Faculty strikes in Palestine

Posted on 27. april 2011

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Empty campus at Birzeit University

Empty campus at Birzeit University

Jordanian inflation shrinking teacher and staff purchasing power.The usual crowds of students and staff flooding the halls of Birzeit University were missing today due to a countrywide strike.

The usual crowds of students and staff flooding the halls of Birzeit University were missing today due to a countrywide strike.

First published by Palestine Monitor (contributions from editor Sam McNeil)

The staff union is demanding higher wages to offset inflation, a new election of Council of Higher Education members, and for the exchange rate to be set between Israel’s and Jordan’s money at six to one – now less than five to one.

The Palestine plan to establish an independent currency has yet to be realized. Until then, many organizations like Birzeit University refuse to balance payments with the New Israeli Shekel (NIS) as a symbolic act of resistance to colonial exploitation.

The NIS dime is not used in the West Bank because it features a large menorah, another symbolic act resulting in loose approximations of change at most Palestinian stores.

As the Jasmine Revolutions spreads past Tunisia and Egypt to Syria, Yemen, Jordan and beyond, the Arab Spring has destabilized currencies like the Egyptian pound and the Jordanian dinar. When converted in occupied Palestine to the New Israeli Shekel (a relatively strong and stable currency supported by, among other things, massive foreign currency reserves generated through US and EU aid to Palestine), the value of the faculty’s salaries purchases less and less.

“You get paid the same salary, but the JD goes down and down,” said a university staff member speaking on condition of anonymity. “When you go to the store your money isn’t worth anything.”

She hopes the union will ensure that the staff members get compensated for the loss they are experiencing as a consequence of the decrease in the JD, and she has great faith in the union.

“They achieve a lot because they work together,” she said, adding that the union is transparent and keeps the members oriented about its activities: “It’s a democracy.”

The dinar is currently pegged to the American dollar, which since the financial crisis has fallen steadily. While talking to the Jordanian Times, economist Yusuf Mansur promoted raising this established exchange rate between the dollar and dinar.

“Some Arab countries like Syria and Kuwait have pegged their currencies to a basket of currencies, and we should not forget that as the dollar keeps shrinking, oil prices will rise, which will bring hyperinflation to the country,” he said two months ago, before the recent sharp fall of the dollar, and thus the dinar. The resultant inflation has led to popular and technocratic unrest in Jordan, and today’s strike shows how closely linked the East and West Banks are economically, as well as ethnically.

According to Birzeit University’s Public Relations Office, the campus was functioning with a skeleton crew and could not provide The Palestine Monitor with currency context or updates about the strike or the dinar devaluation.

Today, staff members are to only sit in their office and not teach or work. Knowing this, most students skipped their classes. Another strike is planned next Monday, when staff have been asked to stay home from school.