By Len McCluskey
With the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people under unprecedented attack, we as workers must make our collective voice louder in calling for freedom, justice and equality for our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
The principle of solidarity is the backbone of the organised labour movement – and that principle has never stopped at our own borders. From opposing the Chilean coup in the ’70s to supporting the South African anti-Apartheid movement in the ’80s, trade unionists have historically played a crucial role in numerous struggles for human rights across the globe.
The struggle of the Palestinian people is no exception to that. Ever since the Nakba in 1948, which saw over 750,000 Palestinians forcibly expelled from their homes, the people of Palestine have endured continued discrimination, dispossession and violence at the hands of the Israeli state. And the global trade union movement has responded by taking action against Israel’s repressive regime.
For example, dockworkers in Durban responded to Israel’s 2008/9 war on Gaza by refusing to unload Israeli products. In Brazil in 2014, trade union federations played a key role in the successful campaign that led to the state of Rio Grande do Sul cancelling a major partnership with Israeli military company Elbit Systems. Meanwhile, UK trade unions – including Unite – supported the campaign to get G4S to end its role in resourcing Israel’s abusive prison system.
The spirit of solidarity embodied by these actions is needed now more than ever, as the Palestinian people face unprecedented attacks on their collective rights. Israel has enshrined a system of apartheid in its constitution through the passing of a racist “Nation State Law”, whilst continuing to rapidly expand illegal settlements and maintain its crippling siege on the Gaza strip – a territory set to become uninhabitable by 2022 according to the UN. On top of this, since the start of the Great Return March protests in March 2018, Israel has injured over 29,000 and killed over 200 unarmed protesters, including children, journalists and medics.
Israel’s embedded system of discrimination and apartheid is in many ways felt most sharply by Palestinian workers. The systematic destruction of Palestine’s economy, the over 60 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens and the relentless restrictions on freedom of movement and association curtail the working conditions and rights of workers every single day. Palestinian trade unions have called on unions across the world to support them in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality – the UK labour movement must now redouble its efforts to answer this call.
We have seen how powerful our collective action can be in shifting policies. For example, in accordance with a growing call from consumers and trade unionists, most supermarkets in Britain have asserted that they no longer stock goods from illegal settlements. However, we need this action to extend beyond corporate policies – we need governmental action. That’s exactly why so many trade unions, as well as the Trade Union Congress, have passed policy calling for on the government to implement a ban on settlement produce and take measures to end the UK’s complicity with settlements.
I am very proud that Unite the Union, alongside numerous other UK trade unions, are affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and work closely with the organisation to build a mass workers’ movement committed to ending Israel’s occupation and upholding international law and human rights.
On May 11th 2019, PSC and others have called a National Demonstration for Palestine in central London to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who live under occupation and apartheid every day, and to call for Israel to be held to account for its crimes. Most major trade unions, including Unite, are supporting this crucial demo and calling on their members to take to the streets for Palestine.
The labour movement cannot stand by whilst the rights and freedoms of our brothers and sisters in other countries are systematically denied. Wherever injustice manifests, we as workers must raise our collective voices in calling for freedom, justice and equality for all. Join us in standing with Palestine on May 11th.
Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite the Union.
Source: Labour List