‘The Histadrut are just an arm of the Israeli government, aren’t they?” This question, genuine and urgent, was put to me a few weeks ago at the Unite union’s annual conference by a former general secretary of a British trade union. We were standing in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Brighton: I had just handed him a copy of The New Histadrut: Peace, Social Justice and the Israeli Trade Unions, a pamphlet (pdf) I’d written for Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI).
No, the Histadrut is not an arm of the Israeli government. It is the Israeli TUC.
It leads the fight for workers’ rights and job security in Israel. It unites over 700,000 union members in one organisation regardless of religion, race or gender. It has organised Arab workers with full membership since 1959, and the super-exploited migrant workers since 2009.
If you support a two-state solution, you should be building, not breaking, links with the Histadrut. Why? Because the Histadrut supports a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More importantly, it is engaged in making that solution a reality.
In 2008, under the auspices of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), it signed a landmark agreement with the Palestinian national trade union centre, the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). That agreement was hailed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for offering ‘hope on the way to peace’ between Israel and the Palestinians.
Maybe the Histadrut could teach us a thing or two. It supported Israel’s 2011 mass street protests for social justice, and, in 2012, organised a successful four-day General Strike in solidarity with Israel’s most vulnerable contract workers.
• Israel-Palestine in 2012 5 Jan 2012
I think the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has framed the Histadrut.
When Unison sent a delegation to Israel in 2010, it reported:
“The PGFTU in particular said that UNISON should maintain links with the Histadrut so that we could specifically put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.
[The other independent Israeli pro-labour organisations] Kav laOved, Koach laOvdim and WAC/Ma’an all felt that international trade union influence on the Histadrut was essential.”
I ended by urging on him the sentiments expressed by Michael Leahy, General Secretary of Community Union in the preface to the pamphlet:
“Breaking links with the Israeli trade union movement would be a radical departure from the best internationalist traditions of our movement, in favour of a new kind of gesture politics.
Progressive voices in the British trade union movement have traditionally refused to boycott other free trade unions because of what their governments do. We have not gone in for gesture politics. We have preferred engagement, worker-to-worker links, practical solidarity and, yes, a critical dialogue.
Those traditions have served us well. We should stick to them.”
Hopefully a new conversation has opened up about the Histadrut within the British labour movement.