Israeli transport union leader’s speech to RMT conference

Avi Edri, the Chairman of the Israeli transport workers’ union, addressed The National Union of Rail, Martine and Transport Workers (RMT) at their annual conference on Monday 29 June. Edri said that “trade unions should rise above the difficult geopolitical situation and seek common denominators for the sake of workers and the citizens on both sides”.

He said that the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) regards equality, solidarity and brotherhood as its core principles and the “best example of such a success is the involvement of the International Transport Federation in the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian Transport Workers Unions”.

Avi Edri, the Chairman of the Israeli transport workers’ union at RMT conference

Avi Edri, the Chairman of the Israeli transport workers’ union at RMT conference

The Histadrut has worked on improving the ongoing relationship with its Palestinian counterpart, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and Edri said that he had “no doubt that through dialogue and cooperation they can attain successes on behalf of the workers they represent.

Edri also referred to the issue of union boycotts.

He said:

a union which calls for a boycott on another union, or refuses to give service to another union, isn’t harming any government, instead it is harming innocent employees and their families.

” It is contrary to solidarity and comradeship which is the raison d’être of every trade union around the world. It is also an attempt to undermine efforts to achieve real peace between the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

“We believe that the efforts to achieve peace should take place in the diplomatic arena through negotiation, rather than by resorting to the use of intimidation and embargoes.”

At the end of his speech, Edri called upon the RMT to take part in joint projects between the Histadrut and the PGFTU and condemn any attempt to boycott Israeli trade unions.

The full speech can be seen here:

Israeli Transport Workers Union, Histadrut
Avi Edri, Chairman
RMT Annual General Meeting

Dear RMT President Mr. Bob Crow, Executive members of RMT, RMT delegates, international guests, dear friends,

Firstly, allow me to thank you for your kind invitation to attend the RMT General Annual Meeting, and for your warm hospitality. My name is Avi Edri, and I am the Chairman of the Israeli Transport Workers Union.

The Union has 25,000 members from the different fields in transportation: land, maritime and air.

Our union constantly faces challenges in the Israeli domestic labour scene as well as in the international area. Similar to you, we are facing a severe economic crisis, which harms Israeli employees and causes massive dismissals.

The Histadrut (the Israeli TUC) and the Israeli Transport Workers Union, which is affiliated with it, are striving to tackle this crisis. The Histadrut Chairman, Mr. Ofer Eini, has worked in conjunction with the Israeli government and employers, to arrive at an economic package deal. This created a safety net for workers, including legislation on the issue of labour relations.

In order for you to appreciate the revolution that the Histadrut is leading, let me give you two examples of suggested amendments in legislation relating to labour relations. The first one would impose a fine in the amount of $12,000 to $50,000 on an employer that harms the freedom of association and/or prevents a union representative from entering a workplace.

The second example is the obligation of an employer to conduct collective bargaining negotiations with a union representative. Legislation such as this will undoubtedly strengthen the status of workers in Israel, and will encourage workers to unionize.

In addition to these continuous efforts, the Histadrut, by means of its International Department, strives to strengthen and enhance working relationships with various national labour confederations, their affiliated unions, as well as global unions throughout the world.

The Histadrut is the largest labour organization in Israel, representing 700,000 members. Our membership includes Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassian, migrant workers living among us, as well as workers from the Palestinian Authority arriving to work in Israel. Histadrut members are dispersed among the different sectors of the Israeli work force as members of various organizations, all under one umbrella- that of the Histadrut.

The Histadrut places a high priority on establishing and strengthening the relationships between trade unions throughout the world. It regards equality, solidarity and brotherhood as its core principles. The best example of such a success is the involvement of the ITF in the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian Transport Workers Unions.

The Histadrut strongly believes that a lasting peace can only be built on the firm foundations of genuine relationships among people. We believe that concrete actions are mandatory in order to attain mutual trust and understanding.

It is important for me to stress that the Histadrut recognizes the suffering of the nations engaged in the difficult conflict in our region. We believe that trade unions should rise above the difficult geopolitical situation and seek common denominators for the sake of workers and the citizens on both sides.

In war there are no winners. The result is always a zero sum game. We, the representatives of the labour force, should not fall into the trap of letting the political situation affect our relationship.

As representatives of the workers and retirees, we are committed to overcoming the fear and lack of trust existing between the Israeli and Arab peoples. We are committed, without any pre-conditions, to being role models and setting an example for the Israeli and Arab leaders who are unable to reach a peace agreement ending the hostilities in our region.

I have no doubt that both sides share many more concerns, and agree on many more issues, compared to the points of contention. Our role is not to replace the political leaders–the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority– but to find common denominators between our unions.

I believe that the progress between the Histadrut and PGFTU began when all of us realized that we must set aside controversial political issues and deal with issues that are related to labour and trade union areas only.

