Hundreds of Chinese construction workers sign up to join a union — in Israel

By all accounts it was an extraordinary scene on the seventh floor of the Histadrut headquarters in Tel-Aviv on Wednesday evening.

Hundreds of Chinese construction workers turned up to fill in their forms and join the Israeli union.

Histadrut campaigning to organise guest workers

Though the forms were in Hebrew, they were given explanatory pages in Chinese.

As one of the more veteran workers put it (speaking with a smattering of Hebrew), “We are here to get strength.”

The construction section of the Histadrut launched a big campaign to organise guest workers and Palestinian workers in their industry last year - and has won an important new  collective agreement to protect ALL construction workers in Israel  ( See reports below)

Workers with visa problems exploited, afraid- get no help from their embassy

The New York Times recently reported growing concerns in Israel about the exploitation of these workers  - especially if they have visa problems.

They get little or no help from the Chinese embassy, who show no sympathy for the workers complaints let alone the spate of workplace protests involving Chinese in Israel.

Many of the workers were accompanied by their employers, who say they have reached the conclusion it would be easier to deal with a single body — the trade union — rather than with lawyers who often take large sums from workers to defend their rights.

The mass sign-up follows the decision several months ago by the Histadrut to begin organizing foreign workers in Israel.

Chinese workers know only about state-controlled unions, no experience of free and independent unions

In China, workers are not permitted to join free and independent unions.  The unions that exist there are state-controlled and exist solely to ensure the smooth running of the economy.

The Israeli unions, on the other hand, are independent and frequently clash with both government and employers.

The Histadrut’s move to organize these Chinese workers and potentially many others stands in sharp contrast to unions in some countries which campaign for the expulsion of foreign workers.

Read earlier reports