A mass strike is due to erupt amongst civil servants in Palestine over the non-payment of wages, amidst party-political manoeuvres by the ruling factions.
Palestinian civil servants are demanding the payment of overdue wages from the Hamas government. Around 3,000 marched yesterday in Ramallah, while in Gaza City over 300 unemployed workers demanding jobs and unpaid welfare fought riot police and attempted to storm the parliamentary building, breaching the gates before police fired live warning shots. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (of Hamas’ rival Fatah party) has stated his support for a major strike, a manoeuvre interpreted as an attempt to increase Fatah’s leverage in attempts to form a (bourgeois) 'unity government' with Hamas – a plan supported by the Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan. The UN's humanitarian chief Jan Egeland has appealed to the 'international community' for funds to diffuse the "ticking time bomb".
The freeze on international aid to the Palestinian Authority, instituted when Hamas won the elections in March, has meant 165,000 government employees, including 85,000 members of the security forces and 40,000 teachers have been receiving little or no pay. The civil servant’s union has said that an indefinite strike at all government institutions bar hospitals and border controls will begin on Saturday, coinciding with the start of the school year, unless their demands are met.
Hamas have condemned the strike as an attempt to destabilise the government and called for teachers to scab, saying anger should instead be directed against Israel “which imposes the siege on our people.” Hamas claim the strike has “no relation to national interests” and is being co-ordinated by the Fatah party “that has no ties with employees” – many union leaders are Fatah members. However, despite these party-political manoeuvres the grievances are very real; with unemployment running at around 30% and around 25% of the workforce affected by the current withholding of wages, over half of the workforce is surviving on very little income. The UN estimates 80% of the population lives in "poverty".