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Friday, 18 September 2009

Historic vote at British Trades Union Congress Calls for Boycott of Israeli Goods & ‘Review’ of Histadrut Links

The TUC used to be a byword in support for the Israeli state. TUC leaders liked to point to Israel and the Kibbutzim as an example of ‘socialism’. That was before people became aware of the racist Jewish-only composition of these settlements, coupled with their establishment on land where formerly Palestinian villages stood or on stolen land.

The watershed for Zionism was the 1982 invasion of the Lebanon, when some 30,000 people were killed, including the terrible massacre at the Beirut Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatilla, when under the protection of the Israeli military, which provided lighting for the slaughterers, up to 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the camps were butchered by Lebanese fascists of the Phalange. Literally a marriage made in hell.

But in 1982 the reaction amongst even Israelis was deep shame. 100,000 came onto the streets in a Peace Now demonstration against what had happened. Ariel Sharon was sacked as Defence Minister and the Kahane Commission, despite its weasel words, criticised him. Contrast with today. 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza were also slaughtered, not with knives but bullets and bombs. But as Israeli military eye-witnesses to the Goldstein’s UN Report have testified, Gaza was no more a war than Sabra and Chatilla. It was an unremitting attack on Gaza’s civilian population. Yet no Israelis, bar a handful of anti-Zionists and sympathisers came out to demonstrate. The week before the 100,000 demonstration, the Israeli left had mobilised 10,000 (equivalent to about 125,000 in Britain).

Israel today has a fascist as Foreign Minister, a man who has boasted of his desire to personally drown thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea. Therein lies the change, and it is a sign of Israel’s self-deception when Mark Regev, its propaganda chief, can condemn the report of liberal Zionist Richard Goldstein as having been ‘conceived in sin and is the product of a union between propaganda and bias.’ The belief that if one attacks the credentials of the author of the Report, just as they attacked the reports of anonymous Israeli soldiers earlier this year, as they described what actually happened, then they will be change reality is a misconception that is not unique to Zionism.

The vote at the TUC is not, as some might wish to believe, the product of quiet lobbying with TUC bureaucrats but the product of 4 years of campaigning for boycott among the grassroots in the trade unions. When the Fire Brigades Union submitted their motion calling for boycott and a review of links with Histadrut then even the most astute TUC bureaucrat was powerless to prevent a positive vote. For the past 3 years UNISON, with over a million votes, has passed pro-Palestinian policy, including support for a boycott and a review of Histadrut links. The T&GWU, one of the key components of the massive UNITE trade union already had pro-boycott policy. PCS had already come on board and this year the left RMT had changed its position to support boycott. No amount of pressure from the Foreign Office or lobbying in what used to be known as the smoke-filled rooms of Congress House could change these realities.

Gaza was the awakening, the equivalent of Sharpeville in 1961 when protestors against the pass were mown down in cold blood by the South African Police. Yet in comparison the defenders of Apartheid were almost reluctant killers. Even in South Africa you didn’t have priests marching with the army giving them the courage that comes from moral righteousness. In South Africa right to the end Helen Suzmann was able to represent opposition to Apartheid from her Houghton constituency in Cape Town, yet there is no opposition to Zionism from Jewish representatives in the Knesset and its Arab members are subject to constant attack, villification and open calls for their murder.

It is regrettable, to say the least, that the right-wing GMB union (which has traditionally belonged to the more stupid section of the right-wing of Labour politics with its regional barons) sought to prevent the FBU motion passing with a wrecking amendment. It is somewhat ironic that the GMB manages to combine support for a trade in arms with Israel and opposition to Boycott with affilation to British PSC. It even tried to substitute 'regret' for 'condemn' when referring to Histadrut's statement supporting the Gaza genocide.

It is also clear from the speech of Brendan Barber, its General-Secretary and the statement of the General Council that nothing much has really changed. A commitment to 2 States, the ‘road map’ [surely they got that one wrong?!] and a belief that Histadrut can represent any movement for progress or change, shows that there is still work to be done and that fundamentally little has changed underneath. Given that the General Council statement is explicit that they will only support a Boycott ‘where trade union members should not put their own jobs at risk by refusing to deal with such products’ that there is a lot of work to do.

The other points which should not be missed in the euphoria is that by a quirk of constitution, the General Council statement which was passed supercedes the resolution of the FBU. And the General Council resolution explicitly confines the Boycott to settlement goods as opposed to a Boycott of all Israeli Goods.

It is therefore regrettable to say the least that PSC’s own policy is now indistinguishable from that of the trade unions. PSC is committed to pushing unions for a review of links with Histadrut. The question is where next? What do we want out of the review? That question is unanswered but the key indicator is a paragraph of the TUC General Council’s statement:

The TUC reiterates our pledge to work in solidarity with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and urges unions to support financially the TUC/PGFTU projects funded through TUC Aid as well as the joint Histadrut-PGFTU projects being developed in several sectors under the auspices of Global Union Federations. We welcome the resolution last year of the longstanding dispute over the remittance of membership subscriptions from the Histadrut to the PGFTU, which was brokered by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and support any stronger relations between the Histadrut and the PGFTU that they wish to develop.
The key task ahead is to ensure that the call for a ‘review’ of links with Histadrut is translated into an active boycott of that organisation. Nothing could be worse than if a ‘review’ turned into a reaffirmation of links.

And that we adopt the same position towards Israel as South Africa, namely that you cannot distinguish between one parcel of apartheid land and another. That also means that the focus of boycott should NOT just be on the occupied territories and settlements but on Israel itself.
The Palestinians of the Galilee are just as much under occupation as those of Nablus.

