A Triumph of the Histadrut

The status of the roundtable of the government, Histadrut labor federation and manufacturers was emphasized yesterday at the signing ceremony for the economic "package deal" agreement. And the emphasis also reconfirmed the status of Histadrut head Ofer Eini and Manufacturers Association chief Shraga Brosh as wielders of direct and important influence over government policy.

With the signing of the package deal the Histadrut has come full circle. It turned out that the Histadrut could be transformed from an alienated organization despised by broad swathes of the populace, to a relevant organization at the forefront of the national economic stage. And all of this was accomplished almost completely without the use of the weapon of labor sanctions.

Eini, who led the longest strike in the history of Israel in 2003, one that lasted nearly three months, has been transformed into a different Eini - a signer of treaties with private employers, and seeker of close dialogue with the government. As a cunning dealer, Eini prefers negotiation to knocking heads. He knows how to take advantage of the opposition's weak position, as he demonstrated to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It would be no exaggeration to say that Eini has a big hand in the transformation of Netanyahu from a proponent of Thatcherism who sees labor unions as an obstacle to the development of a competitive economy, into a man that adopts social policy.

The Histadrut is a winner in this deal. Even if it did agree to concessions, they generally were the kind that workers can live with. In addition, a series of legislative amendments will allow Histadrut representatives to enter any factory, more or less as they see fit, to organize labor and enrich the organization's dwindling reserves. Other clauses will benefit various groups of workers.

But Eini's acquiescence to Lands Administration reforms, and to those planned for the Electric Corporation, will not be so easily accepted by the unions in these organizations. And at that point, Eini will whip out his magical solution for such cases: If no package wage agreement that ensures workers' rights is signed - he will destroy the reforms.