As of the late 1980s, the Histadrut (HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael, General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel) continued to be a major factor in Israeli life as the largest voluntary organization in the country. It also wielded an enormous influence on the government's wage policy and labor legislation, and was influential in political, social, and cultural realms. The largest trade union organization, and largest employer in Israel after the government, the Histadrut has opened its membership to almost all occupations. Its membership in 1983 was 1,600,000 (including dependents), accounting for more than one-third of the total population of Israel and about 85 percent of all wage earners. About 170,000 Histadrut members were Arabs. Founded in 1920 by Labor Zionist parties, traditionally it has been controlled by the Labor Party, but not to the exclusion of other parties. Almost all political parties or their affiliated socioeconomic institutions were represented in the organization.
The Histadrut performed functions that were unique to Israeli society, a legacy of its nation-building role in a wide range of economic, trade union, military, social, and cultural activities. Through its economic arm, Hevrat HaOvdim (Society of Workers), the Histadrut operated numerous economic enterprises and owned and managed the country's largest industrial conglomerates. It owned the country's second largest bank (Bank HaPoalim) and provided the largest and most comprehensive system of health insurance and medical and also operated hospital services. In addition, it coordinated the activities of domestic labor cooperative movements, and through its International Department, as well as organizations such as the Afro-Asian Institute, it maintained connections with labor movements in other countries.
Israeli political parties have regularly contested elections to the Histadrut Conference (Veida), held every four years. They also have contested elections to the National Labor Council and to the country's seventy-two local labor councils. Voting results in these elections have often paralleled or preceded trends in parliamentary and municipal elections.
The Histadrut Conference elects a General Council and an Executive Committee. The committee in turn elects a forty-three member Executive Bureau, which administers day-to-day policy. The Histadrut's secretary general, its most powerful official, is elected by the Executive Committee. As in the past, in late 1988 the Histadrut's secretary general, Israel Kaissar, was a Labor Party leader and a member of its Knesset delegation.
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