T. Cliff

Important Lessons of Strike Wave in Palestine

(25 May 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 21, 25 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(The first half of this dispatch appeared in last week’s Militant)

JERUSALEM, April 25 – Notwithstanding the great militancy in the ranks of the workers and employees, the strike movement which swept Palestine these past two weeks revealed some grave weaknesses which were fully exploited by the government. They were:

  1. The fact that the Second Division employees, the Post and Telegraph workers and the railway workers each negotiated separately with the government.
  2. The fact that the Second Division did not call on the daily workers of the government to join the strike.
  3. The fact that the employees of the railways and Post and Telegraph were represented by the delegation of the Second Division, while the workers in these departments were represented by the two other delegations. And so when the Second Division council decided to end the strike, they almost forced the railway workers and the Post and Telegraph workers not belonging to the Second Division back to work.

It is not yet clear what the actual results of the strike will be, as many points have not yet been affirmed by the Colonial Office in London. Furthermore, neither the government nor the leaders of the Second Division made it clear if the agreement affects not only the employees but also the workers of the various government departments. The outcome of some of the demands is, however, known.

The minimum salary in the Second Division and the Post and Telegraph Services was increased from $33.60, a change was made in grading to the workers’ advantage, a cost of living allowance of 80 per cent of the official index was agreed upon for the first $40 of basic pay and 40 per cent on the 20 above that, and family allowances were slightly raised.

The railway workers also received a rise in the minimum basic pay from $1.20–$1.60 and a corresponding rise in all other grades; two weeks’ paid holiday; overtime pay. It was also agreed that aged workers could not be dismissed unless according to a doctor’s advice. The particulars of their other demands have not yet been published.

As far as the strike pay is concerned, a day before the ending of the strike the High Commissioner had agreed to pay. Three days after the resumption of work, however, he declared that he “cannot consider the matter further until he is given adequate safeguards by the Association that the Second Division Civil Service will in the future use the machinery, which exists within the government and will be further developed as necessary, for the settlement of disputes and adjustment of grievances.” In other words, until they pledge not to strike in the future. But the government will not find it so easy to break its pledge.

The strike objectively had great social and political import. The predominant part in the strike was taken by Arab workers and employees. Even if the striking railway workers did not constitute a quarter of the strikers as far as quantity is concerned, as far as quality is concerned, their weight was far greater, as the paralysis of the railways gravely affected the whole economy of the country.

Of the 7,000 railway workers 400-500 are Jews and all the rest Arabs. Jews make up about a third of the 2,000 Post and Telegraph workers and employees and about a quarter of the 20,000 Second Division employees. Of all the 32,000 strikers, therefore, Arabs accounted for about 26,000 and Jews for about 6,000. The workers who did not strike but were near the point of doing so were also almost entirely Arabs.

What Strike Proved

The strike proved conclusively the fallacy of the Zionists’ contention that the Arab masses are backward and primitive, that they are mere putty in the hands of the reactionary feudal and bourgeois leadership, and that it is the Zionists who will enlighten and advance them. It gave the lie to the fable which imperialism, Zionism and the reactionary Arab leadership try to bolster up, that unity of the Arab and Jewish masses is impossible to achieve.

It proved that while there are not a dozen Arabs who support Zionism, there are tens of thousands of Arab workers who are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish class fellows for the defense of their common class interests.

It proved that imperialism’s calculation of withdrawing its armies from the erupting volcano of Egypt and concentrating them close by in an apparently more compatible Palestine where walls of national segregation between Arabs and Jews provide convenient conditions, will not be able to be carried out as smoothly as imperialism might have hoped.

It proved that while the terrorist actions of the Zionists who aim at domination of the country and displacement of the Arabs only abet the imperialist policy of divide and rule, the class struggle of the Palestinian proletariat, however weak it may be in relation to world imperialism, is a real anti-imperialist struggle.

Imperialism was compelled to make concessions, fearing that the strikes, demonstrations, etc., would produce a resounding echo in the neighboring countries. The Revolutionary Communist League, Palestine Section of the Fourth International, was absolutely correct in thus appraising the position in the leaflet in Arabic and Hebrew that it distributed among the strikers.

We must not over-estimate the influence the strike had among Jewish workers. We may without doubt say that it is only because of the fact that the Jews accounted for only a fifth of the strikers and that only a fifth of the Jewish strikers are organized in the Histadruth that prevented this organization from following its traditional custom of preventing strikes in the name of Zionist expansion. But the fact that the strike had a far smaller influence among the Jews in the country at large than among the Arabs, is due not only to their relatively small numbers among the strikers but also to the fact that Jewish workers are in the main employed not by the government and companies of foreign capital but by Jewish capitalists in the closed Zionist economy, and to the fact that they enjoy some important advantages over the Arab workers.

The strike nevertheless inserted a wedge, even though it may be a small one, in the Zionist front. The broadening of such cracks in this front will open the way for a strong, united class struggle against imperialism and its agents, Zionism and the feudal-bourgeois Arab reaction.

As far as the Arabs are concerned, the Arab workers’ leader who stated that this strike has pushed Palestine forward 20 years, was indeed close to the truth. This strike was not the last and we must expect many others to follow in its wake. The unity of the trade unions of the Middle East proposed by the Palestinian and Egyptian Trotskyists which received some echo among the workers now stands on the order of the day.

In the few days since the end of the strike, other minor strikes have been breaking out in all parts of the country, and a wave of organization has been spreading everywhere. Of this we shall write you later.

Last updated on 22 December 2018