WAC, the Workers Advice Center (or Ma'an in Arabic), is an initiative for building an independent labor association.
It aspires to create a culture of worker solidarity and a consciousness for union organization. Hundreds of thousands of workers in Israel, both women and men, lack the benefits for which unions struggled through most of the 20th century.
Employees of personnel ("manpower") companies, freelancers, and those employed under individual contracts all find in WAC an address that offers support, advice, and protection. WAC is an open, democratic association that unionizes all workers without regard to their religion, nationality, sex, or outlook. It was founded in the late 1990s to fill the vacuum left by the General Federation of trade unions (Histadrut), which went into deep crisis during this period, losing over two thirds of its members. WAC aims to provide an address for unorganized workers, with a strong emphasis on Arabs who are segregated in the Israeli job market. Hundreds of workers have already joined WAC and found the protection of a labor union, assuring them proper jobs with full social benefits.
The global era and the epidemic of privatization
Since Israel entered the global era in the mid-1990s, its domestic economy has undergone an epidemic of privatization. Organized labor has been on the wane, first in the service sectors, such as security and cleaning, followed by the building and industrial sectors. As part of its privatization program and budget cuts, the state encourages employment through subcontractors who circumvent labor laws. The epidemic has now spread to government offices, schools, the entertainment industry, and the academy: faculty, administrative employees, lecturers, producers, and directors are employed as temporary workers on humiliating terms. The Histadrut and its committees have not done enough to stop the importation of labor under conditions that amount to slavery. The entry of unorganized, imported workers into the construction, agriculture and nursing sectors has mortally wounded the achievements of the labor struggle in Israel.
WAC is committed to the struggle of Palestinian workers from the West Bank East Jerusalem and Gaza, for jobs and social rights. It cooperates with Palestinian Trade Unions in fighting the Separation Wall and Israel's policy of closure. Concern for Palestinian workers is, we maintain, a fundamental moral duty of labor unions in Israel. WAC demands equal rights for all workers, whether migrants, Palestinians or Israelis.
WAC works closely with trade unions throughout the world. It has learned from the experiences gained by various forms of organizing. In 2004 it organized a visit of representatives from European unions, who examined the condition of workers in Israel's building sector.
Creating a new kind of labor movement
WAC believes that the founding of a new democratic, non-racist labor movement is an urgent need in Israel. It considers the establishment of a workers' party, the Organization for Democratic Action (ODA or Da'am in Arabic), to be a positive step toward sparking that change. In the elections for the 17th Knesset (March 2006), some WAC leaders and worker activists, men and women, ran as ODA candidates.