The Histadrut (short for HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael--The General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel) was founded in December 1920 as the primary representative of Jewish labor in Palestine; it has accepted Arabs as full members since 1969. When founded the Histadrut claimed 4,500 members; in the 1985 Histadrut elections more than 1.5 million members were eligible to vote.
Much more than a labor union, the Histadrut was also, next to the government itself, the second largest employer in Israel, through its many cooperative economic enterprises--in industry, building trades, banking, insurance, transportation, travel agencies, dairy cooperatives, and so on--organized under Hevrat HaOvdim, the Histadrut's holding company. The Histadrut also operated pension and social service programs, the most important of which was Kupat Holim (the Sick Fund), the largest provider of health care to Israelis. The Histadrut published Davar, a liberal Hebrew daily newspaper, and owned Am Oved, a major publishing house. In addition, the collective and cooperative agricultural settlements--kibbutzim and moshavim--founded by the Labor-Zionist parties belonged to Histadrut, which marketed their products through its various cooperatives. The dual character of the Histadrut, as both the largest trade union federation in the country and the second largest employer, has sometimes led to difficulties with both the government and labor. A long doctors' strike in the summer of 1983, for example, caused much rancor.
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