HISTADRUT (abbreviation of Ha-Histadrut ha-Kelalit shel ha-Ovedim be-Ereẓ Israel , the General Federation of Labor in Israel; until 1966, Ha-Histadrut ha-Kelalit shel ha-Ovedim ha-Ivriyyim be-Ereẓ Israel , the General Federation of Jewish Labor), founded in 1920 (for its history, see *Israel, State of: Development of Jewish Labor Movement), the largest labor union and the largest voluntary organization in Israel and largest Jewish labor organization in the world. In 1969 it had a membership of 1,038,653, including housewives and members of its working youth organization, *Ha-No'ar ha-Oved. Excluding the two latter categories, its membership was 719,937, approximately 75% of the labor force in Israel. By 1985 it numbered 1.5 million members, who together with their families included 2.5 million people. From 1995, after the election of Haim *Ramon as secretary general, the Histadrut underwent radical changes in its organization and operation (see below).
The Histadrut until 1995
The Histadrut is more than a trade union organization; according to its constitution, it "unites and organizes all workers, without distinction of creed, race, nationality or outlook, who live on the fruits of their labor without exploiting the labor of others, for the purpose of arranging all the communal, economic, and cultural affairs of the working class in the country for the building of the labor society in the Land of Israel." It therefore conducted extensive economic, mutual aid, and cultural, as well as trade union, activities. Membership was personal and direct. There was no collective or group membership; the member joined the Histadrut first and was then registered in the appropriate union. Wives of members could join with full voting and other rights, even if they were occupied only as housewives. Since 1960, Arab workers and their wives have been admitted with full membership rights.
The policy-making bodies were the convention (ve'idah) and the council (mo'eẓah). The convention was the highest authority and was elected by the entire membership approximately every four years. In the elections any faction already represented was entitled to submit a list of candidates; any group of members could submit a new list if they had the legal number of signatures, which depended on the ratio of the number of delegates to the number of registered voters (at the 11th convention, it was around 800). Lists were generally submitted by political parties; all national parties except the religious ones, which had their own labor organizations, were represented at the 1969 convention. Members voted by secret ballot, and each party was allotted delegates in proportion to the votes it obtained. The convention elected the council (351 members in 1970), which, in turn, elected the Executive Committee (Ha-Va'ad ha-Po'el), the operative governing body. The Executive Committee appointed the Central Bureau (Ha-Va'adah ha-Merakkezet), which had 20 members in 1970, and the secretarygeneral of the Histadrut, who was nominated by the majority party. All of these executive organs were divided according to the pattern of the convention, in accordance with the election results. In each town a local labor council (Mo'eẓet ha-Po'alim) was elected simultaneously with the convention. At the same time, and on the same basis, farm workers elected the Agricultural Center (Ha-Merkaz ha-Ḥakla'i), and women members elected the Women Workers' Council (*Mo'eẓet ha-Po'alot).
As set out in its constitution, the Histadrut had four main fields of activity: trade unionism, economic and cooperative activities, mutual aid, and education.
The Histadrut's trade union activities were controlled by its Trade Union Department, in which the parties were represented according to their proportions in the convention. By agreement, the religious workers' organizations, *Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi and Po'alei Agudat Israel, were also represented, and their members received trade union protection in return for an organization fee. Thus, over 90% of wage earners in Israel were organized within the Histadrut's trade union framework. The department was headed by a member of the Central Bureau. The basic unit of the Histadrut trade union organization was the Workers' Committee (Va'ad ha-Ovedim), which was elected on a personal, nonpolitical basis in each place of work: office, factory, plantation, or building site. Local unions were formed by all members in the same trade or industry in any locality. The local union then became a constituent part of the national union, which had jurisdiction in nationwide matters in the industry.
The Histadrut Executive Committee set up national unions when it deemed that the size of an industry justified it, and these unions received their funds from the Executive rather than vice versa. Generally, the executive of these unions was elected by a convention, which in its turn was elected by the membership on a political party basis; in a number of cases there were very long intervals between elections to national union executives. Members of other labor organizations and unorganized workers in the trade were permitted to participate in national union elections. Bargaining on labor contracts, which cover a wide range of social benefits as well as wages, took place on two levels. The Trade Union Department conducted negotiations at the national level with the National Union of Manufacturers on the general guidelines for the collective agreements. In these negotiations, the position of the country's economy and national economic policy were borne in mind. (At the beginning of 1970, for example, the Histadrut's national wages policy formed part of a national economic "package deal" in which the government promised to limit tax increases and the employers undertook not to raise prices.) At the same time, each national union entered into negotiations with representatives of management from its own trade or industry for an agreement which had to be within the general framework of the agreed national policy. Where there was no industry-wide union, local labor councils with works committees conducted negotiations on a plant or district level. The wage agreement normally set out wage rates in detail, dealt with social benefits and working conditions, and specified procedures for the handling of grievances and disputes. Among the social conditions, benefits included were: sick pay, employer participation in the cost of workers' health insurance, paid annual vacations and public holidays, severance pay, and a variety of provident and pension plans.
