Histadrut, Ridden With Politics

Do you remember Ofer Eini's campaign slogan in the recent race for chairmanship of the Histadrut labor federation? It was just a month ago, and no, it wasn't "Give the poor their dignity back " or "Stop wage crime in government: Pay the workers withheld wages." 

It wasn't "Protect the temps", either. Nor was it "Pensions for all workers!", any of which might have been very apt.

No, Eini ran his race to lead the biggest labor federation in Israel waving the banner of "Histadrut without politics."

That elegant slogan was supposed to convey Eini's disgust with the involvement of the various political parties in the management of the Histadrut labor federation.

In fact the Histadrut has been controlled by the political parties from day one. First it was Mapai, and today, after a short hiatus, it's Labor again. For years the Histadrut was essentially the Employment Service of the Labor Party.

When a Labor official wanted to arrange a cushy job for a crony, all he had to do was phone the Histadrut chairman. The parties also helped themselves to the federation?s resources, mainly in its pension funds, over which it lost control in 2003.

The Likud, which loathed the Histadrut for years because of its "red" character, acquired power in the organization first in opposition, then as an integral part of its leadership. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who generally views worker associations and strong labor unions as an actual evil for the economy, wanted a piece of the Histadrut and made sure to obtain clout in the leadership.

Up to its neck

The Histadrut leadership and its nearly 200-man "parliament" (elected representatives) consists entirely of a rainbow of party hacks, from Labor and Likud, Shas and Meretz, the Gil Pensioners Party. On July 9 the 600-700 man Histadrut Convention will be convening following the recent election (that Eini won): there too its members are almost entirely political animals.

It is entirely probably that a good many of the voters who trudged to the voting booths and ushered Eini into power with an unprecedented 91% of the vote, chose him because of his slogan "Histadrut without politics."

But Eini's own conduct ahead of the Labor Party run-off tomorrow attests that fundamentally, the Histadrut labor federation's leadership remains steeped in politics day in and day out. It hasn't changed at all.

With Eini's consent and possibly with his encouragement too, the powerful regional leaders of the Histadrut harnessed themselves to Ehud Barak' campaign, to the detriment of Ami Ayalon. Just yesterday these very men were court jesters to the previous king, Amir Peretz.

If even a man like Ofer Eini, who arose to power from a simple labor committee and who bore the flag of an apolitical Histadrut, cannot keep the organization away from the political machinery, then it's time to call the beast by name. The Histadrut was and remains an organization with a finger in every political pie in town. People of the Histadrut: tell it like it is. Take off your masks.