T. Cliff

Arabs and Jews Display Solidarity as Strike Wave Sweeps Palestine

(April 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 20, 18 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

JERUSALEM, Apr. 25 – The biggest strikes in the history of Palestine, far surpassing any which have taken place until now, broke out during the last fortnight.

On the 9th of April, 500 Arab and Jewish workers in the Post and Telegraph Services in Tel Aviv and Jaffa came out on strike.

On the 10th the strike spread to the Post and Telegraph services in all other parts of the country, encompassing altogether 2,000 workers and employees. The workers of Broadcasting House in Jerusalem and Ramallah joined the strike on the same day.

On the 15th, government employees of the Second Division – the lower-paid employees constituting more than 90 per cent of all civil servants – came out on strike in Haifa and were joined two days later by the Second Division civil servants of the whole country who are 20,000 strong in all. On the same day the railway workers of the whole country – 7,000 strong – and the workers of the Haifa and Jaffa ports – 1,500 strong – joined the strike.

(It must be pointed out that the third port of the country, that of Tel Aviv, continued working throughout the period of the strike. The Histadruth – the General Federation of Jewish Labor – was unwilling to jeopardize Zionist activity.)

Awakens Response

The strike now encompassed a total of about 30,000 civil servants. It awakened responses in many other places. The employees of the war departments (Control of Light Industry, Control of Heavy Industry, Censorship, etc.) – 5,000 strong – made a demonstration strike of three hours, declaring that they would stop work fully if the Government used soldiers to break the strike or transferred employees of the war departments to the departments where Second Division civil servants worked.

The workers of three privately owned factories in Ramallah and a cigarette factory in Haifa also struck and the workers of another cigarette factory, the biggest in the country, threatened to come out if their demands were not acceded to. The municipal employees of Acre and Gaza and a part of the municipal workers in Haifa joined the strike. Work was also ceased for a day by a few hundred workers and employees of Spinneys Ltd., the biggest commercial company in the country, who demanded recognition of their organization. 150 workers of the police garage in Haifa joined the strike.

Great ferment was felt among the workers of the petroleum companies and the military camps, the former 3,000 and the later about 30,000 strong. The daily workers’ of the Public Works Department – about 10,000 – also showed great readiness for action. The strike encompassed all in all about 32,000 workers, while about 50,000 stood behind them, greatly stirred by their action and ready to join them if called upon.

Affects Nearly Half of All Workers

To understand the importance of the strike for Palestine we must realize that the strikers made up 15 per cent of the entire Palestinian working class and the strike directly affected another 25 per cent.

What were the demands of the strikers? The daily workers in the Post and Telegraph Departments receive 96 cents to $1.12 a day, even if they are skilled: and it takes three to four years before a daily worker becomes an employee on a monthly salary. The employees receive a basic salary of about $24 a month and a maximum of $60 after 14 years of service. Postmen comprise a special category which cannot rise above $36. The majority of the Post and Telegraph employees and workers were not included in a pension scheme, all they were entitled to being compensation of one week’s salary for every year of work.

Great Privation

The basic wage in the railways is $1.20 a day, in the port 96 cents, in the Public Works Department 96 cents, in the oil refineries $1.28. Other conditions of labor, pension, etc., are not dissimilar to those of the Post and Telegraph workers and employees. A family of five or six – the norm among the Arabs – living on $12 or $16 a month, which was the income of unskilled daily workers of the Government, municipalities and foreign companies before the war, obviously suffered great privation. The lot of the lower employees was hardly better.

The cost of living during the war steadily rose until today it is, according to the government index, 258. But the cost of living allowance of the workers and employees did not rise to anywhere near this figure, and was less than half of the real cost of living.

The demands of the Post and Telegraph workers and employees were: a basic minimum wage of $2.40 a day and a basic minimum salary of $32 a month; automatic increases according to length of service (abolition of the arbitrary method of granting increases); regulation of pensions.

The railway workers demanded an increase of the basic minimum wage to $2.56 a day, and a proportional increase in all other grades: automatic annual increases: cost of living allowance on the whole basic wage; war bonus of three months’ pay; cessation of the practice of dismissing aged workers a few years before the age that pension is begun to be paid – prohibition of the dismissal of workers after the age of 55.

They also called for an 8-hour day and payment for overtime; three weeks’ annual paid leave; full compensation in case of accidents (compensation given until now was half the wage, not exceeding $4 a week); those dismissed to receive a compensation of two weeks’ pay for every year of work with the addition of cost of living allowance (until now it was only one week’s pay for every year of work without cost of living allowance). There were other lesser demands.

The demands of the Second Division civil servants were similar to those of the Post and Telegraph employees but somewhat greater.

No Scabs

The government attempted to break the strike by recruiting strikebreakers, but despite the promises of high payment no scab could be found. It tried also to divide the united ranks of Arab and Jewish workers, but again without any success whatsoever. Emir Abdullah – the “independent” ruler of Transjordan – also spoke on behalf of the government, flaunting high- sounding national slogans in order to win the Arab workers and employees back to work, but his appeal fell on deaf ears.

The workers showed great militancy and unflinching international solidarity. The only strikebreakers were British soldiers who to some although very limited extent, carried on the work in the railways and post offices.

Large demonstrations were held throughout the period of the strike, and it was most encouraging to see immense processions of strikers making their way through the Arab and Jewish quarters carrying slogans in Arabic and Hebrew calling for support.

The strike of Second Division employees and Post and Telegraph workers and employees ended on April 23 and that of the railways on the 24th.

(The second part of this dispatch will appear in next week’s Militant.)

Last updated on 22 December 2018