The good news is that the Histadrut labor federation’s elections are over. The
actual results matter a lot less. Indeed they were a foregone
The question never was whether incumbent Histadrut Ofer Eini
would win, but by how much.
What matters most is that with the power
struggle and leadership challenges out of the way, we theoretically should now
be able to count on a semblance of calm to return to labor relations. We, as a
society, paid a great deal for over a year to foot Eini’s hefty reelection
He strove hard to avoid a meaningful contest via Histadrut Election
Committee bureaucratic hurdles to stymie the candidacies of fellow Labor Party
members Amir Peretz and Eitan Cabel. Peretz eventually backed out in Cabel’s
favor and Cabel succeeded in overturning the initial nixing of his
This is where the rest of us come in. We – more precisely, the
entire economy of which we’re all part – had to bear the burden for Eini’s
political struggle. Electoral expediencies forced Eini, who was relatively
moderate for most his tenure, to impress the 500,000 eligible voters in his
organization with his fighting spirit.
Denied the smooth trouble-free
walk in the park he initially envisaged, Eini had to manufacture headlines to
remind all and sundry that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He needed to appear
as the uncompromising warrior looking out for union members’ interests (for
example by vehemently rejecting devices that pinpoint where drivers employed by
the government take official cars during off hours).
Eini’s show of
muscle had less to do with socioeconomic urgencies than with his survival at the
That meant a surge of confrontations, most of them artificial and
superfluous. An extraordinarily intense spate of strikes and threatened-strikes
followed each other in swift succession over the past year. The Histadrut had
declared a plethora of labor disputes, many of which ripened into full-blown
As a consequence, the number of work days lost to the economy
in 2011 because of strikes spiraled by a whopping 229 percent. Eventually the
tab – NIS 155 million by ultra-conservative estimates – will be picked up by all
taxpayers, Histadrut members and non-members alike.
That said, Eini
constitutes a lighter encumbrance on the Israeli collective than did his
predecessor Peretz, whose political ambitions by far outstripped those of
lackluster, apparatchik–minded Eini and therefore produced more and costlier
Eini retained his power base, owing overwhelmingly to the
support of the economy’s largest and most dominant unions, whose rank and file
occupy positions that enable them to inflict the greatest pain on ordinary
As it declined, the Histadrut has become the in-club of the
most powerful unions in the country, who represent the highest-paid members of
the labor force – such as the Israel Electric Corporation’s staff. Not only
aren’t they, by any stretch of the imagination, oppressed proletarians, but they
are strong enough to extort the most exorbitant pay and perks.
employees, for example, need to be kept sated and happy to keep them from
turning off the switches, as they are occasionally wont to do (even if not
necessarily in outright general strikes but rather in selected arbitrary
Strikes, quasi-strikes and work-to-rules cost our economy
dearly and damage our reliability in the international marketplace. The most
immediate victims are workers laid off as a result of canceled orders. The very
Histadrut that purports to champion the wage-earner’s cause is more often than
not responsible for putting him/her on the jobless rolls.
The end of the
campaign and the ostensible restoration of serenity in the Histadrut’s
headquarters offer what is perhaps the best opportunity to give renewed
consideration to legislation that would limit union ability to shut down
essential services without warning and without polling all union members. Union
chieftains have to be made personally accountable for the harm they recklessly
Bills of the sort have been adopted in many Western economies,
where they make a palpable difference. We would not be any less democratic is we
follow their example. We would just be economically sounder and stronger.
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