab women and textiles.
  4. To establish the union formally in May 1998.

WAC wishes to communicate with trade unions and labor organizations abroad . For further contact, and for information on the meeting which will found the union in May, please send e-mail to: Assaf Adiv ,WAC coordinator:
assaf a...@netvision.net.il
or Samia Nasser, AWWP coordinator: b...@netvision.net.il

The Baqa Center Distributes 1000 Olive Trees

Every year in autumn the Baqa Center in Majd al-Krum celebrates "Olive Day". Trees are sold at half price to the farmers of Galilee in order to encourage cultivation of the land. On December 6 a thousand trees were distributed. First there was a small gathering in the village center. Among the speakers was Khaled Hidmi, head of the Union of Agriculture Committees in the West Bank, talked about how similar are many of the problems facing the farmers of Galilee and those of the West Bank. Sindyanna of Galilee, a marketing project affiliated with Baqa center, sold its now famous olive oil and other olive products to villagers and guests. At noon the voluntary work day began. Fifty ODA volunteers went to labor in the field of Mohammed Idris, whose land is presently under danger of confiscation.

Ramya Update (For the full story please see Challenge #46):

A construction company known as "Arim", affiliated with the Housing Ministry, went to the civil court in Acre on December 8 and requested authorization to start building on Ramya's agricultural land. The company is expanding the new neighborhoods of Carmiel. So far the Ramyans have prevented its bulldozers from entering their territory. They claim that until the city of Carmiel finds alternative housing and plots for them, they will not allow any work on their lands. After a short court session the judge postponed a decision until January 25.