Gila Edrey, chairwoman of the Israel Railways trade union, says the agreement achieved on Tuesday was a victory for the workers, and a personal victory for herself. Not so. The first announcement from the umbrella Histadrut union listed the people who had participated in marathon negotiations throughout the night and her name was not there. Later, after Edrey screamed, the Histadrut issued a laconic, one-sentence correction: "In the negotiation, the chairwoman of the railways union, Gila Edrey, and union members took part too." That's it.

That neatly sums up what happened behind closed doors during that night: Edrey and the Railways union members were there, on and off, but Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini tyrannized them, crushing them almost violently. His behavior was so extreme that one of the union members became ill and left.

Every time Edrey tried to oppose some concept of his, Eini took her outside and "straightened" her out. Each time she came back vanquished. She paid the full price that night for her arrogance, her belligerence and her crude language. It was clear to all and sundry that Eini was revolted by her; and that he wanted an agreement, not a strike.

Another interesting thing behind closed doors is that all the powerful unions that ostensibly expressed solidarity with the Railways union said the opposite to Eini. Edrey and her crass conduct were hurting them, they complained, as were the wildcat service shutdowns and physical attacks on Railways executives. They urged Eini to wrap up an agreement before things could get worse.

Eini also felt Edrey had damaged the cause of organized labor, that the public wouldn't accept any more service disruptions, and that by suspending Edrey for three months, the Railways management was signaling that it was losing its awe of the union. The upshot is that Edrey yesterday praised an agreement that she'd been offered in the past, but had rejected with contempt.

The minister said No

The agreement wouldn't have been possible if not for Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz's support of the Railways management. He knew that if he didn't stand strong against the out-of-control union that effectively controlled the company, he'd be blamed for the poor train service. He knew that when the next train accident happened, he'd be in the dock. He didn't want that. So he stood strong against the union's pressure, despite its power in Likud party circles; he kept faith with the public interest.

When the talks blew up a month ago, Katz scalded Eini and vowed that the Railways would be reformed whether Eini liked it or not. Eini realized the balance of power had changed, which spurred him to reach the agreement fast. And the reform agreement reached is a revolution. For the first time in the company's history, CEO Boaz Zafrir can actually manage the thing without being dependent on the whims and whimsies of the flibbertigibbet union.

The biggest achievement is introducing external, professional workers: 30% of the maintenance work on the trains will be done by these, though the remaining 70% will be done by Railways employees. The management of the maintenance department will be upgraded to international levels, which will improve safety. And the commercial part of the Railways will be privatized.

The state and the Railways management paid a heavy price. Edrey and her associates have been reinstated; the workers will get NIS 40,000 bonuses each and a 25% raise; and there will be no job cuts until 2030. But it's worth it.