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November 03, 1989 - Image 38

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-11-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

INSIGHT I

Could Labor Lose
Its Histadrut Grip?

ZE'EV CHAFETS

Israel Correspondent

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38

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1989

n November 13, more
than a million voters
will go to the polls to
decide the leadership of the
Histadrut, Israel's General
Federation of Labor. The His-
tadrut election has tradi-
tionally been a fairly dull af-
fair, with the victory of the
Labor Party slate a foregone
conclusion. But this time, the
union contest has implica-
tions for the future of the
Israeli economy, politics and
international diplomacy.
The Histadrut is far more
than just a labor union. Its
membership includes blue
collar workers, office
employees, government of-
ficials, kibbutzniks,
housewives, students and
anyone else who is a member
of the union's massive kupat
cholim health program. In all,
more than one and a half
million Israelis hold red
membership booklets, and
they are all eligible to vote in
the country-wide election.
The contest will determine
the composition of the His-
tadrut's ruling body, the 40
member va'ad ha'merakezet.
The election is held between
competing slates put up by
the major national parties,
and to gain representation, a
party needs to receive at least
one-third of the overall vote.
The Labor Party, which
founded the Histadrut (David
Ben Gurion was the union's
first General Secretary) has
always held total control of
the va'ad ha'merakezet. In the
last election, the Likud
received only 23.5 percent of
the vote — not enough to gain
entry into the governing body
of the organization. But this
time, things may be different;
polls show Likud running at
just around the needed 33
percent.
Neither of the two major
parties has nominated can-
didates in the Ben Gurion
mold. Labor's contender is
the current Secretary
General of the Histadrut,
Yisrael Kessar, who also
serves as a Labor Party
Member of Knesset; his main
opponent, Ya'akov Shamai, is
a Likud MK. Both men are
colorless and bland, and there
isn't a great deal of
ideological difference between
them. .
Analysts here do not expect
the Likud to unseat Kessar.
There is little question that
Labor can hold on to control
of the union. The Likud's goal

is to get the required third of
the vote to place a candidate
on the va'ad ha'merakezet;
and, even more important, to
further weaken the Labor
Party, already reeling from
Knesset and municipal elec-
tion defeats within the past
year.
To do this, the Likud has
mounted a two-pronged
strategy. On the one hand, it
has been attacking the
Histadrut as an economic
anomoly, a labor union that
controls, through its holding
company, Hevrat HaOvdim,
approximately one quarter of
Israel's industrial sector. And,
on the other, the Likud has
been trying to turn the union
election into a broad
referenum on its foreign and
defense policies.
"The Histadrut as it is
presently constituted is one

"This is the final
test of how much
the Labor Party
has been
weakened."

big conflict of interest," says
Likud Histadrut spokesman
Nimrod Granit. "It is both
capital and labor. We have a
program to end the anomaly
by selling off the companies,
and making them private.
Then the Histadrut can do
what it is supposed to do —
represent the workers."
The Labor party disputes
this narrow definition of the
Histadrut and its role. "The
Histadrut is a world view, not
just a labor union," says Dror
Charvit, assistant to Yisrael
Kessar. "We have schools,
health facilities, sports teams,
a newspaper, kibbutzim,
marketing cooperatives, as
well as industries. We offer
answers to workers in all
areas, not just salary."
The Likud has also scored
Labor's management of the
Histadrut companies, point-
ing out that many of its most
important industries — Solel
Boneh, Kor and the kib-
butzim — are in deep eco-
nomic difficulty. Indeed, in
the past three years, the
Histadrut has beeen forced to
fire upwards of 10,000 work-
ers from its own industries —
an embarrassing task for a
union committed to full
employment.
The Labor Party doesn't
dispute the serious economic
problems in the Histadrut
sector, but has sought to put
them in perspective. "The en-

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