Recent weeks have seen the country hit by a spate of strikes on public services. So, what does the Torah say about workers laying down tools?
Strikes in airports often take place at holiday times, hurting families who are quality time-poor and have spent hard-earned cash to enjoy together. As a Unite union rep, I felt keenly the threat of a recent baggage handling strike, which could have lost me three days at Limmud conference, as my family and I had to get back to the UK on a very early Friday morning flight from Europe. It was at that moment I realised that the rights I campaign for can sting me, too.
We have an ancient history of striking from work. Our forefather Jacob was harassed and humiliated by Laban and his sons. He worked for many years, but his salary was changed 10 times by his fickle employer. Therefore, he decided that it was time to leave. In the first recorded case of constructive dismissal, Jacob upped sticks and left the cattle ranches of his employer and father-in-law.
Moses the lawgiver threatened to stop working for his divine employer unless the people were given a reprieve, even when the people were in the wrong. “If you do not forgive the people, erase me from the book you have written”. This shows how employees’ conditions should be protected. The people of Israel are in a contract with God, and both sides have duties of care.
Walking off the job is laudable when working conditions become unbearable. Moses was also a freedom fighter, the
first unionist who informed Pharaoh that his slave nation was ready to leave the premises.
Pharaoh responded by increasing the workload, which precipitated the 10 plagues and ultimately led to our ancestors’ freedom.
υ Ariel Abel is rabbi of Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation