Ofer Eini - Tal Cohen - 05082011
Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini at Thursday’s rally in Tel Aviv. Photo by Tal Cohen
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About 10,000 people turned out yesterday for a rally called by the Histadrut labor federation that was held on the lawn of Zionist General Council headquarters, on Arlosoroff Street in Tel Aviv. The rally, held under the banner of "Workers with the Protest," turned into a show of strength on the part of Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, against the background of cracks in the relationship between Israel's top union boss and some of the leaders of the tent protest.

The Histadrut chartered the buses that brought in public and private employees to attend the rally. Particularly conspicuous were employees of Israel Military Industries, who fear what a post-privatization and post-structural reform IMI holds for them. Also prominent were workers of the state-controlled agricultural export company Agrexco, also facing an uncertain future.

Conspicuous in their absence, however, were employees of Israel Aerospace Industries. Their union is headed by MK Haim Katz (Likud ), whose Oz Histadrut faction is expected to challenge Eini next year for control of the labor federation.

Eini deflected claims that he was trying to take over the tent protest as part of his alleged ties to big business. He stressed that the Histadrut has no pretense of leading the new social protest movement but is committed to help, using all means at its disposal.

"Immediately after I announced that the workers are joining the current social protest because they themselves are middle-class or less than that, I suddenly hear that the workers have turned into tycoons. Are Israel Electric Corporation union head Miko Zarfati, Clalit Health Health Services workers committee chairman Prosper Ben Hamo and the Sonol union chairman tycoons? They are salt of the earth, and barely get through the month," Eini said.

Addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Eini said: "Listen to the people. Listen to their inner thoughts. There is an entire public that has something to tell you."

Eini railed against "elements that want to disturb the just protest and try to divide and conquer. Today another conflict flared up among the tents. The key to the success of the protest is for everyone to be united," Eini said. He rejected suggestions that the protest movement is rudderless, saying, "The youth movements, the student union and Daphni Leef - they are the protest leaders."

Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Union of Students and one of the earliest leaders of the protest, attacked Netanyahu over the approval of the fast-track housing law. He also claimed that certain forces were "trying to divide us, but it won't help." Shmuli called on union members to join the protest, "because you are an important part of the battle over housing and the high cost of living."

IMI workers committee chairman Yitzhak Yehuda, speaking at the rally, said the state "wants to privatize anything that moves," a process he said that is done in stages. "First they starve the body of liquids, cause it injury and afterward they want the body to crawl on all fours and beg to be privatized," Yehuda said. He said that IMI employees will fight to maintain their rights, which are in danger of being compromised, and announced that 500 IMI retirees have not received the pension checks due them on August 1.

"There is labor terror on the part of the state," Yehuda said. "Factories are sold for a dish of lentils and after their sale their value goes up astronomically," he said.