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Barak retreats over 'tax reforms'
A THREATENED general strike by Israeli workers has forced the coalition government of prime minister Ehud Barak to back down on his so-called 'tax reform'. MANDY RABIN of Maavak Sozialisti (CWI, Israel) reports:
BARAK HOPED to use the proposed tax reforms to notch up at least one achievement for his coalition, paralysed by internal conflicts and stumbling from disaster to disaster. Instead, the reforms have only served to increase the government's unpopularity, and Barak has been forced to back down.
The tax reform proposals were published amid ecstatic declarations by the government and media of how they would reduce social inequality and increase taxation on capital. The Finance Ministry even declared that 95% of families would be better off.
Despite this propaganda, 60% of Israeli workers opposed the reforms before even having seen them, having learnt through bitter experience that government proposals only mean bad news for workers.
Reacting to workers' opposition to the reforms, the government wasted 3.5 million shekels on a media campaign to convince us of how wonderful they are, to no avail.
The Histadruth trade union leadership declared a struggle against sections of the reform that proposed to introduce taxation on workers' savings plans and on shift workers, and to cancel tax exemptions for working women. But instead of the demand being for the outright cancellation of these measures, it was only for Amir Peretz, the Histadruth leader, to be involved in discussions on them.
Therefore, a general strike planned by the Histadruth was called off at the last minute, after the Finance Minister agreed to enter into discussions with Peretz.
At a rally of 3,000 workers, Peretz declared this a victory for workers, won due to the opposition of the workers themselves. While it is true that the government backed down in the face of workers' anger and the threat of a general strike, the retreat was partly due to the government's own weakness and instability.
The Barak coalition government is highly unpopular after failing to deliver on election promises, the economy is mired in recession, the peace talks with Syria's late President Assad failed and the coalition is in crisis.
Maavak Sozialisti has been calling on workers not only to struggle against the most odious sections of the reform, but to oppose the bosses' tax reforms with workers reforms - to abolish subsidies to big business, increase taxation on capitalists and nationalise companies that sack workers as a result of these measures.
In this way, the trend of moving the tax burden from the bosses onto the backs of workers that has taken place over the past 15 years could be reversed.
We have warned against workers sitting back while Histadruth leaders discuss with Finance Ministry officials and are calling instead for the active mobilizing of rank-and-file workers in struggle.
In the past, striking workers have returned to work, only to discover that the Histadruth leadership has sold them out. Therefore, we are also calling for no return to work until the terms have been agreed by the majority of workers.
We have leafleted workplaces and distributed 2,500 leaflets at the Histadruth rally. At this rally, we also called on workers to actively support the struggle of workers at the Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper (see last week's Socialist), and for united workers' defence against the vicious attacks on Yedioth workers by management thugs, in an attempt to smash their union.
As a result of our intervention, we are now widely known by workers, especially at Yedioth, where we have gained the respect and support of workers despite political attacks on us by union leaders.
Messages of support to: Haim Meiri, Workers' Committee, Yedioth Aharonoth, c/o Histadruth, Fax: 00 972 3 696 9296. (Please mention that you heard of the strike from Maavak Sozialisti.)
e-mail copies to Maavak Sozialisti: firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Socialist 16 June 2000: