|Members 650,000||Affiliation ITUC|
|Full name General Federation of Labour in Israel|
Native name HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael
Founded 1920; 97 years ago (1920)
Key people Avi Nissenkoren, chairperson
HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael (Hebrew: ההסתדרות הכללית של העובדים בארץ ישראל, lit. "General Organisation of Workers in the Land of Israel"), known as the Histadrut, is Israel's organization of trade unions. Established in December 1920 during the British Mandate for Palestine, it became one of the most powerful institutions of Israel. Histadrut enterprises include: Koor Industries Ltd., Solel Boneh, and Kupat Holim Clalit.
The Histadrut was founded in December 1920 in Haifa to look out for the interests of Jewish workers. Until 1920, Ahdut HaAvoda and Hapoel Hatzair had been unable to set up a unified workers organisation. In 1920, Third Aliyah immigrants founded Gdud HaAvoda and demanded a unified organization for all Jewish workers, which led to the establishment of the Histadrut. At the end of 1921 David Ben-Gurion was elected as Secretary. Membership grew from 4,400 in 1920 and to 8,394 members in 1922. By 1927, the Histadrut had 25,000 members, accounting for 75% of the Jewish workforce in Mandatory Palestine.
The Histadrut became one of the most powerful institutions in the state of Israel, a mainstay of the Labour Zionist movement and, aside from being a trade union, its state-building role made it the owner of a number of businesses and factories and, for a time, the largest employer in the country. Until Israel began moving away from a socialist economy, the Histadrut, along with the government, owned most of the economy. Through its economic arm, Hevrat HaOvdim ("Society of Workers"), the Histadrut owned and operated a number of enterprises, including the country's largest industrial conglomerates as well as the country's largest bank, Bank Hapoalim. The Israeli services sector was completely dominated by the Histadrut and government, and the Histadrut also largely dominated public transport, agriculture, and insurance industries. One of the most important companies it owned was Clalit Health Services, Israel's largest Health Maintenance Organization (HMO). Clalit was the only HMO to accept people without discrimination based on age or medical situation, and membership in the Histadrut was a precondition for membership with Clalit, meaning that many Israelis were dependent on Histadrut membership for their health insurance.
Membership in 1983 was 1,600,000 (including dependants), accounting for more than one-third of the total population of Israel and about 85% of all wage earners. About 170,000 Histadrut members were Arabs (who were admitted to membership starting in 1959). In 1989, the Histadrut was the employer of approximately 280,000 workers.
With the increasing liberalization and deregulation of the Israeli economy since the 1980s, the role and size of Histradrut declined. A major shift in power took place in 1994, when the Labor Party lost its leadership and governing role in the Histadrut, and a new party named RAM, composed of individuals who had left the Labor Party due to internal power struggles, took charge and began to sell off or eliminate its non union-related assets and activities, proclaiming that from then on, it would function solely as a trade union. The most severe blow came in 1995, when Israel's National Health Insurance Law came into effect, creating Israel's modern universal health care system. Under the law, Israelis were given a choice in membership between Clalit and three other HMOs, which were now prohibited from discriminating against applicants for age and medical reasons, and Clalit's tie to the Histadrut was severed. As a result, many people no longer depended on the Histadrut for their health insurance, and one of the largest declines in union membership in history occurred. Membership almost instantly plunged from 1.8 million (almost 80% of the workforce at the time) to about 200,000. The loss of revenue generated from Clalit's health insurance premiums and union dues caused an enormous decline in the Histadrut's resources, and it was forced to sell off valuable real estate assets to survive.
The Histadrut managed to recover from its low point in membership and gradually grow in membership. In 2005, it had about 650,000 members. To this day, the Histadrut still remains a powerful force in Israeli society and the economy.
Following its support of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests, on February 8, 2012, Histadrut called a general strike in support of lower paid subcontracted, and unorganized workers, negotiating with both the government and private employers on their behalf, demanding that the subcontracted workers be hired directly and be offered the pay and benefits granted to regular employees. A settlement was announced on Sunday, February 12, which provided for some gains by the subcontractors, but also for a 3-year moratorium on further strikes over subcontractor issues.
The initial aim of the Histadrut was to take responsibility for all spheres of activity of the workers movement: settlement, defense, trade unions, education, housing construction, health, banking, cooperative ventures, welfare and even culture. The Histadrut took over economic firms operated by the parties, which operated by subcontracting, and their Office of Information, which was expanded into a Labor Exchange. Already after a few months the Histadrut became the single largest employer in the Yishuv. The Histadrut succeeded in improving worker's rights as e.g. the right to strike was recognised, employers had to motivate dismissal and workers got a place to turn to with their complaints.
In the first year of its existence the Histadrut lacked central leadership, and many initiatives were taken at the local level. This changed after David Ben-Gurion became appointed in the General Secretariat. Ben-Gurion wanted to transform the Histadrut into a national instrument for the realisation of Zionism. According to Zeev Sternhell Ben-Gurion's exclusive commitment to this goal is illustrated by a December 1922 quote:
[...] Our central problem is immigration ... and not adapting our lives to this or that doctrine. [...] How can we run our Zionist movement in such a way that [... we] will be able to carry out the conquest of the land by the Jewish worker, and which will find the resources to organise the massive immigration and settlement of workers through their own capabilities? The creation of a new Zionist movement, a Zionist movement of workers, is the first prerequisite for the fulfillment of Zionism. [...] Without [such] a new Zionist movement that is entirely at our disposal, there is no future or hope for our activities
Ben-Gurion transformed the Histadrut in a few months. He set up a well-defined hierarchy and reduced the competencies of local workers' councils. He also centralised the collection of membership dues, most of which were formerly used up by local branches.
Absorption of immigration was seen as a very important task of the Histadrut. Providing immigrants with work was often seen as more important than the financial soundness of its operations. The labor leaders saw failure to absorb immigrants as a moral bankruptcy that was much worse than financial bankruptcy. In 1924 the Histadrut's Office for Public Works collapsed and went bankrupt, and in 1927 the same happened to its successor, the privatised Sollel Boneh. In both cases the Zionist Executive bailed them out and recognised the deficit in the category of "expenses for immigration absorption". The Zionist Executive, sharing the goal of stimulating immigration with the Histadrut, had to do this because beside the Histadrut there was no other organisation in Palestine with the ability to absorb immigrants.
By 1930 the Histadrut had become the central organisation of the Yishuv. It did what the Zionist Executive wanted, but was unable to do: absorb immigrants and organise agricultural settlement, defense and expansion into new areas of production. According to Tzahor the Histadrut had become "the executive arm of the Zionist movement—but an arm acting on its own". It had become a "state in the making".
According to Tzahor, while the Histadrut focused on constructive action, its leaders did not "abandon fundamental ideological principles". However, according to Ze'ev Sternhell in his book The Founding Myths of Israel, the labor leaders had already abandoned socialist principles by 1920 and only used them as "mobilizing myths".
The chairman of the Histadrut today is Avi Nissenkorn. In 2010, then-chairman Ofer Eini appointed a deputy chairman, Adv. Daniel Avi Nissenkorn, from outside the organizational ranks. This is the first time in the Histadrut's history that the Trade Union Division has been headed by someone appointed on a professional basis, rather than rising through the ranks of the workers committees or elected by Histadrut members.
The Histadrut has been criticized by European worker unions and international human rights groups over its failure to represent migrant workers, considered to be the most maltreated employees in Israel. In 2009, the Histadrut began accepting memberships of migrant workers. Another criticism of the Histadrut is that it appears to protect powerful interest groups in the labor market, i.e., that it does not protect all workers.