Monday, November 14

The Histadrut Dinosaur of Irrelevance

The election of the Histadrut head to director general of the Labor Party is an incredible achievement and has many positive elements. However, one must bear in mind that the Histadrut under Amir Peretz is not much different to the Histadrut under his predecessors as far as looking after the interests of the workers are concerned. The private sector workers have no true representation in the Histadrut. Their problems are very seldom addressed.

If one were to view the various strikes with Histadrut backing, it was always the strong public sector workers that went on strike. The Dock Worker’s Unions, Ministry of the Interior, Telephone Companies, banks as well as many other strong and, in many cases corrupt, workers unions were roped in for organizing strikes. This made tremendous press coverage and was wonderful for the ego of the Histadrut leader, Amir Peretz, who flexed some muscle when it came to negotiating with the government in improving worker’s salaries and conditions as well as keeping to the contracts signed. The press hype created was successful for Amir Peretz.

What about those exploited workers in the private sector, many of them being members of the Histadrut? They were unaffected by all the strike hype and remained exploited and ignored as before. They were not an investment press-wise and were largely forgotten. A case in point is the Dead Sea Potash Works whose main share holders amongst others are the brothers, Yuli and Sammy Ofer, amongst the richest people in the world who are even mentioned in the famous Forbes Magazine.

These workers work under the most intolerable conditions for salaries close to minimum wage. Many of them live under intolerable conditions in Dimona near the Dead Sea. Special overcrowded buses transport them like cattle to work in the Dead Sea Potash Works. They start work at 4.00 a.m. in the morning and end their work day late at night. Their conditions are intolerable. In summer they work in the searing heat with no air conditioners to relieve them. The salty chemical dust that they breathe is hazardous to their health. Nobody cares – not even the Histadrut! They do not have the minimum of security in their jobs nor decent workman’s compensation if they are injured. They are expendable and replaceable when their health fails. They are doomed to a life of poverty with no future for their children whatsoever. Their Worker’s Unions are corrupt and their work leaders are paid higher salaries in order to keep the working underdogs quiet. The main shareholders of this project are not interested in their workers’ welfare. When they were questioned by Ilana Dayan of the Israeli Second Channel in her programme “Uvda” some years ago about the inhuman working conditions there, they denied any knowledge of the workers’ problems and showed no concern whatsoever.

Where was Amir Peretz when these unfortunate Dead Sea Workers needed him the most? Their problems were safely swept under the Histadrut carpet for many years. Their lifespan was shortened by these intolerable inhuman sweatshop conditions and yet nobody cares. It does not make good press for Israel so who knows who is responsible for the great “cover up” there?

There are many employees, who pay fees to the Histadrut so that their working rights are insured and cared for. However, when they approach the Histadrut legal department when they have a work contract problem, there is no address. There are various inefficient clerks who answer the phones and give information which is not helpful; or leave messages which are never answered. I once had a problem and it took two and a half months before I even received a reply to a question and that was only after much nudging and phoning. The responsible (or irresponsible) person in the legal department was never there. Eventually I received a terse answer that was neither here nor there. I happen to be a card carrying member of the Histadrut which does not represent my interests at all as my attempt to get information from them had proved.

The Histadrut is a redundant dinosaur that furthers the interests of those who are able to make political capital in high places. Those workers who are not part of the huge public syndicate that is subsidized by the state have nothing to gain from being members. It is an unwieldy, inefficient organization of technocrats, political hacks of pseudo-socialistic ideals and “jobs for pals” burocrats. Its strength lies in the ability of its leaders to organize strikes sanctioned by strong, corrupt public workers unions which have made little inroads in genuine workers’ rights in the private sector.

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