There is no better way to strengthen Jewish-Arab partnership, and Arab workers’ struggle for equality and social justice, than to gather in Baqa Al-Gharbia on Mayday. This is especially so as the Prime Minister makes inciting comments against Arabs “driving to the polls in drones”; as Israel’s political Left congregates inside “the Zionist camp”, which excludes Arabs by definition; and as a right wing government is set to continue the occupation and shut down the road for peace. In the face of all this, WAC-MAAN Workers’ Union came to the Arab town in the Triangle, Baqa Al-Gharbia, on Mayday 2015. It came to emphasise its claim that in order for Israel’s political Left to have any meaning, and likewise for a real social protest movement and the struggle for peace, it has to recognize the status of Arab workers and the Arab population as a central pillar.
Both the audience at WAC-MAAN’s Mayday event and the panel of speakers were unique in composition and vision. Prominent amongst WAC-MAAN members were Tzarfati Garage workers from the West Bank, led by Chairperson Hatem Abu Ziadeh, who is fighting to be reinstated in his job; women agricultural workers from the Triangle; and teachers at the Rosh Haayin Music Centre. Also attending were social and political activists, supporters of WAC-MAAN. Amongst the panellists were representatives of new union organisations operating within the Histadrut, and Workers’ Committee Spokespeople for Macdonald’s and Leumi-Card. A welcome speech was made by Ms. Hala Habayeb, lecturer and Women’s Equality Advisor for Al-Qassemi Academy.
The discussion was chaired by Wafa Tiara and Michal Schwartz of WAC-MAAN’s leadership team. In her opening speech, Tiara talked of WAC-MAAN joining forces with workers of the world, and in particular reinforced the union’s obligation towards Arab nations fighting for democracy and social justice, especially the Syrian people who are struggling against a brutal regime. Schwartz spoke of the economic reality in Israel, which has marginalised the vast majority of workers. This includes many Jewish workers but more so Arabs, and most of all Arab women. She emphasized that at a time of deep cuts in social funds, when the only budgetary increases are in defence and the settlements, it is impossible to separate social justice from the struggle for peace and equality.
The first speaker was WAC-MAAN’s National Director Assaf Adiv, who presented the union’s unique mission of standing by those who are most oppressed, of opposing every kind of discrimination and racism and of building a new society of Arab and Jewish workers. He highlighted the struggle of Tzarfati Garage workers and their leader, Hatem Abu Ziadeh, a shining example that it is possible to rise against oppression, and stand by one’s principles, even in the direst of circumstances. He congratulated the representatives of new unions, recently established within the Histadrut, and welcomed cooperation with them: “There is no competition, but a shared effort, to which everyone contributes their share.”
Ruti Amano, Spokesperson for a group of guides from the Bialik Compound in Tel Aviv, who have joined WAC MAAN and succeeded in their struggle against exploitative employment conditions, talked of a difficult year, in which employees in the Bialik Compound were faced with threats, punishments and unfulfilled promises: “It’s been worth it, and I would do it all again, in exactly the same way! … I would like to say this, on Mayday, the only time we stop and turn our true attention towards those who need it most – fight, with all your might.”
Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, parliamentary candidate for the Daam Workers’ Party in the General Election for the 19th Knesset, and a prominent leader within WAC-MAAN, impassioned the audience when she spoke of the heroic struggle of workers and young people in the Arab world for freedom and social justice. Her call for solidarity with the Syrian people, and to remove the murderous Bashar Assad regime, received a standing ovation.
Without doubt the star of the evening was Hatem Abu Ziadeh, Workers’ Committee Chairperson in Tzarfati Garage. Supported by WAC-MAAN, Abu Ziadeh is fighting for reinstatement to his job. After nine months out of work, he and dozens of his colleagues made the long journey from Jericho, Bethlehem, Al-Azariah and Nablus to join the Mayday Rally in order to express support for WAC-MAAN’s work. Abu Ziadeh reiterated his determination to return to work, regardless of the difficulties, and called upon all workers to join hands with WAC-MAAN.
Wafiq Abu Al-Heija of the Macdonald’s Workers’ Committee (organized with the Histadrut Youth Section) talked of the difficult struggle to get the management to recognise the workers’ right to organize and to sign a collective agreement. Yasser Abu Arisha, of Leumi-Card Workers Committee, announced the recent signing of a collective agreement as a result of an organizing drive by the Histadrut in the company. Yasser also focused on the need to eradicate the exploitation of Arab women working for local employers in the Arab Towns. Orit Guri, representing the Workers’ Committee at the Rosh Ha’ayin Music Centre (organized in WAC-MAAN), spoke of their soon-to-be-signed collective agreement. Orit mentioned that this agreement will be an important precedent for other music centre teachers. She also reiterated her identification with WAC-MAAN’s Arab-Jewish vision.
Musicians Hila Lahav (flute), Tal Bright (percussion) and Ishai Ben Adar (Qanun) delighted the audience with Arab folk music; Mahmud Jabarin surprised with a Bob Dylan song, and his band performed a short play he wrote for the event about unemployment and worker exploitation, as seen from from a unique angle in Arab society emphasizing the exploitation of women (with Ms. Sham Abu Mokh and Ms. Ayah Abu Jweila in the group).
Mayday tradition renewed by WAC-MAAN
Ten years ago, in 2005, WAC-MAAN Workers Union resolved to restart, after many years, the Mayday tradition of a Tel Aviv street march. This initiative was prompted by our estimation that Israeli society was beginning to wake up, and that awareness of the ills of unrestrained capitalism was growing. We were not wrong. The social justice movement grew and culminated in the 2011 protest movement.
WAC-MAAN was part of this important movement and did its utmost to promote it, contributing to its success while insisting on the crucial need of the movement to open up its ranks for Arab activists and to stand up to war and occupation.
Unfortunately, WAC-MAAN’s efforts in this direction at the time failed to win a majority and the 2011 movement disappeared without a trace. The reason is a fundamental failure: a fear of politicisation, of giving voice to calls for peace, for full Arab rights and for an end to the occupation of five million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This is the lesson that must be learned by the workers’ movement and the political Left. This is the reason that, on Mayday 2015, WAC-MAAN chose to convene its central rally in the Arab town of Baka El-Gharbia and not on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel-Aviv.
Ttranslation – Yaara Lahav