Railway workers break from Histadrut, join rival federation

In an extraordinary series of developments in the last few days, a significant union has for the first time in recent memory withdrawn from the Histadrut labour federation and joined a smaller group.

The railway workers union, which has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with management over privatisation and other matters, found itself suspended by the Histadrut leadership – and reacted by announcing its withdrawal from the federation.

The railway workers leaders then announced their affiliation to Koach LaOvdim (Power to the Workers), founded in 2007,  a new and much smaller federation than the Histadrut.

While trade union pluralism is common in many countries (e.g., France, Italy and even the USA), it is new for Israel where the Histadrut has long dominated the scene.

Koach LaOvdim is not the only small group aspiring to challenge the Histadrut.  The Workers Advice Center (Ma’an) and the Arab Workers Union in Israel have also attempted to organize workers with varying degrees of success.

It is estimated that only about a third of workers in Israel are unionized, leaving some two million unorganized workers which the Histadrut and rival unions are now competing to bring into the unions.