Thousands of Social Workers Begin Unlimited Strike, Protest in Center

Thousands of social workers in Israel launched an open-ended strike on Monday, July 6, to protest poor wages, their constant exposure to the danger of violence, and the excessive workload they must bear due to the COVID-19 crisis. With the start of the strike, thousands of them and their supporters demonstrated at Habima Square in Central Tel Aviv, and blocked traffic on nearby Ibn Gavirol Street.

Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) stand in solidarity with the striking social workers. Several activists from Hadash and CPI took part in Monday’s demonstration, among them MKs Ayman Odeh and Ofer Cassif (Joint List). Joint List Chairman Odeh was the first speaker at the demonstration, and told the crowd that the government’s policy reflects its priorities: “The government prefers tycoons over workers, prefers annexation and occupation before the needs of people.” MK Cassif told the gathering, “It’s not the social workers who are on strike, but the far-right government that abandons them and the society at large.”

Hadash MKs Ofer Cassif and Ayman Odeh (first and third from left, respectively) during Monday’s demonstration by social workers in Central Tel Aviv; the white placard in Arabic reads: “Enough! We don’t want to work for free!” The blue sign in Hebrew declares: “End the trampling of social workers!” (Photo: Zu Haderech)

The chair of the Social Workers’ Union, Inbal Hermoni, addressed the demonstrators saying, “We are cruelly and violently attacked, and no one comes to our defense. We are expected to somehow cover our expenses with the pitiful salaries we are paid, and we work under insane pressure… A thousand positions for social workers remain unfilled because no one is interested in such jobs due to the excessive work, the violence, and the pathetic wage scale; an entire sector is being neglected, dried up, and exhausted because of the government’s neo-liberal economic policy. Finance Ministry officials just want to wreck social services and shut them down… With no other option available to us, we have no choice but to strike; this will be the largest social services strike to ever take place in the country,” she added.

Hermoni met last week with Finance Ministry officials, but the latter refused to consider various proposals put forth by the social workers’ union and were unprepared to offer counter proposals.

Social workers in Israel function in a variety of community support positions including case management, community outreach, administration, the providing of services and clinical support. Government ministries likely to be impacted by the strike include Social Services, Education, and Health along with local governments, hospitals, prisoner rehabilitation, legal assistance, the court system and more.

During the two weeks mandatory “cooling off period” leading up to the strike, thousands of social workers conducted demonstrations across Israel, including in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, some blocking major junctions that created huge traffic jams.