The Bottom Line / What They Didn't Tell You

When Histadrut chief Amir Peretz tries to win over the public, he tells how the government's economic plan will hurt the old and the weak. He doesn't mention the part about cutting the top wages in the public sector and the big monopolies, because the public is well aware that whoever earns over NIS 20,000 can make an enormous contribution to the economy in times of crisis.

He also fails to mention pensions, because the Histadrut has a problem there. For many years, long before Peretz came on the scene, the labor federation had a whale of a time with the monies of their members' pension funds. The funds preferred political considerations above the benefits of their members. The money was not protected for the objectives it had been designed for, but was instead splashed out on other various organization activities: maintaining Hapoel, financing Na'amat, passing a shekel or two to the Working Mothers' Organization, the Noar Haoved v'Halomed, and the Merkazei Mishan by improving the pensions of anyone active in these organizations or close to them, finding jobs for colleagues, and granting subsidized loans to the Histadrut - all from the hard-earned savings of others. Is it any wonder then that after these extravagant and corruptive practices, the Histadrut's pension funds are on the brink of the abyss? As Eyal Ben-Chelouche (the treasury official on pensions) said: "The Histadrut's control of the pension funds has brought them to try increasing their liabilities toward the insured [the pensioners], while knowing full well that there is no cover for this request?"

When will each pension fund reach its moment of truth - the moment that the cash dries up and it can no longer pay its pensioners? For the Construction Workers' Pension Fund, that time has already passed. It went belly-up in 1998. The Nativ pension fund will have used up all its assets in 2007, the Agricultural Fund in 2008, the Central Pensioners Fund in 2018, Makefet in 2028, and Mivtachim in 2032. In short, there is no time to waste, and a program to save the day should be implemented - raising retirement age, raising employees' contributions, state funding, and appointment of authorized managers.

But the Histadrut is against the authorized managers. The Histadrut's spokesman says that if things had not been run by the book, this was many years ago, long before Peretz took over the helm. But now the funds are run just as they ought to be, and in any case, the deficits are a result of increased longevity.

Now no plan will ever succeed in rescuing the funds if they do not include replacement of management by the treasury, so that the truth behind the funds can be exposed (as is happening in the Construction Workers' Fund) to carry out a revolution - to remove the conflict of interest in a trade union that wants to give more to its "friends with clout" but still do its best for the pensioners.

But Peretz and his Histadrut colleagues don't want to let management out of their grasp. It gives them strength, power, jobs and respect. And this is one of the reasons for the strike. An unjustified reason.