For ideological and historical reasons, the Histadrut was engaged in a wide range of economic and social activities not traditionally associated with trade unionism. As the founding members saw in the Histadrut not only a means of protecting the interests of the workers but also an instrument for the development of a modern, independent Jewish society along socialist lines, the organization initiated and developed a large number of economic enterprises, some in the form of autonomous cooperative societies and others owned directly and collectively by the entire membership (see also *Cooperation). The earliest and best-known of these ventures were the *kibbutz, the collective village, and the *moshav, the smallholders' cooperative settlement.
In its aspect as economic agent, the Histadrut was constituted as *Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim, the General Cooperative Association of Labor in Israel. Membership in Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim was automatically acquired upon joining the Histadrut, so that the two bodies were co-extensive. The convention and council of the Histadrut were the highest policy-making authorities of Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim, and the secretariat and secretary-general of Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim were appointed by the Histadrut's Executive Committee. Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim held ordinary and founders' shares in most of the economic institutions owned directly by the collective membership of the Histadrut. It was not responsible for the liabilities of these institutions, but exercised influence through appointment of people in top management, and in cases of divergency on general principles of labor cooperation, the Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim representative was entitled to ask for a decision by arbitration. In the case of the cooperative societies, which were owned and run by their worker-members, the influence of Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim was more diffuse, although its representatives sat in the managements of their central societies and their audit unions.
The labor sector was a major force in the country's economy. At the beginning of 1969 it comprised 211,000 workers: 23.5% of the labor force, 74.7% of the workers in agriculture, 15.6% in industry, 25.2% of those in building, 11.0% of the commercial and financial employees, 24.0% of the transportation workers, 11.8% of public service employees, and 32.9% of employees in the personal services. The net product of the labor sector in 1968 (at current prices) was il 2,347,000,000, 20.8% of the net national product; the Histadrut's agricultural enterprises in 1968 produced il 672,000,000, some 75% of the net national agricultural product, while its industrial undertakings had a net product of il 483,000,000, about 20% of the national total.
The major centrally run economic agencies were as follows:
*Solel Boneh, the biggest Histadrut enterprise, comprised: a Building and Public Works Company with a turnover of il 462,000,000; an Overseas and Harbors Works Company operating in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, with a turnover of il 138,000,000; and Koor, an industrial holding company, whose factories employed 12,000 workers with a turnover of il 700,000,000 – all in 1969. Koor had a large number of enterprises in heavy and medium industry with plants all over the country, including the Vulcan foundries, Nesher cement, Phoenicia glass, and the steel complex at Acre. Among other subsidiary enterprises of Solel Boneh and Koor were quarries and factories producing building materials, sanitary installations, ceramics, rubber, tiles, electrical and electronic products, laboratory instruments, paper, etc.
*Ha-Mashbir ha-Merkazi, the Wholesale Cooperative Society, had (1969) about 550 affiliated cooperative enterprises, together with a chain of about 1,500 consumer cooperatives and retail department stores over the entire country,
*Tnuva, which markets the products of the Histadrut agricultural settlements and is cooperatively owned by them, handled over two-thirds of all farm produce and was increasingly active in exports. Bank ha-Po'alim, with its subsidiary and associated companies – Ampal, to channel foreign investments; the Israel-America Bank for the development of industry; a bank for housing mortgages; and Gemel, which serves provident and pension funds – had become the second-largest investment company in the country with 150 branches.
Shikkun, the Cooperative Housing Society, raised the standards of workers' housing and enabled thousands of wage earners to buy their own houses.
Hassneh was one of the largest insurance companies in Israel.
Industrial and service cooperatives engaged in such diverse activities as light metalworking, woodwork, printing, baking, kerosene distribution, laundries, and restaurants. Nearly the whole field of road passenger transport was covered by cooperatives, the largest being Egged and Dan, in which the great majority of the drivers and employees were shareholding members; there were also many cooperatives in the field of freight transport by road.
In the early 1980s Israel faced a severe economic crisis, with extremely high rates of inflation. The crisis affected many companies in Israel, including those owned by the Histadrut. Consequently, during the 1980s and the 1990s, in order to survive economically, the Histadrut gradually sold off all its economic assets, liquidating Ḥevrat ha-Ovedim.
The mutual aid institutions of the Histadrut were Kuppat Ḥolim, the Workers Sick Fund; Keren Nekhut, a fund for the aid of members who are chronically ill or permanently disabled; Mishan, which supported orphans' and old-age homes; Maẓẓiv, a fund to aid indigent families with burial expenses; Dor le-Dor, a fund to supplement pensions that do not reach a basic minimum; and an unemployment fund. Kuppat Ḥolim was one of the Histadrut's major instruments of mutual aid. It provided for comprehensive medical care, including treatment in clinics or at home; hospitalization; medical appliances and drugs; treatment and, if necessary, hospitalization for chronic diseases; and rehabilitation therapy.
