At the 2008 British Trades Union Congress, Histadrut, Israel's apartheid ‘trade-union’ were cock a hoop. And well they might be. For the past 30 years Palestinian workers working inside Israel had ‘trade union’ dues deducted, without their permission from their pay packets. These went to the Histadrut, was founded in 1920 as the General Federation of Hebrew Labour. Histadrut was in many ways the forerunner of the Israeli state. Golda Meir once described how 'in 1928 I was put on the Histadrut Executive Committee at a time when this big labour union wasn't just a trade union organisation. It was a great colonising agency'. [Observer 24.1.1971.]
Histadrut created the Zionist pre-state organisations and it was its militias – Hagannah and Palmach - which executed the Naqba in 1947-8.
Histadrut is an apartheid which began its life with a boycott of Arab Labour and Produce. For its first 40 years it barred Arabs from membership and when it finally allowed them in they were segregated in a separate Arab section – headed by a Jew of course! The separation of Arabs inside Histadrut was natural for an apartheid organisation which was at one and the same time Israel’s second largest employer (until its industries were privatised in the 1980’s). Histadrut refused to invest in Arab villages and barred Arabs from most of its factories on ‘security’ grounds. In short, it reflected the chauvinism and racism of Israeli Jewish workers just as South Africa’s white mining unions rep resented the interests of white workers.
Histadrut, via. its front organisation, Trade Union Friends of Israel, is keen to squash all possibility of support for Boycott in the trade unions. In this it lines up with the right-wing of the British and other trade unions. What is remarkable is that for all its hostility to a Boycott of Israel, Histadrut began its life with another Boycott campaign – against Palestinian workers!!David HaCohen was a former Managing Director of Solel Boneh, which became the Middle East’s largest building and construction company. He was also a member of the Labour Zionist elite. Yet his activities occasionally troubled him. He wrote that:
I had to fight my friends on the issue of Jewish socialism to defend the fact that I would not accept Arabs in my Trade Union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to housewives that they should not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting jobs there... to pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes; to attack Jewish housewives in the markets and smash Arab eggs they, had bought... to buy dozens of dunums from an Arab is permitted but to sell God forbid one Jewish dunum to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild the incarnation of capitalism as a socialist and to name him the 'benefactor' - to do all that was not easy. And despite the fact that we did it- maybe we had no choice - I wasn't happy about it." David Hirst, Gun & the Olive Branch, p.63.
‘Jewish socialism’ i.e. Labour Zionism meant alliances with Jewish employers against Palestinian workers who were sacked on grounds of race. It is therefore not surprising that Histadrut should have stolen millions of dollars (PGFTU claimed $10 m) from the pockets of Palestinian workers for refusing to represent them. Histadrut today refuses to represent the migrant workers in Israel from the Far East .
Nor is it surprising that Histadrut has consistently supported the Apartheid Wall and its building company, Solel Boneh, actually built many of the settlement blocs in the West Bank. It is this organisation that PGFTU has done a deal with. For some £2.5 million it has given the Zionists a weapon with which to attack the Boycott campaign, the only campaign in the West which has seriously rattled them. For returning a part of the money which was stolen from them, PGFTU have followed Fateh in once again accepting whatever crumbs fall from the table. Even when they consciously know that its only effect will be to undermine Palestinian Solidarity in the West.
The actions of the PGFTU, and one should not shy away from this, are an act of betrayal of the Palestinian workers it purports to represent. In practice that representation is doubtful as it hasn’t held elections for over 20 years. Following the Abbas road, PGFTU came into its own when its General Secretary Shaher Saad supported the Oslo Agreement. PGFTU has decided that collaboration is better than confrontation.
The following article from an article by Anshel Pfeffer in the Jewish Chronicle of 10th September 2008 might be inaccurate (my own union UNISON and the TGWU support a Boycott call) but it conveys the feelings of the Zionists accurately enough:
'The Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) does not support a general boycott on trade and investment with Israel.
This position emerged at the annual TUC Congress in Brighton this week, where a heated debate took place over the question of whether Palestinian workers are in favour of the boycott.At a fringe event on Tuesday, organised by the Trade Union Friends of Israel (Tufi), attended by Ambassador Ron Prosor and Avital Shapira-Shvirow, head of international relations at the Histadrut, it was claimed the Palestinian trade unions "are against the boycott of Israel as it harms first of all Palestinian workers." Boycott supporters who attended the event claimed the opposite.
Sue Blackwell of Birmingham University, a key supporter of the boycott at the University and College Union, insisted: "It is our Palestinian colleagues who have called for the boycott, and the PGFTU have signed the petitions."
No representative of the PGFTU was present at the event, but Fathi Nasser, legal adviser of the PGFTU and the main speaker at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign fringe meeting, later told the JC that his organisation was not in favour of a general boycott: "We think there should be boycotts only of companies directly involved in building settlements and the apartheid wall."
Members of TUFI said the reception they had received this year from delegates was, overall, positive.
"Three years ago they stripped our stand of all leaflets," said volunteer Ian Sternberg. "This year the stand is opposite that of the PSC and things are quite friendly."
Tufi chairman Roger Lyons said: "The agreement the Histadrut and PGFTU have just signed seems to have cut the legs off most attacks and calls for boycott."
The agreement means that 50 per cent of the union membership fees of Palestinians working for Israeli firms will be transferred to the PGFTU.
Last month, the RMT transport workers union rejected a boycott motion and to date, the only union actively supporting a boycott is the UCU.
At the TUFI Fringe meeting at TUC on 9th September 2008, Owen Tudor for the International Department of the TUC stated that ‘in private’ PGFTU opposed a boycott. In public they have been facing two ways – telling trade union delegations they support it and the Histadrut and others that they are opposed!
However we should recognise that PGFTU is primarily a union of Fateh and the Palestinian Authority, it doesn’t represent all Palestinian workers. For example there is the General Union of Palestinian Workers and there are a number of independent trade unions and workers organisations . as well as criticism of PGFTU’s lack of independence.
GUPW has, by way of contrast, made its own position extremely clear, as have hundreds of Palestinian organisations who signed the call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, organised by PACBI [Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott] in conjunction with Badil and Ittijah in 2005. This itself came out of a call by PACBI in April 2004 in Ramallah for an academic boycott.
PGFTU is emulating, under its General Secretary, Shaher Saad, all the mistakes of the PLO in its acceptance of the dictates of the Israel Government and Zionist organisations. In return it obtained nothing except the monstrosity that is the Palestine Authority, Israel and the US’s eyes and ears in the West Bank. It is no accident that prominently displayed on PGFTU’s web site is the ‘Labour Start’ organisation, run by ex-Israeli paratroop officer Eric Lee, who used to have a picture of the Israeli army on his web site and who openly supported Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006. With friends like these....
Tony Greenstein -