Therefore, the Histadrut has diligently worked on improving the ongoing relationship with its counterpart, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and I am pleased to tell you we have successfully worked together in many different areas.

On June 24th, 2008 the Histadrut and PGFTU signed a landmark agreement. This agreement settled all remaining financial issues between the Israeli and Palestinian Federations. For 13 years the Histadrut and PGFTU were unable to settle their financial disputes due to the difficult political conditions. These disputes created tension between the organizations, and thus hampered the relationship. It also caused antagonism towards the Histadrut by various trade unions throughout the world.

This is a precedent setting agreement which has no equal throughout the world. Under its terms, the Histadrut will transfer to the PGFTU half of the funds for the Organization Tax collected by the Histadrut from the legal Palestinian workers employed by Israeli employers since the date of the Oslo Agreement signing (September 13th, 1993).

The agreement included: the financial obligations that the Histadrut will pay to the PGFTU. The two sides also agreed upon the amounts that have already had been paid. In addition, the Histadrut committed itself to assist Palestinian workers who have worked for Israeli employers, to improve their working conditions, provide them with legal help, and to cooperate according to the needs assessments of both sides.

We also undertook to translate the rights of workers in Israel into Arabic so that Palestinian workers employed by Israeli employers are aware of and receive all their legal rights.

Another area of cooperation is illustrated by the joint project between the Israeli and Palestinian Transport Workers Unions. In the framework of the project, an “Emergency Hotline” has been established for the members of the PGFTU- the Palestinian Transport Union drivers, who are unable to cross the checkpoints and go to work inside Israel. The latter will now be able to call the Hotline and get direct assistance from a contact person in the Unit of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. This cooperation will provide an answer to PGFTU-Palestinian Transport Workers Union members’ difficulties at checkpoints, and improve their lives in the Palestinian Authority.

Currently, the Histadrut plans to focus on the following projects with the PGFTU:

1. A project with the Palestinian and Israeli Transport Unions which will provide vocational training for Palestinian and Israeli drivers. The topics to be covered include: labor relations, employee rights, structure of the unions, and health and safety issues.

2. Vocational training and employment for the Palestinian construction employees. This is a joint project between the Israeli and the Palestinian Construction Workers Union.

The Histadrut has always advocated allowing Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza to work inside Israel. We believe that we will be able to convince Israeli employers to absorb Palestinian employees in the Israeli construction sector. This will enable the Palestinian employees to attain professional upgrading and training.

We believe that the trade unions in our region are the real grassroots representatives. As such, we have the power to change the atmosphere and to create a stronger mutual understanding. Our role is to protect workers’ rights, regardless of religion, race and gender. I therefore call upon all the participants in this Conference to express their support for the peace process.

I would like to seize this important opportunity and refer to the issue of union boycotts. There is no place for us as unions who represent workers, to harm other unions, who also represent workers.

Our public is concerned with earning a living. They are not interested in starting disputes, or engaging in agitation. Both of these create an extremely negative atmosphere just as boycotts always do. A union which calls for a boycott on another union, or refuses to give service to another union, isn’t harming any government, instead it is harming innocent employees and their families.

A boycott of any kind is totally unacceptable. It is contrary to solidarity and comradeship which is the raison d’être of every trade union around the world. It is also an attempt to undermine efforts to achieve real peace between the Israeli and the Palestinian people. We believe that the efforts to achieve peace should take place in the diplomatic arena through negotiation, rather than by resorting to the use of intimidation and embargoes.

I have no doubt that through dialogue and cooperation we can attain successes on behalf of the workers we all represent.

In this optimistic tone, I would like to thank again our hosts and also the ITF representatives, its General Secretary Mr. David Cockroft, who participates in a decisive way to assist the Israeli and the Palestinian Transport Workers Unions and their members.

I would also like to thank my colleague Mr. Nasser Yunes, the Chairman of the Palestinian Transport Workers Union, who does his utmost to support the Palestinian transport employees.

We call upon the RMT to be our partner and take part in these joint projects between the Histadrut and PGFTU, and also in condemning any attempt by any organization to boycott Israeli Trade Unions. On a personal note, I assure you that I will be a full partner on all issues and matters concerning assisting workers.

Please accept once again, on behalf of the Histadrut, the transport workers in Israel and myself, our greetings and best wishes for a successful General Annual Meeting. This Annual Meeting will definitely promote workers’ rights in the UK. In addition, it will assist trade unions in the fight against the crushing effects of globalization and the current economic crisis. At the same time, together we will find ways to improve working conditions, ensuring workers and their families’ better lives.

In conclusion, I wish you the very best of health, and success in all your future endeavors. I hope we will strengthen our relationship, bringing about peace, stability, cooperation and friendship, and may these soon prevail in our region.

May you all have a pleasant and safe journey whether by land, sea, land or air, as travelers and as a way of life.