30 May 2010

UCU Votes to Boycott Histadrut

The Universities College Union national conference voted today to ‘sever all relations’ with Israel’s Apartheid ‘Union’ Histadrut, as well as boycotting Ariel College, the settler institute in the West Bank.

Histadrut began its life in the 1920’s waging a campaign for Jewish Labour i.e. a Boycott of Arab Labur. For the first forty years of its life it refused to accept Arabs as members. When it did it corralled them into an Arab section – headed by a Jew!

When Histadrut was Israel’s second biggest employer, up till the early 1990's, it deliberately didn’t invest in Arab villages or areas. This has consequences today given that Arabs are much more likely to be unemployed.
Despite its formal commitment to equality it has never opposed sacking Arab workers to make way for Jewish workers, usually using the spurious excuse of ‘security’.

Last year Israel Rail tried to sack all its Arab workers on the grounds they hadn’t done national service in the army! Quite what army service has to do with working on the railways is unclear, but it is well known that Arabs (with the exception of the Druze primarily) don’t serve in the army of a Jewish State. Hence this was a device to sack Arabs in favour of Jews without explicitly being seen to do so.
Israel Rail backed off after a fierce international campaign but Histadrut , which represented the Jewish workers, pointedly refused to oppose the racist attempt to sack workers.

Likewise Histadrut local organisations and labour councils have been at the forefront of the demand to expel migrant labour in order to reduce Jewish unemployment. Although the Histadrut has given lip service to organising migrant labourers in practice it has refused to do so.
What it has done is effectively steal the contributions of Palestinian workers in Israel who it has steadfastly refused to represent in their conflicts with Jewish employers. For more on this see Histadrut Thieves Stole Over One Billion , Jonathan Cook’s article on Electronic Intifada and an article by the Alternative Information Centre in Israel.

It should be pointed out though that UCU isn’t the first British trade union to boycott Histadrut. Nalgo, the forerunner of Unison, the public sector trade union, was the first trade union to cut links with this settler union.

There is no doubt that but for the opposition of Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Bernard Regan, its trade union officer, it would have already adopted the same position again.
All this is of course very embarrassing for the Socialist Action/CL factions in British Palestine Solidarity Campaign, whose position is to oppose a Boycott of Histadrut. In the words of Regan, Histadrut is a ‘changed organisation’.

A vote on whether to Boycott Histadrut or not wasn’t allowed at the AGM in February after PSC Chair Hugh Lanning fixed the agenda.
Rumours that Trade Union Friends of Israel asked Bernard Regan to speak against the successful motion from Brighton University are, we understand, untrue. Since he is not a member of UCU it would not have been possible and guest speakers cannot speak on policy motions.
Congratulations to activists in UCU for this magnificent victory.
Tony Greenstein

Ramallah, Occupied Palestine, 30 May 2010

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) expresses its profound appreciation for the courageous positions in support of Palestinian rights taken by the membership of the University and College Union (UCU) at its Congress today in Manchester. The UCU has again firmly and decisively established its unwavering commitment to the Palestinian civil society's campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with its obligations under international law and recognizes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Making history in the international trade union movement in the West, UCU’s Congress also voted with an overwhelming majority to "sever all relations with Histadrut, and to urge other trade unions and bodies to do likewise." The UCU has today confirmed its established position that it is legitimate to denounce Israel’s oppressive policies and to hold the state and its complicit institutions accountable for human rights abuses, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The Histadrut’s long standing partnership in the Israeli state’s colonization, ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination against the Palestinian people, particularly its statement on January 13th, 2009 supporting Israel’s war crimes in the occupied and besieged Gaza strip, has been condemned by a number of trade unions, including the British Communications Workers Union (CWU) [1] and others in Belgium, Spain, France, Norway and around the world. The Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) has recently decided to review its relations with the Histadrut with a view to severing them.

PACBI applauds the UCU’s reaffirmation of its determination to implement BDS measures within the existing constraints. On a practical level, we appreciate the decision "to seek in conjunction with other trade unions, nationally and internationally, to establish an annual international conference on BDS, a trade union sponsored BDS website and a research centre on commercial, cultural and academic complicity with Israeli breaches of international law." These resolutions will have a far reaching impact on enhancing the global BDS movement, particularly in providing the needed resources for furthering the academic boycott of Israel. The Congress’s decision to campaign actively against the EU-Israel Association Agreement in coordination with other trade unions and solidarity movements is another milestone that responds to a central appeal of the Palestinian civil society BDS campaign. We also appreciate the UCU’s decision to work with other bodies in supporting the membership of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) in Education International.

Through these decisions, the UCU joins other UK and international unions and public bodies in endorsing and implementing BDS. Most recently, the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) reaffirmed in its annual meetings its BDS policy. Days earlier, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) had also reaffirmed its own overwhelming support for BDS. The British TUC has also launched with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) an important drive aimed at implementing a wide boycott of Israeli colonies’ products and services, as a first step towards a more comprehensive application of BDS, as called for in the TUC’s last congress.

Creative and effective realization of BDS policies has become a theme among trade unions and TU federations from South Africa’s COSATU to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). In 2009, Hampshire College in the US became the first in the West to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. Many other universities in North America are witnessing similar divestment campaigns at various stages of development. Norway and Sweden have recently divested their respective pension funds of all stock in Elbit Systems, a leading Israeli military manufacturer implicated in violations of international law. Besides the UK, campaigns supporting PACBI’s Call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel have sprung up in the US, Spain, France, Italy, India, Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, among other countries. Leading cultural figures of the calibre of Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and Carlos Santana have heeded the call to cancel performances in Israel in protest over its persistent suppression of Palestinian rights. Some of the largest supermarket chains in Italy have decided to stop carrying Israeli colonies’ products.

PACBI especially welcomes the UCU Congress resolution to "commence the investigatory process associated with the imposition of a boycott of Ariel College," a college-colony built on occupied Palestinian territory, as a first step in implementing the academic boycott against the Israeli academy. It is worth noting that the Spanish Government had excluded an Israeli academic team from Ariel College from a sustainable architecture competition last year for the same reasons. All Israeli universities are deeply linked to the military-security establishment, playing indispensable -- direct and indirect -- roles in perpetuating Israel's decades-old violations of international law and fundamental Palestinian rights. No Israeli university or academic union has ever taken a public position against the occupation, let alone against Israel's system of apartheid or the denial of Palestinian refugee rights. Israeli universities are profoundly complicit in developing weapons systems and military doctrines deployed in Israel's recent war crimes in Gaza [2]; justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land and gradual ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians [3]; providing moral justification for extra-judicial killings and indiscriminate attacks against civilians [4]; systematically discriminating against "non-Jewish" students in admissions, dormitory room eligibility, financial aid, etc.; and many other implicit and explicit violations of human rights and international law. [5]

Finally, we salute the UCU membership for its effective and consistent solidarity in pushing BDS forward and for its politically and morally sound contribution to the struggle to end oppression and uphold universal human rights for all.

[1] [2] See, for example, the following incriminating evidence against Tel Aviv University's partnership with the Israeli army and weapons industries: [3] [4] Reuven Pedatzur, The Israeli Army House Philosopher, Haaretz, 24 February 2004. [5]

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