The first Roundtable Forum developed to tackle the crisis of employment and the government's neglect of the Northern periphery took place on August 5. Organized by SHATIL and the Histadrut Labor Federation, the meeting in Hatzor included the mayors of several cities, the Northern chair of the Histadrut Labor Federation, representatives of business and industry, the Jewish Agency's Tzafona organization and social change organizations in the North.
The closing of the Pri Galil factory located near the SHATIL Galil office, coupled with chronic unemployment and the financial crisis, has created a dire situation in the North. SHATIL staff knew that while the various players in the North might be too weak on their own to affect the situation, together they would be a powerful force for change.
Scene from the Roundtable
The picture painted by the 28 participants in the Roundtable was grim: with 55 percent of Northern residents subsisting on minimum wage, the financial crisis hit the area particularly hard. Factories and plants were closed and hundreds of people laid off.
According to research presented at the Forum, 90 percent of the municipalities in the Galilee are more impoverished than in the center of the country and 40 percent of Northern residents aged 21-35 say they hope to leave the region. And while small businesses make up the economic backbone of the area, they are being hard hit by the crisis with many having to close or reduce the number of their employees.
Suggestions for raising the quality of life in the North included: building a planned medical school in Tzfat, working to keep talented students who come to the Northern colleges in the area post-graduation, relocating strong high-tech firms to the North, government investment in small businesses, continuing the major Highway 6 through to Kiryat Shmona, and building a strong lobby to pressure the government to legislate policies that would boost the development of North and the Negev in employment, education, transportation and infrastructure.
Hayut said the only way to stop the North from collapsing was for a major government investment in Northern industry and in the development of small and medium businesses.
"It's time to stop whining, asking for favors and coming across as weak," said Tuba-Zangariyye mayor Tzvika Fogel. "It's time to build a strong political lobby that will represent our interests." Fogel expressed fear that municipalities in the North could collapse due to the financial situation of their residents. "We are in a downward spiral," he said. "If, God forbid, the Vita Pri Galil factory should close, Tuba Zangariyye, many of whose residents work in the factory, would also close down.
Said Lev Eran, Northern field worker for SHATIL's Social and Economic Justice Project, "This is the first time SHATIL, NGO heads, heads of worker committees, the Histadrut, and Northern mayors met to exchange information and to understand how each sees the issue of employment in the North and in their particular municipality. It is also the first attempt to build a common lobby of all these forces in order to improve life for Northern residents. It's the beginning of a very positive process."
The meeting received widespread local and national media coverage.