Report Solidarity with Palestine : Next Steps for the UK Trade Union Movement
Palestine Solidarity Campaign Trade Union Conference, London, 12th October 2019
Sponsored by eleven national unions, TUC and Thompsons. Attendance about 110.
Palestinian Workers Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs)
Opening session consisted mainly of talk by Samia Al Botmeh, Assistant Professor of Labour Economics, Bir Zeit University. Workers’ rights need to be viewed in context of level and character of economic development:
OPTs’ economic development follows pattern typical of colonialism – erosion of productive sectors of the local economy, dependence on external sources for growth and development.
Trade constrained by regulatory restrictions as well as physical constraints like wall, settlements, lack of access to water. Typically, these restrictions give Israeli producers free access to Palestinian market but not vice-versa.
Over 50 years of occupation, agriculture down from 34% of economy to 3%, manufacture down 18% to 13%. Disproportionate effect on women’s economic activity rates.
13% of workers work in Israel (but only 2% of women workers) accounting for 25% of OPTs’ income from wages. Corrupt system of brokering labour permits absorbs 15% of wages.
Men’s unemployment rate about 25%, women’s 50% - much higher figures in Gaza Strip. Women’s economic activity rate is 19%, the lowest in the world – result of colonialism not of innate conservatism/patriarchy of Palestinian society.
Trade unionism strongest among professionals. Even there tends to be defensive/reactive. Little trade union organising.
Recent Israeli attempts to exclude ex-pat Palestinians from labour force eg staff at Bir Zeit Uni.
Samia called for:
Maintain focus on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Visits, direct links and direct assistance are welcome but the political solidarity of BDS addresses the heart of the matter.
The need to raise Palestine in international trade union forums
Also in discussion there was a question about:
Links with disabled people’s organisations in Palestine which Samia described as strong but not well connected with broader social movements. There was interest from Unite Disabled Workers to follow this up.
First Panel Discussion : Solidarity with Trade Unions in Palestine NEU, PCS, UCU UNISON, and Unite outlined their work.
UNISON’s work on pension fund divestment. Case in Supreme Court 20 Nov
Unite has taken the BDS question to its members eg in HSBC
Making delegations more accessible esp NEU – open to all members but selffund. NEU gives people who go on delegations firm guidance about what is expected when they get back. Delegations good way to identify new workplace activists. First workshop: Campaigning for Palestine in the Trade Union Movement
Need to take rank-&-file with you – Unite at Caterpillar – recognise the position of insecure workers.
Build solidarity by seeking support for concrete actions rather than seeking agreements with general arguments.
Difficult issues and dealing with opposition. Choose your targets and your timing. Don’t let them choose you. (Breaking links with Histadrut, Challenging IHRA definition; Excluding BITUD - née TUFI)
Second Workshop: Recognising Israeli Apartheid. Making the case for Palestine This was conducted by a group called Makan. I attended in order to check them out. They describe themselves as “a Palestinian-led ... organisation that works to shift the narrative on Palestine towards a global language that is rooted in the principle of human rights ... Through ... workshops and trainings (they) help cultivate a community of strategic advocates ... to push forward a rights-based narrative”. Intellectually very interesting and challenging but, in my opinion, an overly-intellectual approach whereas I think the barriers our supporters face have as much to do with confidence, identity etc as with knowledge or ideas.
Second Panel Discussion: Next Steps Opening speaker was Mariella Kohon (ex Justice for Colombia) now TUC International Department who said they will be following up on the recent TUC Women’s delegation, continuing to tackle Birmingham Pride (sponsored by HSBC) and working towards another TUC delegation next year.
Final Speaker was Mustafa Barghouti, General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (a political party that campaigns mainly around democratising the Palestinian Authority)
Zionism is now strong enough no longer to need to hide its intentions. The ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the occupation of 1967 now evolve into a full-blown Apartheid system.
Zionism does not confine itself to Palestine-Israel. It operates at a world level to delegitimise support for Palestine. Recent legislation in Germany equating BDS with anti-semitism. Launch of SAIPAC in South Africa modelled on America Israel Public Affairs Committee. Set attacks on UK Labour Party into world context.
He set us five tasks:
- 2. Campaign for correct labelling of settlement goods or, better, stop their import altogether and stop the arms trade with Israel
3. Challenge Israel’s breaches of International Law and Israel’s supporters worldwide who help them do so
4. Enlighten the younger generation.
5. Bring down the government of Boris Johnson, elect Jeremy Corbyn. then, he added a sixth:
6. DON’T LET THEM FRIGHTEN YOU!
Bob Deacon 11th November 2019