Kenneth Ryesky

Israel and Labor Union Dynamics

I am not ashamed that during my working life I have been a member of four different labor unions (although I already would have withdrawn my membership from the dishonorable and unabashedly anti-Israel PSC/CUNY faculty union had I not made Aliyah, given up my university teaching gig, and remained a union member).

One of the Business Law courses I taught over the years included a chapter on  Employment and Labor Law, which of course included the topic of labor unions.  The shpiel I gave to introduce the topic began with “Labor unions are not good, and labor unions are not bad; labor unions are labor unions.”  I then continued with explaining that it is not unusual for the most senior employees in a unionized shop to be able to recount the event which caused the workforce to decide that the benefits of union membership were worth having their paychecks diminished by a union dues deduction.  In the case of the printing plant where I had served as Assistant Production Manager while pursuing the MBA degree in the evenings (and had not been a union member), one of the shop stewards had remarked to me that if, back in the late 1960’s, the Old Man had agreed to provide even a partial healthcare coverage subsidy for employee family members, then the place would not have become unionized.

Unlike my undergraduate curriculum, all of the courses for my MBA degree were interesting to me.  One of the most interesting of those courses was Personnel Management and Labor Relations, taught by a Philadelphia labor attorney.  During that semester in 1981 there was a transit strike that crippled the city and its suburbs for nearly three weeks.  One of my classmates asked the professor why there had been no progress of late in settling the strike.

The professor’s response was that in every labor dispute, even when labor union and management representative are not formally sitting down at the negotiating table there is behind-the-scenes activity whereby one or more neutral (and sometimes not-so-neutral) intermediaries shuttle messages back and forth, so that there are no surprises by the time of the next formal sit-down at the conference table.  Someone then asked the professor whether he was one of those intermediaries.  With a wide grin, he replied, “Not directly.  But do not be surprised if the busses, subways, and trolleys are running again by the end of the week.”  Sure enough, the strike settled a few days later.

The interesting incident of the professor’s “clairvoyance” on the transit strike served to whet the class interest in labor union dynamics, including the labor union governance process.  Our professor admonished us that factions almost always emerge within any labor union, and that the ultimate test of a stable labor union is not how strong and strident the union’s officials are, but how quickly and how well the factions coalesce following a union election.  This principle, we were told, has applications to any organization.

* * * * *

For nearly a year, Israel had been failing the recoalescence test after its latest national election, as protesters blocked highways and caused disruption, military personnel became insubordinate, and various factions in the democratically-elected government coalition held much legislation hostage with their demands.

Following the Hamas atrocities, however, Israeli society has suddenly come together to respond to this truly existential threat that has personally touched every Israel citizen (and internationally, every Jew).  Accountability and blame assignment for the blunders that led to the fiasco have been placed on hold for the time being, as political adversaries cooperate in the war effort.

But the days of reckoning will surely come, and Israel will not return to the political status quo ante.  Politicians and army officers will be called upon to explain their errors and omissions, if not in this current world then certainly when they enter the Next World.

But one question all Jews will be asked in the Next World is why it took something of the magnitude of the Hamas invasion atrocities to impel us to come together, embrace one another, and unite.  Those who do not believe in the Next World (and even those of us who do) need to ask themselves that question in this world now, while we still live.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.
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