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Organized Labor in Contemporary Israeli Retail Chains Gadi Nissim DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c011 Introduction This chapter examines broad economic and social trends in Israel and their implications for organized labor using the case study of a recently privatized chain of retail stores and the union’s response to this development. I argue that union stewards and leaders embrace a dual orientation to adapt to the new challenge. On the one hand, they employ values, actions, and rhetoric identified with the socialist tool kit, and on the other they embrace elements identified with neoliberalism. The orientation becomes less socialist and more neoliberal as we move from the union stewards at the company level to union leaders at the national level. These developments reflect and reproduce the structural transition of Israel’s economic and social system over the last four decades from capitalism that is monitored by collective motives and a strong labor movement to capitalism that favors the interests of private capital and restricts workers and their representatives. These developments also attest to the current limited potential of Israel’s largest union to be a part of a wider social movement that will oppose Israel’s neoliberal hegemonic project. 288 Gadi Nissim Background Early in its initial phases of development, the Israeli political economy embraced features of socialism in order to fulfill its nation-building and modernization projects. Similar policies had been embraced by other countries like Brazil (Payne, this volume) and Mexico (de la O; Zlolniski; both in this volume). These developing countries had been dominated generally by nationalist labor parties, with a state-led version of organized capitalism and a corporatist regime of labor relations. But in the last three or four decades, these societies have been undergoing deep structural changes, penetrated by global capitalism, neoliberal ideology, and post-Fordist labor arrangements. The present-day changes in the capitalist system, also described variously as the “end of organized capitalism” (Lash and Urry 1987) or a shift to global capitalism (Sklair 2002), are characterized by the growing power of capital owners and giant corporations and by the decline of organized labor. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that investors and companies themselves are exposed to growing competition and erratic situations in the local and global markets. A new race to the bottom has come into being, in which corporations strive for maximal profits on the shoulders of their workers. In this new reality, the labor market and labor relations tend to get more precarious—for example, in the growing rates of indirect employment relations , part-time or short-term employment, payment by the hour or per unit, and so forth (Kalleberg, Reskin, and Hudson 2000). The aggregated effect is the fragmentation and stratification of the labor force, and this in turn constrains unions’ ability to represent and mobilize workers. The new economic and labor relations system is justified, guided, and monitored by neoliberal ideology, or “market fundamentalism” (FourcadeGourinchas and Babb 2002). The neoliberal mindset regards the free market as the ideal system for running the economy and perceives the market as operating according to universal, natural, asocial, and ahistoric rules. According to this paradigm (conception, model, belief, idea), participants in the market should adjust to its rules. They are regarded as individuals who should maximize their material gains, not as collective agents with a wide-ranging social perspective on economic life. The economy is perceived as an objective entity that should be run by experts and managers, not subjected to the short-term interests of politicians or union reps. As policy, neoliberalism aims to secure the autonomy of the free market from external interventions. 289 Organized Labor in Contemporary Israeli Retail Chains To achieve this goal, neoliberal governments enable corporations to operate freely, cultivate financial institutions, set strict fiscal and monetary policy, privatize public services, advance irregular employment arrangements, and restrict organized labor and collective bargaining rights. Neoliberalism has come to dominate not only the economic arena but also the public sector, government, and education. Although it seems obvious that organized labor should be at the forefront of the struggle against neoliberal thought and policy, I argue that unions are actually incorporated into the neoliberal hegemonic order (Harvey 2005; Jessop 2002; Peck and Tickell 2002). The Israeli Case Since the 1990s, Israeli society has undergone changes similar to those in many other developed nations. State-supported capitalism, led by the Labor Party, has given way to a new model of global and neoliberal capitalism. The new economy is...


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