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In Bid to Remain 'Relevant,' Histadrut Joins Protests

In what some observers called a bid by the Histadrut to remain relevant, the union held a rally calling for 'social justice.'
By David Lev
First Publish: 8/5/2011, 4:09 AM

Housing Protests
Housing Protests
Flash 90

In what some observers called a bid by the Histadrut to remain relevant in Israeli society, in the wake of the protests against the high cost of living, the union held a rally in Tel Aviv Thursday night, busing in workers from organizations such as the Israel Electric Company (IEC) and the Mekorot water company, and from its No'ar Oved Velomed youth chapters.

In a poll by business newspaper Globes, IEC workers were this year again highest paid in Israel, as they have been for many years in the past. They also get free electricity. Mekorot workers were in second place in terms of salary and benefits.

The HIstadrut's policies on tenure for workers after a relatively short period, non-linked to their productivity and economic viability, have caused many start-ups and other successful companies in Israel (for which many of the protestors work or will work) to eschew their staff's joining the militant labor union and this may be a way for the union to try to get back on the map.

Other organizations represented at the rally included Tnuva, Bank Hapoalim, and train and airport workers, as well as municipal workers. Workers held signs demanding social justice and declaring their support for protests in the tent cities demanding affordable housing. There were also many signs demanding that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his government resign. Estimates of how many people attended the rally ranged from just several thousand to close to 10,000.

“After having changed our approach from a socialist to a capitalist one, we have lost our compassion. We have become fully capitalistic, and hog-like capitalists at that,” Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini said at the rally. He called on Netanyahu to “listen to us, listen to the people. The high housing prices are not an edict from heaven, but the result of this and previous governments to build sufficiently.”

Eini said that the Histadrut would join the protests from now on, beginning with another massive protest planned for Saturday night. “We are with you and will strengthen you in all protests and meetings,” Eini said, addressing his remarks to students and tent-protesters who have been demonstrating for weeks.

In response, one protester – not a Histadrut member – was quoted by Channel 1 news as saying that while she appreciated any help the protest movement could get, “I am not sure Ofer Eini should be standing on stage and pretending to be a leader of this. I don't think the Histadrut leadership or many of the workers have too much trouble finishing the month on their incomes.”