The Histadrut elections got off to a slow start today. The voting booths opened at 7 a.m. local time at more than 3,500 polling places around the country. But only 30 percent of the 1.5 million members of Israel’s trade union federation eligible to vote had cast their ballots by 5 p.m.
Most polling stations will remain open until 10 p.m.; those in smaller locations and in the Arab sector will close at eight. Although the voting seemed sluggish throughout the day, election officials noted, with some surprise, that the hour-by-hour tally of voters was almost identical with the numbers cast in Knesset elections which are held on a public holiday. For most Israelis, today was an ordinary work day.
The voters are electing 1,501 representatives to the 15th Histadrut Conference. They will also cast ballots in each of 72 districts for candidates to the local labor councils.
The Histadrut Conference is the trade union federation’s highest policy-making institution. Its members are elected every four years. In the last elections, the Labor Alignment won 61.98 percent of the delegates to 26.35 percent for Likud.
Political observers looking for national trends, say that if Labor manages to increase its 62 percent lead over Likud, Labor Party leaders may be encouraged to end their national unity coalition with Likud before Shimon Peres has to hand over the office of Prime Minister to Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir some 16 months from now, as required by the coalition agreement.
But others say no relationship can be established between Knesset and Histadrut elections because the latter revolve around local economic and social problems rather than national affairs.
Today’s voting followed a lackluster election campaign conducted by seven parties seeking representation in the Histadrut Conference. In addition to Labor and Likud these include the Hadash (Communist) Party which holds 3.58 percent of the outgoing Conference seats and Shinui with 2.16 percent.
Four parties running for the first time in the Histadrut elections are the combined Civil Rights Movement-Sheli list, the leftwing Jewish-Arab Progressive List for Peace and the far rightwing Tehiya Party. The latter is expected to win some delegates at the expense of Likud.
85% OF THE LABOR FORCE REPRESENTED
Histadrut represents 85 percent of Israel’s labor force. Its membership includes about 175,000 Israeli Arabs and 12,000 residents of East Jerusalem. The religious parties, which have their own, much smaller, labor organization, do not participate in the Histadrut elections.
The Histadrut Conference was established 65 years ago by a handful of delegates representing the several thousand Jewish workers in Palestine in 1920. Today it is a vast, and many say unwieldy body which will meet only once after the elections to discuss the government’s economic policy, determine labor goals and adopt resolutions on Histadrut’s internal operations.
The Conference plenary will select from its ranks a 501-member Council which convenes every eight months. The Council in turn elects an Executive Committee which holds monthly meetings. That body appoints a Central Bureau of 35 members which is the executive branch of Histadrut. Its functions are roughly parallel to those of a cabinet in a parliamentary system and its members are comparable to ministers, heading the labor Federation’s 10 departments.
The Central Bureau names the Histadrut Secretary General. The incumbent is Laborite Yisrael Kessar.
Histadrut’s Central Bureau also serves as the Board of Directors of Histadrut-owned industries which, with over 60,000 workers, makes the labor federation one of Israel’s largest employers.
This has long been a sore point. Critics of Histradrut see an anomaly in the fact that the labor federation, established to preserve the rights of workers, is also one of the country’s largest industrial enterprises.
The low key election campaign that preceded today’s voting was attributable in part to budgetary constraints. However, several urgent economic and labor relations issues could have an effect on the outcome.
One of these is the forced closure of the Ata textile combine, the largest single employer in the Haifa area, which has been operating in receivership for several months. A Haifa court ordered the mills closed because the government appointed receiver was unable to find buyer.
Employes have complained bitterly of lack of firmness on the part of Histadrut to keep the mills running. Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon went to court and obtained a week’s delay. His opponents accused the Likud minister of playing Histadrut politics rather than acting in the interests of Ata employes.
Another hot issue is the threatened strike by teachers who are split between a Histadrut union and an independent professional teachers association.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.