The Bottom Line / Netanyahu's Honey Trap

When prime minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu served as finance minister in 2003-2005, he fought mightily to reduce the power of the Histadrut labor federation. He even removed the Histadrut almost completely from the pensioner sector and viewed the large unions as exploiting the state - and tried to cut off their power.

Netanyahu severely cut back on pension benefits and viewed public-sector employees as the enemy that needed to be defeated quickly, calling them "the fat man riding on the back of the thin man."

Now the new and improved version of Netanyahu has emerged and is being presented to the general public: one interested in the welfare of the workers and social issues, one who is calling on employers to avoid firing workers because of the economic crisis.

Netanyahu is now interested in cooperating with the Histadrut and employers organizations to implement his economic proposals, which may likely take the form of an economic package deal.

Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini and the president of the Manufacturers Association, Shraga Brosh, have now added the third prong to the triangle they have courted for so long: the government.

Eini and Brosh formed an alliance going back years to when Eini was the head of the Histadrut's trade union division. Their alliance is meant to guarantee that both remain in the center of the socioeconomic stage, and neither is pushed to the side in the decision-making process.

The two have spoken out at every opportunity to establish a joint forum of the state, private employers and the Histadrut. Their intent is for this forum to discuss all economic moves and reach an agreement among themselves before any important decision is made.

But Finance Minister Roni Bar-On was not interested or impressed by Brosh and Eini's efforts. Bar-On was suspicious of Eini, but Bar-On and Brosh were completely cut off.

Now Brosh and Eini have all of a sudden been approached from a completely unexpected direction: Netanyahu's.

The three-sided tango will have a price, at least as far as Eini is concerned. The treasury is interested in an immediate cut in public sector salaries as well as layoffs, as the private sector is already paying a heavy price for the economic crisis and recession.

The cooperation Netanyahu is offering Eini, and indirectly to Brosh, is a type of honey trap, since it will pave the way for difficult economic steps, many of which will be quite painful for workers.