One Million Workers Stage Two-Hour Walkout Protesting Unemployment
JERUSALEM (AP) _ About one million Israeli civil servants, bank employees, and airport and factory workers walked off their jobs for two hours Sunday to protest rising unemployment.
It was the strongest job action in Israel in recent years and reflected anger at a recession blamed in part on the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories that began in December 1987.
The strike, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., shut down hundereds of banks and government offices and disrupted flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Israel’s jobless rate was 9.7 percent in May, the highest since a 1967 recession when the rate reached 12.4 percent.
Union leaders say 140,000 workers are unemployed and that is the greatest number of people out of work in Israel’s 41-year history.
″We want the government to hear the screams of the workers,″ said strike organizer Eli Sofer of the Jerusalem Labor Council. ″We are fearful for the fate of our country.″
Yisrael Kessar, secretary-general of the Histadrut Labor Federation, said of the strike, ″We decided we didn’t have any choice but to take this action.″ The federation represents about 85 percent of Israel’s work force.
More than 2,000 strikers held a rally near Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s office as the Cabinet met Sunday to consider new measures to create more jobs.
The Cabinet approved a $75 million increase in defense spending to cover costs of dealing with the Palestinian uprising, but it made no decision on a proposal by Finance Minister Shimon Peres that would provide $100 million to help create new jobs.
Peres told reporters his plan calls for government investments in public works projects, including the building of a new electric power plant in southern Israel, and road building across the country. The Cabinet will meet again Monday to discuss the unemployment issue.