Thursday, 31 July 2014

Trade unionists worldwide call for an end to the siege of Gaza

The military occupation of Palestine, and the complicity of the most powerful states on earth in this occupation, is a massive injustice.

Unfortunately, we only tend to receive news about this situation every few years when the Israeli “Defence” Force decides to murder hundreds, if not thousands of civilians. The harsh daily reality of life in the Gaza strip and the West Bank are mostly ignored in between. Instead, when violence flares up we are presented with an ahistorical picture which mistakes “blaming both sides” for objectivity. Whilst schools and hospitals are being bombed, whilst children playing on the beach are targeted, whilst chemical weapons such as white phosphorous are deployed, our media outlets parrot IDF press releases about defending itself. What is often conveniently left out of this narrative is the fact that Israel is militarily occupying Palestine and proceeding to build illegal civilian settlements on this land; one of the grossest violations of international conventions. This is not a straightforward case of interstate conflict, but is instead a case of occupier against occupied.

However, as evidenced by the voting patterns in the UN, and the protests which have erupted in cities and towns globally, the majority of the world has its eyes wide open with regards to this. The governments of some the poorest countries on earth, such as Bolivia, have spoken out against Israel’s offensive. They join their Latin American neighbours Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, El Salvador and Chile in breaking off normal diplomatic ties due to what they deem to be “crimes against humanity”.

On the 26th of July in London I joined with tens of thousands of people in a march from Downing Street to the Israeli Embassy in protest against the siege of Gaza. The crowd was diverse, with people from many different backgrounds and many different organizations. I was especially proud to see grassroots trade unionists carrying their branch banners, and trade unionist leaders up on the platforms speaking.  British trade unions now have well established links with organizations such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. (Dozens, including my trade union Unite, hold official affiliation). These links between trade unions and social movements are vital in terms of political strategy, and recognize that we need to organize both within civil society and as producers at the place of work. Beyond pressuring our government to change its policy, trade unions such as Unison and the FBU are actively campaigning in support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign which is putting economic pressure upon the Israeli state and companies which are complicit in the occupation.

Photo: Demonstration in London. From The Weekly Bull on Flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

Trade unions from all over the world have answered the call from Palestinian trade unions for solidarity. From New Zealand to South Africa, they are reaching beyond immediate bread and butter issues in order to condemn these atrocities. As most big social democratic parties have lost their role as educators, and the media has become even more concentrated into the hands of the elite, the role of trade unions as political educators rather than just tools for collective bargaining is important.

Obviously though this commendation for the actions of trade unionists should not be seen as triumphalism. Press releases condemning the occupation, marches and rallies should all be applauded, but we have been here before and their strategic effectiveness is questionable. I can’t offer the definitive answers assuming that there even are any, but there have been some great summaries out there recently in terms of practical action which you can take today both as an individual and as a trade unionist:

  1. Support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign   
  2.  Hear from people on the ground
  3. Challenge media bias
  4. Join a group and take to the streets 
  5. Listen to dissenting Jews and Israelis
  6. Confront the arms trade

  1. Stop handling goods imported from or exported to Israel
  2. Divest your trade union pension — and other — funds from Israel Bonds as well as from corporations and banks that complicit in Israel’s occupation and human rights violations
  3. Dissociate from Israeli trade unions which are complicit in the occupation
  4. Support our call for a military embargo on Israel
  5. Share information with your members about the siege and destruction of Gaza and ask your members to boycott Israeli products and to share their knowledge with family, co-workers, and friends 

Laurence Goodchild - Rugby Greens Trade Union Officer

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