Published in The Jerusalem Post on June 11, 2000
Tomorrow, you and I will not be able to ride a bus or train, process a passport or withdraw funds from the bank, get directory assistance or mail a letter. No-one knows whether there’ll be enough electricity to run air conditioners. Why? Because the Histadrut is closing down the economy.
Tomorrow, Ben-Gurion Airport will shut down its runways, stranding passengers all over Europe and the U.S. and bringing our international trade and travel to a virtual standstill – at a cost of millions. Pray that the water pipes leading into your neighborhood don’t burst, because there’ll be nobody around to fix them either. Why? Because the Histadrut is closing down the economy.
It is time to crush the Histadrut — an anachronistic, atrophied, cranky old thing which does more harm than good, and which long ago ceased to truly represent the working rank-and-file. Run on an endless supply of bombast and bloated budgets provided by its fat-cat richest unions, and headed by a frustrated, unimpressive rabble-rouser looking for some action to justify his existence, the Histadrut has run its course.
In the early decades of this state, the Histadrut was everything: trade union, health fund, insurance company, banker, owner and operator of agricultural collectives, a major industrial operator and investor, even a sports authority. It was a business, political and social force that a major role to play, mostly positive, in the development of Israel’s economy.
That, of course, all has changed. The Histadrut no longer even claims to be anything but a worker’s union, following the divestment or the bankruptcy of its business, financial and health-fund holdings. Its political parent body, the Labor Party, all has but evaporated too. What’s left? A sad excuse for a trade union.
The Histadrut today is a trade union controlled by the richest, most comfortable unions — Bezek and the Israel Electric Company – far removed from the concerns of the truly poor and downtrodden. In its entire declared platform, there is only one plank of any real value to the twenty percent of Israelis that have difficulty finishing the month over the poverty line: the raising of the monthly minimum wage to $1000.
Of course, this Histadrut demand has about as much chance of being legislated into law as the likelihood of the Lubavitcher Rebbe rising from the dead as the messiah. The Histadrut know this. But for Histadrut chief honcho Amir Peretz, it’s always nice to demand a higher minimum wage. It allows him to claim that the Histadrut is waging war for the poor worker, while providing cover for his real agenda: protecting interests of the already-well-provided-for union members.
Amir’s comfy power base in the swollen IEC and bulging Bezek unions explains tomorrow’s strike against Finance Minister Avraham Shochat’s tax reform plan. The tax reform might actually increase the income of the truly poor and low-income earners. But it’ll bite into the generous savings plans, professional development endowments, vacation funds, clothing and telephone allowances, camping and travel bonuses, fictitious “over-time” payments, pension funds and stock market investments of the IEC and Bezek unionists.
Take the doctors for example. Here’s a well-deserving, productive sector of the economy, critical to any developed society. The highly-educated, hard-working doctors are grossly underpaid, with few Histadrut-like fringes and benefits. They’ve been on strike for more than two months. The Histadrut hardly has lifted a finger to support them.
Not one Histadrut-affiliated union, from any sector, has joined the doctors in a fraternal show of sympathy. Nor has the well-oiled Histadrut p.r. apparatus kicked-in on behalf of the doctors, which explains why the doctors and their limping strike have garnered such poor media coverage. The richest, most senior doctors – those medical professors who also run private practices – actually are profiting from the extended strike, something which may explain Amir Peretz’s reluctance to get involved. His Histadrut administration has a proven soft spot for the well-off.
Twice, I have been locked out of this country by Histadrut wild-cat strikes at Ben-Gurion Airport, stranding me on Mediterranean islands willing to provide refuge for me and my fellow Histadrut-created refugees. Once, it was Shabbat eve and I was left to cool my heels at a disco-hotel in remote southern Cyprus, with no realistic way of letting my family know whether to hold *kiddush* for me. I had kids waiting at home that needed to be taken care of, and important business that had to be put off. It was absolutely intolerable.
My fellow travelers and I felt like the Zionists who were locked out of Israel and incarcerated on Cyprus by the British — except that this time the jailers were Histadrut heavies.
I want government leadership that will deal a our ossified, pesky Histadrut an appropriate crushing blow. Remember how President Ronald Reagan dealt with the striking air traffic controllers? He fired them all! Then, Reagan hired some back — at two-thirds the salary and under terms of employment more beneficial for the American economy.
Not at all a bad strategy for handling our Histadrut troublemakers.