Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Israel – CCXXXVII. The Ma’abarot Stage (13 of 26)

It is during the period who resided in the two ma’abarot that we learned about our new country; hence the reason I am describing Israel’s institutions in this (extensive) section.

I have already described the Soukhnout; next I turn to the second most important (both for immigrants and the country) organization.

Ha Histadrut

Its full name is Ha Histadrut Ha Klalit Shel Haovdim B’eretz Yisrael; or General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel

It was founded in 1920 at the Technion (Israel`s Institute of Technology) in Haifa.  Its goal was to create an organization which would look for the interests of Jewish workers.  Its founding members were profoundly influenced by the Russian-Jewish socialist tradition characteristic of the Second Aliyah (1904-1914).

The unification process that led to the Histadrut was evolutionary in nature.  Before 1920 all efforts to unite failed, for the existing parties insisted on maintaining their independence.  In time, it was realized that maintaining rival trade unions was counter-productive; efforts were therefore made to establish a non-partisan, non-political group.  The Histadrut did not replace trade unions; rather it acted as an umbrella organization for these unions.  But even in this seemingly limited role, the Histadrut was a powerful body.

The Histadrut has often been called a state within a state.  It was active in many areas; examples:  agriculture, wholesale and retail marketing of food and other products, industry, construction and housing, banking, insurance, transportation, water, health, and social services.

In time it became both a large employer owning some of the largest concerns in Israel (Bank Hapoalim, Tnuva, Hamashbir, Solel-Boneh, Hasneh, and so on), as well as a trade union federation.

Was there a conflict of interest?  During my years in Israel, I did not see any unfairness resulting from the Histadrut playing this double role.  Its main aim has remained unchanged, namely protecting the interests of the workers.  For example, once a worker secured permanent employment in a Histadrut-owned company (as well as other concerns that indirectly came under the Histadrut control), it became very difficult to dismiss him.

The impact of the Histadrut on immigrants was not so much related to its structure; rather it was its socialist philosophy that often proved a hindrance.

To illustrate, let me give you some examples.

As previously mentioned, the Histadrut made it very difficult to fire a worker after he became kavou’a (permanent); thus an employer can get stuck with a non-performing employee for years!  For large corporations, deadwood will not sink them; such an employee was referred to as a “social” case, and the rest of the staff  worked around him!  But a small business, cannot survive unless everybody pulls his own weight.

This complicated matters to no end for new immigrants.  It made it near impossible to secure permanent employment; employers were not willing to take any chances unless they were totally satisfied with that individual.  The Histadrut allowed a probationary period of one year; the employer could extend that by a maximum of 9 months; thereafter, you were automatically considered as kavou’a.  What many employers did (really were forced into it), was to fire that person before the year was over and rehire him again.  And on it went like that, sometimes for years!

I told you about the hoops dad had to jump through before opening his business.  A permit was required for virtually any type of business you wished to engage into.  I am not talking of municipal permits, or any necessary routine permits; I am referring to the fact that you had to show that you were, say, disabled, or had a large family.  Another option was to go into business with a disadvantaged individual who most probably did not have any business sense, and contributed to the business to a limited extent only.  That was the case with Nessim and Goren; and it caused many difficulties.

You cannot conduct trade in such a rigid way; Israel could not prosper, and indeed, in those days it didn’t.

Since the mid-‘70s; Israel has been governed with forward-looking administrations that believed in free enterprise.  As a result, it enjoys a high standard of living (comparable with ours here in North America).  Mercifully, the bad old days of socialism are now just an unpleasant memory.

The last example I’ll give you is difficult to believe.  It describes a weird situation that happened to me.  And it routinely happens to other people who found themselves hitting the same brick wall.

After 3 years in the country, I had finally secured a position with a crown corporation.  I had their letter of offer and they had my letter of acceptance.  So far so good you might say.  Not so fast; it still needed a petek from the Histadrut.  What on earth is a petek?  It’s a kind of voucher that would authorize this company to hire me!  The fact that I was qualified was not enough.  I had to mind the so-called tor?  What is a tor?  It’s a queue.  Other people who may be just as qualified and, say, had a large family should get precedence over me.  In other words I had to be both qualified and a hard luck case!

The petek was refused.  “We have to look into the tor; and decide if there is a person that should take precedence over you,” was essentially what that bureaucrat told me.

I left him, but never left the building!  I came back and asked for another appointment to make my case again.  Fine, but it would be on another day.  I countered that I didn’t have the luxury of time; if I didn’t get the petek, I would lose the position.  When he said that he had no time on that day, I asked to speak to his supervisor.  Now there is a certain way of saying, “take me to your chief,” in Israel!  It cannot be put into words.  Let’s just say, I clearly mentioned that I had volunteered for the Mapai (the governing party) in the course of the last election.  He finally agreed to make a “sacrifice” and stay after his quitting time to hear me out.  In the meantime, I could go out for coffee or to run errands.  But I never left.  I had enough reading material with me to keep me occupied for hours.

In that second meeting, I explained that my dad while having a business was losing money (it was true, at least in the early days).  My brother was in the army.  I was not built for any physical work.  In essence, I largely repeated what I said in my first interview, but I presented it in a more dramatic way.  After hearing me out, he excused himself, for he needed to consult with higher-ups.  I am sure he consulted with nobody; the place was nearly empty!

How did it end?  He signed the petek, and wished me good luck in my new job.

I wish to emphasize again that Israel is totally different today.  That incident happened more than 50 years ago.

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