Every member of the Histadrut paid approximately 4.5% (up to a maximum fixed from time to time) of his wages to the union as dues. Around half of this payment was allocated to Kuppat Ḥolim, of which every member of the Histadrut was automatically a member. Members could also insure their families in the fund by adding 80% of this payment to the fund. Unemployed members were exempt from payment, and new immigrants were given special privileges, including three months' free insurance and nine months at reduced rates. Social welfare cases were given free care with a minimum contribution from the Ministry of Social Welfare. Members of Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, Po'alei Agudat Israel, and certain other organizations were also insured with Kuppat Ḥolim. At the end of 1968, it covered 1,990,000 people – 68% of the population. Membership dues covered 30–40% of the overall expenses of Kuppat Ḥolim, while government participation rose from 7.4% in 1948 to 13.1% in 1968.
There were several provident funds for various types of employees. The largest was Mivtaḥim, which provided pension, holiday, and other payments for a large variety of workers, including casual laborers. There were also funds for clerks and officials, employees of Histadrut industries, members of cooperatives, agricultural workers, and building workers. Mivtaḥim and the last two funds also covered payments for holidays, work accidents, rehabilitation where necessary, and so forth. Pension rates were raised in accordance with the rise in the cost of living and kept pace with wage increases. The total membership of the funds was in 1968 over 350,000 – together with families about half the population of the country – and their accumulated capital amounted to more than il 20,000,000,000. The funds were under treasury supervision, and 80% of their capital had to be invested in government-recognized securities; half of this was generally invested in securities issued by Gemel, the Histadrut investment company. Of the remaining 20%, about half was used for low-interest loans to members for housing, etc. The operations of the funds not only contributed a valuable social service, but were of considerable economic importance as a method of saving and a source of capital investment.
educational and cultural activities
The Histadrut's Cultural Department provided a variety of services for members in town and country. These included lectures; films; publications and periodicals; organized trips; courses in Hebrew, geography, Bible, music, dancing, and the arts; clubs and libraries; educational books and materials; theater performances for immigrants; libraries for schools in immigrant centers, in cooperation with the Beth Hanassi Children's Libraries Fund; educational circles for parents; and schools for trade union leaders. In addition, the local labor councils engaged in similar activities on their own initiative, and there was a wide network of cultural committees in towns and villages. There were special departments for the kibbutzim and the moshavim. Among the permanent central educational institutions were a labor archive; a museum; two colleges, one in Tel Aviv and one in the Jordan Valley; and the Amal chain of vocational high schools. The Afro-Asian Institute, set up to train people from developing countries in trade unionism and cooperation, was established in Tel Aviv in 1961. Davar was the Histadrut's daily newspaper; a special, vocalized daily in simple Hebrew for immigrants, Omer, was also published. In the 1980s Davar began to lose its audience to other newspapers, and was finally closed in 1996. Am Oved ("Working People"), the Histadrut publishing house, published both original Hebrew literature and translations. Ha-Po'el ("The Worker"), the Histadrut's sports association, was the largest in the country. There was also a trade union and social organization for young people, Ha-No'ar ha-Oved ve-ha-Lomed, with some 100,000 members.
Arabs and members of other minority communities joined the Histadrut as full members. There were union branches in Arab centers, and, in mixed places of work, joint workers' committees were elected by Arab and Jewish workers. With the assistance and advice of the Histadrut, agricultural, industrial, consumer, and housing cooperatives were established in Arab areas; Kuppat Ḥolim operated general and mother-and-child clinics, and the Histadrut, especially through its youth and women's movements, maintained clubs and cultural activities in Arab towns and villages. There were 118,098 Arab members in 1969 – 29% of the Arab population, including about 5,000 in Jerusalem, who joined after the reunification of the city in 1967 and were served by a Kuppat Ḥolim branch in East Jerusalem.
The Histadrut was affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and maintained close ties with its member federations. It sent experienced trade unionists to advise on labor organization, particularly in Asia and Africa, and many delegations and groups of students, particularly from developing countries, came to Israel to study its methods and achievements. The trade unions in these countries were interested in the Histadrut's unitary structure, its success in integrating members with varied cultural and educational backgrounds, and its prominent role in national life. Its Afro-Asian Institute was an important international center for labor studies. The Histadrut also belonged to the International Cooperative Alliance, which represented cooperative movements in both Western and Communist countries, and Israel's cooperative economy aroused widespread interest. Despite Israel's small size, its representatives played a prominent part in the work of the International Labor Office and were regularly elected to its governing body. The Histadrut's influence in all branches of the international labor movement was an asset of considerable political importance for Israel and reflected the socialist ethos that prevailed in the country until the 1980s.
