(From Matzpen, March 1969).
The roots of the Ashdod workers’ struggle lie in rapid technological changes; human labour is replaced by machines. Ashdod is the newest, and therefore the most modern, port in Israel. The relation between modern equipment and human labour provides the framework for the present struggle of the workers. It is known that machines permit the extraction of additional surplus value. The question is, who is going to benefit from this?
This is the central point of the continuous conflict between the workers and the management. Visit the port and talk with the workers, you will realize that the workers of Ashdod have other problems besides the occupied territories, annexation, frontiers and national security that absorb the attention of Israeli public opinion.
The port workers’ wages are made up of two parts: basic wages and premiums. In fact, the Ashdod workers depend on the premiums paid for extra work since they cannot live on the basic wage alone.
The new equipment in the Port of Ashdod enables the management to demand an output of 6,000 units instead of 4,000 for the same basic wage. The conflict concerned these additional 2,000 units… The Port Authority and the Histadrut (The Israeli Federation of Labour) which works hand in glove with it, do not want to solve the problems created by modernization to the benefit of the workers, by raising the basic wages. What they do want is to transfer the additional surplus value to the government [the port is owned by the state].
The Ashdod workers did not start the struggle. They were pushed into it. On the 28th December the Port Director broadcast an announcement that wages would be paid on a daily basis, i.e., basic wages only. This was an attempt to force the workers into accepting new scales of pay against their own interests. The workers’ reaction was to start a work-to-rule. The Israeli press denounced it as “national betrayal”, “sabotage of the economy” and similar patriotic cries. After they were pushed into clashing with the management, the Ashdod workers rapidly learnt some basic facts of the class-struggle. The Director, who at first started a partial lock-out, became frightened and retreated. After he had made a joke of all previous agreements he now demanded – again, of course, with the aid of the Histadrut – that the workers return to the previous agreements. But he was surprised to find a new situation; the workers now rejected even the previous agreements. They had learnt that they have power, that they cannot easily be manipulated. In the course of the struggle they raised a new demand for a joint Committee with the Haifa port workers. The Ashdod workers realized the power of solidarity.
In Haifa the port workers refused to unload ships diverted from Ashdod… The Haifa Port Authority began to threaten them, and the Haifa workers replied by starting their own work-to-rule. Normally it is the Histadrut officials who speak from time to time about workers’ solidarity. This time it is the workers who, in a spontaneous way, act in solidarity. But the General Secretary of the Histadrut in Haifa says: “The Histadrut is against manifestations of solidarity which are directed against the economy of the country”.
As always, the press became mobilized against the workers. Maariv reported that the workers get wages of IL 1290 – IL 1480 per month. But if you go to Ashdod and see the workers’ wage-slips you will find that veteran gang-leaders get IL 600 – 700, while “temporary” workers, who are the majority, get from IL 250 – 300 per month (IL 8.5 = £ 1).
Of course, all this is not enough to cure the workers in this struggle from the chauvinist intoxication which at present engulfs Israel. They do not yet see the political implications of their struggle, but despite the temporary prosperity of the Israeli economy it is clear that we are going to have economic difficulties in the future, which may raise the struggle of the workers of Ashdod and other places, from the non-political stage onto a higher one.
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