Workers of three local municipal authorities in southern Israel went on strike on Sunday morning, May 17, in a display of solidarity with ICL workers threatened with mass layoffs. At least 2,000 people participated in a demonstration in Dimona that was attended by members of the Knesset, among them MK Dov Khenin (Hadash – Joint List). The only Likud MK present, Miki Zohar, was booed when he addressed the crowd. All municipal services, including schools for grades 7–12, were closed in Dimona, while the cities of Arad and Yeruham shut down their services but kept city schools open. Workers at the privatized Israel Chemicals Ltd. (ICL) where management intends to lay off staff have been on strike to protest such moves for more than 100 days, while colleagues at the similarly threatened Dead Sea Works (DSW), owned by ICL, have been on strike for over three months.
An estimated 2,000 people staged a high-profile march in Dimona. Demonstrators, chanting slogans against neo-liberal PM Benjamin Netanyahu and holding signs calling for government intervention, blocked Route 25, a main highway leading through the city. Armond Lankry, chairman of the Workers’ Committee at the Dead Sea Works, said at the Dimona demonstration that he has resigned from his role as chairman of he city’s branch of the Likud. “It’s difficult for me to support a party that doesn’t take care of the Negev,” he said. “Mr. Prime Minister, you promised to become involved after the elections. Two months have passed and we have still not seen your involvement.”
Roughly 70% of ICL employees are residents of Be’er Sheba, while around 40% of DSW workers live in Dimona. The fate of one in every five households in Dimona is tightly bound up with the ICL plants in the south. And with no end to the strike in sight at ICL, and mass layoffs just around the corner at ICL-owned plants, the 40,000 residents of the city clearly realize that, barring any significant changes, they are headed for a very bleak future. According to figures from the Manufacturers Association of Israel, which monitors only companies which are members in the association, over the last decade 25 factories from various industries, mainly textile, have been shut down in southern Israel.