Monday, April 29, 2013

It's Our Train Company - or: Salaries Will Come Later

Still rummaging around in the special ISA Independence Day publication, here's the story of the first day of a Jewish train company in 2,000 years.

On Sunday, May 16, Moshe Paikowitz came to his office in Haifa. It was his first day of work on the first day of operations at the brand new Israel Train Company, of which he was now in charge. That the train company was up and running on that day was actually a moment of historic significance. Bear in mind that Israel is one of the only countries among dozens and dozens of post-WWII states which managed to remain a democracy throughout its existence, while maintaining a functioning state bureaucracy and society. Figuratively but also practically, the ability to come to work on the first workday after independence and have the trains run, was crucial to this success. Countries which can hit the ground running, will run; the ones which can't, won't.

Perhaps the first thing Paikowitz did that morning was to dictate a proclamation to the workers of the company. It began with high pathos: "It is a great honor for me and for you ... so far we've been employed by a foreign nation; now we're working for our own nation..."

Then he addressed what might have been feelings of inferiority among his staff, given the battles that were being fought in many corners, even as they were being called on merely to run trains: "At this crucial moment, the trains are a small but important cog in the national defense machine. Let each and every one of us regard themselves as soldiers on the field of battle." And also "We must all adhere to orders, be steadfast in our discipline, and remember that we're all in this together!"

Only near the end of his proclamation did he refer to individual motivations: "Of course I never forget that we've always been underpaid and over-worked. I assure you I'll work to convince our government that we deserve better! But first, we must win the war!"

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