Citizenship at Work in the Israeli Periphery: The Case of Peri Ha'Galil

By Cohen, Nir; Aharon-Gutman, Meirav | Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, August 2014 | Go to article overview

Citizenship at Work in the Israeli Periphery: The Case of Peri Ha'Galil


Cohen, Nir, Aharon-Gutman, Meirav, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


Abstract: In this paper we examine a struggle waged by production line workers at a formerly state-owned factory located in Israel's northern periphery. Intially an attempt to prevent the closure of the privatized factory, it soon became an all-out struggle through which production line workers deployed their peripheral location and ethno-class identities to make claims for and enact their citizenship (at work). Drawing on two years of ethnographic research, we argue that despite--or perhaps because of--years of persistent labor market reforms traditional industrial factories remain critical spaces for the constitution of citizenship in Israel. In contrast to the past, in which state-sponsored industrial employment created a perfect congruence between labor market participation and citizenship ('I work therefore I am a citizen'), recent processes aimed at enhancing labor market flexibility have fundamentally altered these relations. Under constant threats of downsizing, precariatized industrial workers in privatized factories experience a restless citizenship, a ceaseless battle to secure their jobs through what might be called the work of citizenship.

Keywords: periphery, deindustrialization, neoliberalization, citizenship, Israel, labor regime

Introduction

During a visit to the Upper Galilee in October 2011, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was awarded an 'honorary residency' by the town of Hatzor Ha'Gelilit ('Hatzor', see figure 1). Described by the head of the local council as 'a true friend of Hatzor', Mr Netanyahu thanked its residents and promised to turn the small development town into a full Hedged city. He stressed the importance of strengthening the Israeli periphery by allowing workers a shorter commute time through a network of train and highways and reiterated his plan to 'cancel the periphery' in Israel (Buchnik, 2011; see also Ynet 2013).

A week later, outside Peri Ha'Galil (literally, the fruit of Galilee), a food processing factory and Hatzor's largest employer, hundreds of workers gathered to protest against the management's plan to lay off fifty of them, in light of what its CEO described as the state's failure to deliver a grant of eighteen million NIS (Parliamentary Committee of Economics, 2012). Taken aback by the announcement, Moti Haziza, the chairman of the workers' board, commented bitterly, "Netanyahu has already been honored by Hatzor, but he doesn't honor us." The following day, leading a group of fired-up workers to the Parliamentary Committee of Economics, he urged its members to approve the transfer of funds to the new owners in order to resolve the looming crisis, the third since 2008. Blaming the state for abandoning the periphery, he asked:

"Are we, Hatzor, not human beings? Do we not belong to the periphery of the State of Israel? Perhaps we belong to the Syrian or Egyptian periphery? Who do we belong to? ... give [us] the minimal thing, give the worker the right to work in the State of Israel. Is it so hard? What did we ask? Give us the right to work" (Parliamentary Committee of Economics, 2012, pages 10-11).

A few days later, having received renewed financial assurances from the state to support the factory, the owners agreed to reverse their plan and employees returned to work.

These two seemingly unrelated events clearly have much in common. Both the premier's celebratory remarks and the chairman's agonizing questions reflect a new type of citizenship in the Israeli periphery, which centers on the labor market. Oscillating between grandiose infrastructural projects, which seek to cancel the periphery, and an ongoing divestment of public support away from labor-intensive industries, which reproduces the periphery by exacerbating its socioeconomic marginalization, this new citizenship at work is at the center of this paper. By studying the case of Peri Ha'Galil, it explores traditional industries in the Israeli periphery as spaces in which the active constitution of citizenship at work takes place. …

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