Below are reports from Scottish PSC and Israel Palestinian activist Omar Baghouti as well as the Resolution and amendments and notice of a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions weekend at the Wooler Youth Hostel.

Tony Greenstein

Scottish PSC Press Release
Delegates at the Trade Union Congress annual conference, representing millions of British workers, have resisted intense pressure from the British government and declared for a boycott of Israel because of its crimes.

Hats off to the Fire Brigades Union (who submitted the motion) - they have saved the honour of the British trade union movement.

Read the motion here:

This decision follows Tuesday's report by the UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone which concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The prolonged situation of impunity has created a justice crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that warrants action.

One of the largest trade union federations in the world, the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), has overwhelmingly adopted BDS motions in its annual congress!

The South African trade union federation, COSATU, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) were the two national TU federations that preceded the TUC in adopting BDS.
Given that TUC represents over 6.5 million British workers, this huge success is no small feat. The size and political significance of the British TUC's endorsement of BDS motions will surely add qualitatively to the impressive rise of the BDS movement after the Israeli massacre in Gaza, further confirming that our South Africa moment has arrived.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and its partners have worked tirelessly, persistently and tactfully for several years to reach this astounding victory, crowning previous BDS endorsements -- direct or indirect -- by the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) earlier this year and several leading British trade unions including Unison and the University and College Union (UCU), the latter representing about 120,000 members in academia.

A warm salute especially to the PSC, as well as the STUC, BRICUP and to all British BDS activists who contributed over the years to this watershed in the BDS movement's history in the UK, Europe and beyond.

It is worth remembering that in the struggle against South African apartheid the British trade union movement was among the very few in the vanguard of boycotts and divestment that eventually spread to the rest of the world, helping the democracy and freedom movement in South Africa bring down the racist regime. Israeli apartheid and its apologists should take note of this.

Below are excerpts from the motion that passed, sponsored by the amazingly principled and courageous Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and amended by the UCU. Following that is the PSC press release about this victory.

Omar Baghouti

76 Palestine
Congress condemns the Government of Israel's January offensive in Gaza resulting in 1,450 Palestinians deaths and 5,000 injured and the massive destruction of infrastructure.
Congress further condemns the ongoing blockade that is in contravention of International Law.
Congress calls on the General Council to:

i) use its influence with the British Government to make appropriate representations to the international community to secure support for a negotiated settlement based on justice for the Palestinians

ii) build solidarity with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.
Congress condemns the Histadrut statement of 13 January 2009 in which it backed the attacks on Gaza and calls on the General Council to carry out a review of the TUC's relationship with Histadrut.

Congress calls on the General Council to pressure the Government to:

a) condemn the Israeli military aggression and end the blockade on Gaza
b) end all arms trading with Israel
c) impose a ban on the importing of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories
d) support moves to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

Congress further calls on the General Council to encourage affiliation to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and to develop an effective Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign by working closely with the PSC to:

1) raise greater awareness on the issues
2) promote a targeted consumer-led boycott
3) encourage trade unionists to boycott Israeli goods, especially agricultural products that have been produced in the illegal settlements
4) encourage campaigns of disinvestment from companies associated with the occupation.

Fire Brigades' Union

At the end of paragraph 1, insert: 'and Hamas' rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.'
At the end of paragraph 2, insert: 'and prevents vital supplies from reaching the people of Gaza.'
In paragraph 3, at end of sub-paragraph ii), insert: ', including through project support and encouraging and supporting stronger relations with the Histadrut.'
In paragraph 4, line 1, replace 'condemns' with 'regrets'. In line 3 insert a full stop after 'Gaza' and delete the remaining words in the paragraph.
In paragraph 5, delete sub-paragraph b). Renumber existing sub-paragraph c) as b) and insert at the start of it 'seek EU agreement to'. Renumber existing sub-paragraph d) as c).
In paragraph 6, delete all from 'to develop' in line 3 to 'PSC' in line 5. Delete sub-paragraph 2) and renumber sub-paragraph 3) as 2). In this new sub-paragraph 2), add 'those' before 'Israeli goods' and replace ',especially' with 'and'. Re-number sub-paragraph 4) as 3), inserting at end: 'and pressure companies to withdraw from building the separation wall.'



Add new final paragraph:
'Congress asserts that in undertaking these actions each affiliate will operate within its own aims and objectives and within the law.'
University and College Union

Boycott: a strategy to defeat Israeli apartheid
Weekend of strategy workshops on BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions) in Wooler Youth Hostel, Weekend of October 2-4
Event support and workshop participation:
Action Palestine
BRICUP (British Committee for Universities in Palestine)
Friends of Al Aqsa
Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods
Northern Palestine Solidarity Network
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
The Norwegian Committee on Palestine (Bergen)
The French Coalition Against Agrexco
Unison Northern
War on Want

The last year has seen significant growth in the BDS movement. Trade union commitments, student occupations and initiatives by groups working for solidarity with Palestine have together transformed the landscape here in the UK and elsewhere. The Gaza massacres were the major factor in shifting opinion but, at enormous cost to Palestinians, this has greatly expanded support for the BDS campaign.
Participants at the BDS weekend at Wooler will discuss ideas that can take this movement forward. Those new to BDS will have the opportunity to learn from those who have already been active in pushing out the BDS campaign in different fields. The weekend will provide a crucial opportunity to share experiences and reflect on the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
Please note the following timetable is subject to final amendment.

1 comment:

karim said...

An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

Karim - Positive thinking