Cablegate: Strike by Secondary Teachers Threatens to Turn


DE RUEHTV #3232/01 3111615
R 071615Z NOV 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary. On November 5, the Israeli labor federation
Histadrut threatened a general strike unless the Government
enters into "sincere negotiations" with striking secondary
teachers. The announcement came after a November 4 meeting
between Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, Education Minister Yuli
Tamir, and Treasury officials failed to produce any
breakthrough. The secondary teachers, who have been striking
off and on since April, are seeking higher wages - the salary
for new teachers falls below the poverty line -- as well as
smaller and fewer classes. In a meeting with Embassy Labor
Reporting Officer (LRO), secondary teachers' union head Ran
Erez complained that the government was endangering the
future of the country with corporate-like practices that had
damaged the education system. An emotional Erez told LRO
that he is "not prepared to stop" unless the Government meets
their demands. The Labor Court met November 6, but did not
issue a ruling ordering the teachers back to work. According
to unconfirmed reports, Eini met with Tamir and Finance
Minister Roni Bar-On November 7 and has agreed to act as
mediator for the teachers' union. Some observers expressed
optimism that an agreement will be reached by the end of the
week. End Summary.

2. (U) Most secondary teachers in Israel have been striking
off and on since April 2007 over low wages, large classes,
and increased work loads. The elementary teachers' union
settled their strike in 2006 for a 26% wage increase over
five years, but that came with an increase in both class size
and number of classes taught, according to Histadrut and
secondary teachers union contacts. Members of a smaller
secondary teachers' union, Hamorim, have accepted proposed
changes to the educational system that the larger union has
rejected, such as increased number and size of classes.
(Hamorim is officially part of Histadrut, but is effectively
independent from the labor federation, with headquarters
separate from Histadrut's offices.) University professors
and lecturers are also on strike, and many have joined
protests in support of the secondary teachers, but their
union has not officially joined forces with the secondary


3. (U) Salaries for Israeli secondary teachers are extremely
low. After obtaining a bachelor's degree, plus one year of
teaching instruction, a new secondary teacher can expect a
monthly salary of approximately $700. Even with an
additional government low-income supplement, the income for a
new teacher falls under $1,000 a month and below the poverty
line. Most maids earn more than new secondary teachers, and
many teachers, in fact, work as housekeepers (or other jobs)
to supplement their income. Teaching salaries do increase
with experience, but a teacher with twenty years' experience
still earns less than $2,000 a month. With a reported cost
of living in Tel Aviv higher than that in Rome, Vienna,
Berlin or Los Angeles, these salaries do not provide an
adequate standard of living.

4. (U) In addition, work conditions for secondary teachers
have deteriorated. Erez reported that a typical class size
is now 40-44 students "packed like sardines." Shorter
classes -- designed to increase the number of students taught
per teacher, according to Erez, as more classes are taught in
the same number of hours - result in each student receiving
much less personal instruction than before. Erez said that
the work loads prevent teachers from adequately meeting the
needs of either advanced or challenged students, as all
instruction must be "at the same level" because the number
and size of classes did not allow for anything but the most
basic preparation or appraisal of homework and exams.


5. (U) Erez complained that the Government was running
education like a corporation, and cited several examples of
what he considered the consequences of that philosophy. He
said the government was "worshipping the golden calf" of
matriculation exams, teaching to tests rather than teaching
the skills students will need to thrive in the future. Erez,
noting that the Government spends approximately nine times as
much per prisoner as it does per student, was using "fright
tactics" (such as security concerns about Iran and Syria) to
distract the public from the consequences of neglect of the
educational system.

6. (U) Erez expressed great concern at what he described as
the impact of GOI funding and policies for education. He
described a rise in dropouts (now 30,000 per year, according

to Erez) with increasing frustration, vandalism, drug and
alcohol abuse, bullying, and violence among teenagers. The
union chief said that the number of new teachers entering the
system annually had dropped from 6,000 five years ago to
4,000 today. And Erez reported that Israeli students, who he
said had topped world rankings in math and science in the
1960's, now fell behind Iran at the International Academic
Olympiad. He pointed to rising divisions between different
sectors of Israeli society -- recent media reports have
examined the growing "social gap" in Israeli society -- were
in large part the result of problems in the educational
system. Erez stressed that he was not only fighting for
higher teacher salaries, but for educational reform. He said
nothing less than the quality of life in Israel -- and the
future welfare of the country -- was at stake.


7. (U) The Histadrut contact thought it unlikely that the
labor federation would actually call a general strike, but
did not rule out the possibility. Even if Eini is simply
"flexing his muscles" -- as some have suggested - the
teachers' union seems intent on holding its ground. And with
the Government concerned with "opening the floodgates" if
they reach a more generous deal with the teachers -- the
postal workers, for example, are also threatening a work
stoppage -- the possibility of a nation-wide strike should
not be dismissed. Some government authorities reportedly are
holding out hope that the Labor Court will order the striking
teachers back to work, but the Court issued no ruling after a
November 6 meeting. Eini reportedly met with Tamir and
Finance Minister Roni Bar-On November 7 and agreed to act as
mediator for the teachers, but that has not been confirmed.
Press reports said that Eini accused the Finance Ministry of
trying to sabotage an agreement reached between the Education
Ministry and the teachers' union that would have raised the
teachers' salaries by 37 percent. Nevertheless, some sources
have expressed optimism that Eini will be able to forge a
deal by the end of the week.

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