Labor disputes

The intense spate of strikes and threatened-strikes is not over; the Histadrut has declared a plethora of new disputes.

histadrut protest (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
histadrut protest
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
We’ve just been through an extraordinarily intense spate of strikes and threatened-strikes that followed one another in swift succession.
But it’s not over. The Histadrut labor federation has declared a plethora of new disputes that wait in the wings to ripen, when expedient, into full-blown walkouts.
The list of disputes temporarily held in abeyance is long and diverse. It includes all three local airlines (El Al, Arkia and Israir), the state-owned National Roads Authority, Educational TV, the Petah Tikva Municipality, state-employed drivers and the government’s foreign workers unit. There’s plenty more and the potential for disruption of daily life is considerable.
The inventory of recent work-stoppages or near-stoppages includes the general strike ostensibly held in support of contract workers as well as strikes/disputes at Israel Railways, the seaports, labor exchanges and the National Insurance Institute’s legal unit, various municipalities, HOT technicians and hospital nurses.
Nonetheless, no dreadful downturn in working conditions had suddenly afflicted the country. The cause for labor unrest needs to be sought elsewhere. In three months, Histadrut members will go to the polls to vote for the labor federation’s chairman. Incumbent Ofer Eini is up for reelection and he is exceedingly nervous.
His unease is justified. The Histadrut, traditionally a Labor Party bastion, is feeling the effects of the party’s near-disintegration. Desperate, insecure Laborites are rediscovering the Histadrut’s attractiveness, after having for years snubbed it and left it up for grabs. Yesteryear’s Histadrut undesirability facilitated the ascendance of the lackluster Eini.
Now former Histadrut chief MK Amir Peretz, having failed to recapture Labor’s chairmanship, looks to return to his old haunt. Also interested in an alternative political path is Labor’s vocal MK Eitan Cabel. Both deny Eini the smooth trouble-free reelection he envisaged.
For the time being Eini has stymied them via Histadrut Election Committee bureaucratic hurdles, which both plan to appeal this week. Eini’s potentially powerful challengers were disqualified due to allegations of “criminal activities,” i.e. irregularities in the signatures of supporters required to nominate the candidates. Peretz and Cabel charge that the committee’s ruling reeks of political interference and that it serves Eini by resorting to spurious accusations to prevent them from running.
To be sure, hanky-panky is hardly uncommon in the Histadrut context. But whatever the truth, it’s evident that things are heating up, that this is becoming anything but the placid walk in the park expected by Eini and that he’s therefore running scared.
This is where the rest of us come in. We – more precisely, the entire economy of which we’re all part – must pay the price for Eini’s political struggle. Eini, who was relatively moderate for the past three and a half years, must now impress eligible voters in his organization with his fighting spirit.
He must appear the uncompromising warrior looking out for union members’ interests (for instance rejecting devices that pinpoint where drivers take official cars in off hours). His show of muscle has less to do with objective socioeconomic urgencies than with Eini’s survival at the helm.
Making matters worse is that fact that his in-house support mainly comes from the most powerful unions in the country, who represent the highest-paid members of Israel’s labor force – such as the Electric Corporation’s staff. Not only aren’t they, by any stretch of the imagination, oppressed proletarians, but they are strong enough to inflict the worst pain to back exorbitant pay demands.
It’s worth noting that port employees who downed tools last week make on the average between NIS 27,000 and NIS 37,000 monthly.
Strikes 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 on the jobless rolls.
Legislation limiting the ability to shut down essential services without warning and without polling all union members is a must. Union chieftains have to be made personally accountable for the harm they recklessly wreak.
Laws of the sort have been adopted in many Western economies, where they make a palpable difference.