Reorganizing Organized Labor

The Histadrut long abandoned its alliance with the workers - its alliance now is with those in power.

Something big happened Wednesday to the balance of power in the Israeli labor market: The Israel Railways workers' committee left the Histadrut Labor Federation and will now be represented by the Koah LaOvdim (Power to the Workers) organization. As of this writing, more than half the railway employees have signed on to the transfer.

This is good news, not just for Koah LaOvdim, but also for the railway workers and Israeli society. Organized labor has long needed to be rejuvenated; workers have long needed some real power and there has long been a need for a serious option for union representation in Israel other than the corrupt, aggressive Histadrut.

The Histadrut is indeed belligerent, but what is happening now demonstrates, more than ever, that contrary to what we were conditioned to think, it isn't belligerent toward the government or the economy or the public - it is belligerent toward the workers themselves.

Another example of this came during the social workers' struggle, which was determined and uncompromising until Ofer Eini, the supposedly responsible adult, entered the picture, waved the social workers aside and closed agreements with the treasury against their will, and against their interests too.

Now this aggression is even more serious: Eini has suspended the railways' elected worker representatives and is trying to dismiss them. Since their suspension he is harassing them, as well as the workers who had joined Koah LaOvdim: Over the past week their phones and cars have been confiscated, the fax and phone lines in the workers' committee office have been cut, and workers are being stopped at the entrance to Israel Railways facilities and blocked from entering their workplaces.

This wild behavior by the Histadrut also demonstrates that those at its head have long abandoned their alliance with the workers; their alliance is now with those in power. All this bullying has been directed from the offices of Israel Railways' management, using the Israel Railways' phones and computers. Railway managers are even signing up workers for the Histadrut.

Eini has long seen himself as a member of the state's executive team, not as the workers' representative. He has long been the one who appoints, dismisses and mixes, and the friend of all the Who's Who. His Histadrut has essentially looked after only the more powerful workers: the large workers' committees, the ones that have their hands on the switch.

By the way, on those committees there are hardly any women, only men. And those committee heads are all local Eini-types: connected, threatening and doing all they can for themselves, their families and their friends. Israel Railways is also such a place, with a switch that can shut down infrastructure. But the workers' committee head there is substantially different from those of other committees. She isn't connected or corrupt, and is totally devoted to the railway workers' cause. And she is a single parent of three daughters. Above all, she is a woman, not pretty, delicate or compromising. That's why all kinds of terrible things have been written about her, things that have never been written about any workers' committee chairman who shut down the docks or the airport.

True, she isn't perfect. No man or woman should act in contempt of court or wonder whether the judge does or doesn't have balls. But beyond these superfluous remarks there's a real and justified struggle. The talk about crushing organized labor because of the large unions is in effect the same belligerency that should be eradicated. There's no need to crush organized labor; there's a need to reorganize it in a way that will be fair and worthy of all the parties involved. Gila Edrey, by moving to Koah LaOvdim, may very well be a catalyst for this process.

Read this article in Hebrew