[Lois Bar-Yaacov and
The Histadrut since 1995
On the eve of the May 1994 elections for the Histadrut leadership, a group of three Labor Knesset members, headed by Haim *Ramon, then minister of health, decided to run as an independent list called New Life. It challenged the old-guard leadership headed by Secretary-General Haim Haberfeld and the Labor Party rule of the Histadrut that had lasted since its creation in 1920. The New Life list argued that the Histadrut must adapt itself to the realities of Israel on the eve of the year 2000, shed its old image as a wasteful and bloated bureaucratic organization that had lost touch with the Israeli worker, and above all stated that the time had come to institute an orderly and honest accounting and administration of the vast holdings of the Histadrut.
On May 10, 1994, the Ramon list won 47% of the votes, while Labor (headed by the incumbent Haberfeld) won 33%. Ramon was elected secretary-general, a title he soon changed to Histadrut chairman, and, upon entering office on July 6, 1994 (in coalition with Labor), announced far-reaching reforms. Among them was the firing of some 45% of the Histadrut and various Workers Council staff, moving the headquarters to Jerusalem by December 1995 (a failed effort; the headquarters returned to Tel Aviv a few years later), the sale of holdings and assets (which had already begun), and a general restructuring of the Histadrut. The reforms were underscored by changing the Histadrut's name to the New Histadrut (Histradrut ha-Oevdim ha-Ḥadashah). Following the Rabin assassination in November 1995, Ramon joined the Peres government as minister of interior and was succeeded by Amir *Peretz. By the time Ramon had returned to the government, he was responsible for a number of dramatic changes, including the legislation of two major laws. The first was the State Pension Law, in which responsibility for the Histadrut pension funds, whose projected deficit was estimated at is 40 billion, was transferred to the government. Responsibility for the health services of Kuppat Ḥolim (the Sick Fund) were also transferred to the government, after the passage of the State Health Insurance Law in January 1995, a law initiated by Ramon as minister of health. In accordance with the law, residents of Israel would pay a health tax to the state (for this purpose the National Insurance Institute), and be free to choose free health services in one of four health funds.
The Histadrut leadership was reduced in number, the membership of the central committee dropping from 40 to 24; the 374 members and alternates of the Histradut Committee was reduced to 137, becoming what was now called the Histadrut's Elected Assembly. The internal comptroller's office was strengthened and given greater independence.
A massive campaign was launched to investigate charges of corruption, mismanagement of funds, and use of Histadrut funds for personal primary campaigns. Some of the results were submitted to the police for additional investigation and a number of former leaders were charged. This was accompanied by massive budgetary cuts, from is 740 million in 1994 to is 440 million in 1995. The number of members was 661,855 in June 1995. Among them, 534,920 were salaried and the rest pensioners, members of kibbutzim and moshavim, students, and household workers.
At the outset of the 21st century the Histadrut operated mainly as a conventional trade union. The organization suffered from a constant deficit, which made its work difficult. The trade union department became the center of Histadrut activity, coordinating and supervising the operations of the national associations and big company unions (such as Bezek and the Electric Corporation), which are seen as dominating the Histadrut. The main tools left to the Histadrut after the reform were demonstrations and strikes, which were resorted to mainly in the public sector. As a trade union, the Histadrut provides such services to its members as representation in national and sectoral negotiations, protection of workers' salaries, legal and economic advice to unions, and information on labor relations.
In 1997 Amir Peretz founded a new workers' party, Am Eḥad (One People), aiming at representing the workers politically and promoting social legislation. In the 1999 elections it won two seats, and in 2003 it increased its representation to three Knesset members. In 2004 it joined the *Israel Labor Party and in 2005 Peretz won a surprise victory over Shimon Peres in the Labor primaries to become the head of the party, with Peretz relinquishing the role of Histradrut chairman.
The Histadrut reforms were probably the first major changes in those Israeli institutions that played a dominant role in the Mandatory period and the formative years of Israel. With the passage of time, and in view of their inability to adjust to the new environment, changes were inevitable.
[Meron Medzini and
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
N. Malkosh, Histadrut in Israel, its Aims and Achievements (19622); W. Preuss, Labour Movement in Israel (19652); Ha-Histadrut mi-Yom Kum ha-Medinah (1969); Ẓ. Arad and Y. Gotthelf (eds.), Mo'ed: Arba'im Shanah la-Histadrut (1960); Shenaton ha-Histadrut… (1963– ); T. Pirker, Die Histadrut, Gewerkschafts-probleme in Israel (1965). add bibliography: A. Caspi, Yaḥasei Avodah (1997). website: www.histadrut.org.il.