The railworkers union in Israel was historically the first mixed trade union as well as a bastion of the left. The Zionists, led by Histadrut in 1921, were determined to smash it up and in particular end the joint organisation of Arab and Jewish workers – something anathema to Zionism and its campaign of Hebrew (i.e. no Arab) Labour.
So it is ironic that it is again the RailWorkers Union, led by a woman, which has broken with the scab Histadrut which, despite being forced to disinvest itself of its economic enterprises, remains as much a loyal part of the state as it ever was.
Announcing the Israel railways trade union agreement: Yisrael Katz, middle left; Ofer Eini, right; standing – Gila Edrey.
Photo by Moti Milrod
Below is an article from Ha’aretz on what has happened as well as an article on Histadrut’s usual measures – suspending workers’ leaders and also an article from an Israeli Investment Magazine calling on Histadrut to do its national duty and attack the rail workers’ leaders.
Suffice to say that the pro-imperialist right-wing Alliance for Workers Liberty in Britain continues to support the scab Histadrut despite its racist history and its record as part of the state. Why unions should not break links with the Histadrut.
One of the most neglected areas for the Palestine solidarity movement has been the question of breaking at least a section of Israeli Jewish workers from the anti-Arab Histadrut and re-establishing the pre-Mandate tradition of joint Jewish-Arab workers’ unity. It should be an essential component of any strategy to e nd the hegemony of Zionism and its intra-class alliance between Jews against Arabs.
The rejection of the Histadrut by the rail workers is a promising start.
The Histadrut long abandoned its alliance with the workers – its alliance now is with those in power.
By Merav Michaeli | Jul.05, 2012 |
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.
Offer Eini MK – Histadrut leader under investigation for corruption
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.
Three additional members of the embattled worker’s committee also removed over unauthorized strikes and erratic behavior.
The Histadrut labor federation on Sunday removed the controversial head of the Israel Railways workers’ committee, Gila Edrai, from her post.
Three other members of the embattled workers’ committee were removed as well.
The move came after a Histadrut disciplinary board ruled that the committee members held unauthorized strikes and behaved erratically in their battle to prevent Israel Railways from awarding a tender to a private company to carry out maintenance work on trains.
The workers’ committee had insisted that maintenance should be carried out by Israel Railways staff, and saw the tender as the first step toward privatization. It launched unpopular train strikes earlier this year that caused havoc on the rail network.
In its ruling on Sunday, the disciplinary board said that the committee “severely endangered the interests of workers” by their actions, and cited “inappropriate conduct toward the courts.”
Referring to repeated clashes with the National Labor Court and the committee members’ failure to appear in court on time, the board slammed “the disregard and debasement of Labor Court rulings,” which, according to the board, made the Histadrut look like an organization that breaks laws.
The railway workers’ committee said it was not surprised by the ruling, adding that “the Histadrut chose to carry out an invalid and illegal procedure.”
The committee also accused the disciplinary board of holding a stage trial, saying that the ruling would be appealed before a court this week.
The Israel Railways workers committee is a gift to every devotee of privatization, It is the ultimate example of the myth of the bullying, violent committee that wants to run the business, after first wrecking it and its image.
The Ministry of Finance and Israel Railways management don’t have to explain to the public why they insist on transferring maintenance of rolling stock to an external company from Canada even though this will cost the taxpayer a great deal more. The workers committee has done that for them better than they could do it themselves.
One more little strike, one more slight disruption, and the railway workers will have maneuvered themselves into privatization. Call the guys from Canada, the owners of Bombardier, and tell them they can pack their suitcases. Call it a present from the workers committee.
The railways workers committee doesn’t just hurt the travelling public, the railway workers themselves, and their place of work. It is damaging organized labor in Israel altogether. Thousands of workers currently now striving to unionize their workplaces face employers genuinely convinced that exercise of this democratic right will undermine the enterprise.
The workers seeking to unionize talk about shared destiny of employee and employer, on the need to consult workers before changes or layoffs, and all the employers see is the railway workers committee throwing its weight around. Now they’re talking nice, and it’s all about cooperation; tomorrow they’ll bring the roof down on our heads.
This is where the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor in Israel) ought to make its voice heard. No more grumbling in private, no more talk behind the scenes of the headache that is the railways workers committee. Privatization of maintenance on the railways is a real blow to organized labor there and should be resisted, but not in a way that harms the efforts of workers everywhere.
If Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini could tell the social workers who demonstrated last year against the agreement that had been formulated on their conditions, “We achieved the maximum for you”, there is no reason that he should not stand before the railway workers and tell them “Guys, you have gone way too far.” The Histadrut is an umbrella organization for various unions and workers committees, and it has the right to put them in their place.
Strong unions in Israel face constant denigration. The government, the public, the mass media, and the labor courts, always prefer small and weak workers’ organizations. Precisely because of this problematic image, the stronger unions need to behave with greater wisdom, caution, and responsibility. The railways workers committee has failed completely on all three counts. So has the Histadrut.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – – on February 15, 2012