Palestinian Workers Campaign for Social Justice (MERIP)

Palestinian Workers Campaign for Social Justice

It is clear for us that the struggle against colonialism cannot be separated from the social injustices within Palestinian society. What does it mean to end my subjugation by Moshe for it to be replaced by Munir? What kind of liberation are we seeking? What kind of a society are we trying to build?

by N. Alva
published in MER281

On the hot afternoon of April 19, 2016, thousands of workers and unemployed took to the streets of the West Bank city of Ramallah in protest the labor policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA). As the sun beat down on their shoulders, the marchers remained defiant, shouting “Haramiyya! (Thieves!),” as they reached the rally point in front of the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Interior buildings. Organizers from independent workers’ movements, left political parties and women’s committees took turns addressing the crowd from a makeshift platform on the back of a truck. PA police and security forces were deployed, some in riot gear and armored vehicles, but they did not visibly interfere. The demonstration was the first public, collective manifestation of a campaign against Social Security Law 6, ratified by decree on March 9, 2016 by President Mahmoud ‘Abbas.

The opposition to the social security law is led by newly formed independent workers’ movements and their allies in civil society. Their campaign follows closely upon wildcat strikes by perhaps 30,000 teachers in February and March of 2016. Both efforts are emblematic of Palestinian workers’ growing rejection of the package of neoliberal economic nostrums on offer from the PA in lieu of an end to Israeli settler-colonial rule.

In 1997, after the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) released a report on corruption among PA ministers, President Yasser Arafat infamously quashed judicial action against the accused, telling legislators: “We will worry about our internal problems—the questions of social justice within Palestine—after we fight colonialism, our common enemy.” [1] This injunction is recited still by officials in the PA and its affiliated labor federations, as well as some outside supporters of the Palestinian cause.

But the social and colonial questions in Palestine are co-constituted. To separate the occupation from injustices in Palestinian society is to conceal the complex relations between capital accumulation and class transformation, the PA’s authoritarian practices, and Israel’s colonial project. An understanding of these relations is crucial for those committed to transnational solidarity with Palestine.

Shock Therapy

The campaigners against Social Security Law 6 criticize the measure on several grounds. First, they object to the law’s provision for depositing the retirement savings of private-sector waged employees in a new national fund to be overseen by a council jointly appointed by the PA and business interests. Private banks and companies are to manage these investments in the financial markets. The law’s opponents say that it provides no guarantee from the PA that money will actually be available to workers upon retirement and demand PA accountability in safeguarding these funds. Second, the campaigners oppose the increase in employee contributions into the fund and instead demand an increase in the contributions of employers (business owners). They call for bringing the pensions of private-sector workers into line with the retirement entitlements of workers in the public sector, and for enforcing a minimum retirement wage. [2] Third, the campaigners decry the law’s discrimination against women, families of pensioners, and the old and disabled, among other social groups. Some strands of the independent workers’ campaign call for a national program of social protection covering all workers, farmers and unemployed. [3]

Social Security Law 6 is part of a program of economic shock therapy that began in 2007. The PLC has not formally convened since late 2006, so all of these laws were drafted or amended by presidential decree with limited public disclosure. The new independent unions and workers’ committees see a multi-front attack on labor reflecting the demands of big business.

In 2014, the Investment Promotion Law of 1998 was altered to provide tax relief to large private interests in the name of a more “investment-friendly” business environment. [4] In early February 2015, the PA Ministry of Labor introduced a draft law on unions, which according to independent labor federations will suppress labor organizing by imposing strict conditions under which strikes and meetings can be called. Likewise, the federations express concern that proposed amendments to the existing labor law will ease the procedures for dismissal when workers are already subject to contracts that are increasingly short-term and irregular. In closed-door meetings later that month, the Council of Ministers and big business reached an agreement on further reductions to corporate and individual tax rates. Independent unions, who were not invited to take part in these discussions, note that the tax law is unfavorable to the poor and working classes. President ‘Abbas ratified the agreement as law nonetheless. Most recently, on January 23, 2017, the PA suspended the al-Aqsa intifada health insurance, which provided free access to medical care for the more than 400,000 unemployed Palestinians and their families. (Subsequently, the PA announced that al-Aqsa insurance is to remain available to families approved by a new oversight committee to be established. Labor organizers received the news skeptically, viewing it as a public relations move.)

Read the full article in Middle East Research and Information Project

Print Friendly

Comments are closed.