Histadrut elections

Give renewed consideration to legislation that would limit union ability to shut down essential services without warning and without polling all union members.

Labor strike picket signs 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Labor strike picket signs 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
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 conclusion.
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 bill.
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 candidacy.
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 helm.
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 walkouts.
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 high jinks.
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 citizens.
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.
IEC 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 “hitches”).
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 wreak.
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.