Histadrut chair Ofer Eini at Labor Court_311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini’s decision to step down in February was a strange
sort of surprise.
Nobody expected the announcement quite when it was made
on Tuesday, yet insiders had been expecting it for a very long time. In fact,
the scenario was already being bandied about when Eini ran for reelection in
The word then was that Eini was preparing to switch sides and join
the forces of big business, and that he wasn’t seeking to serve out his full
term, but to lay the groundwork for installing the lackluster chairman of the
Histadrut’s Trade Union division, Avi Nissankoren, in his stead.
hotly denies this, but won’t say where he’s bound next, except that he wants to
spend time with his family. His explanation is that he has fulfilled himself in
the job over the past eight years. Yet a sense of fulfillment isn’t an overnight
realization. If Eini felt that he had had enough, why did he run for a five-year
term of office again less than two years ago? The least that can be said about
this episode is that it’s strange. But on close examination, it appears that
this ostensible strangeness is the standard Histadrut pattern in recent
Haim Ramon bequeathed the Histadrut chairmanship to his deputy
Amir Peretz back in 1995, and Peretz, in his turn, handed down the same title in
2005 to his designated successor – Eini.
Like it or not, Histadrut chiefs
tend to regard their position as a royal possession that they are free to pass
on according to their interests and at their discretion.
might not work as well in Eini’s case as it did for his far more flamboyant
Lack of charisma may rule out a political career for Eini,
and his choice of Histadrut heir may not be smoothly accepted without
Still, a lack of political magnetism isn’t the
only way in which Eini markedly differs from his predecessors.
heart was never in trade unionism, and more than all else, he was interested in
smiting the old idols of Israel’s socialist establishment. Peretz, in contrast,
was a militant trigger-happy firebrand, fond of declaring general strikes on the
slightest of conceivable pretexts. It often took no more than an irksome public
pronouncement – like the one that then-finance minister Yaakov Neeman made in
1996 – to bring the economy to a devastating standstill.
With Eini, labor
relations were markedly more constructive.
Even his adversary
interlocutors in the Treasury and in big business agreed that he was on the
whole reasonable, less confrontational and less doctrinaire.
That is by
no means to imply that all was good under Eini’s stewardship and that he charted
a much-needed redirection for Israel’s unionist course.
There is still a
long way to go to transform it. Eini failed to reverse detrimental trends in the
Histadrut, though he did make it far less radical. During his tenure as well,
while the Histadrut claimed it was defending the have-nots – which it did to a
limited extent only – the labor federation inexorably kept on evolving into a
monopolist oligarchy of the 13 most powerful unions.
dominant unions are the port employees – by far the public sector’s highest
earners – and their pay-scale runners-up at the Israel Electric Corporation. The
public-sector fat-cats constitute the Histadrut mainstay, and their interests
inevitably prevail at the expense of ordinary Israelis. The clout of these
controlling unions to extort propelled them to inviolability under Histadrut
criteria, and Eini did not take them on. Indeed, if anything, the Histadrut
under Eini adamantly prevented any clean-up and overhaul. Its alacrity to
support the port employees is matchless. Low earners can never count on such
Considering Eini’s designated successor and his
potential challengers, no improvement – much less actual reform – is likely. In
this context, odds are that Eini will be missed because, when all was said and
done, he at least seemed to put the collective interest ahead of partisan