In a first, British trade unions commit to challenging Israeli ‘apartheid’

Delegates at the TUC Congress 2018 show their support for a motion condemning Israel’s passing the Nation-State Law

JVL Introduction

In a world in which the illegal behaviour of the Israeli government and its beleaguered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being encouraged by President Trump, it was refreshing for the TUC to express its outright opposition to recent developments.

At its mid-September Congress, the TUC reaffirmed its solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for the right to self-determination, and condemned the occupation and the expansionist policies of the Israeli government.

It expressed outright opposition to any annexationist ambitions, demanded a cessation of the blockade of Gaza, gave support for the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and called on other trade unions in Europe and internationally to campaign against annexation and apartheid.

Bernard Regan of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign reports on Mondoweiss.

This article was originally published by Mondoweiss on Wed 7 Oct 2020. Read the original here.

In a first, British trade unions commit to challenging Israeli ‘apartheid’

A British Trade Union Congress motion urging members “to join the international campaign to stop annexation and end apartheid” could encourage unions worldwide to play a major role in the international Palestine solidarity movement as they did against Apartheid in South Africa.

On  September 15th, the Annual Congress of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) representing nearly 6 million members in the UK adopted a motion which reaffirmed its solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people for the right to self-determination, condemning the occupation and expansionist policies of the Israeli government.

The resolution expressed outright opposition to the annexationist ambitions of the Netanyahu government, backed by the United States Administration and called for an end to British government complicity.  Demanding a cessation of the blockade of Gaza and support for “the right of Palestinian refugees to return”, it committed the TUC to “communicate its position to all other national trade union centres in the International and European Trade Union Confederations and urge them to join the international campaign to stop annexation and end apartheid”.

What is distinct about the resolution is that, in calling for an end to “apartheid”, it identifies the Israeli state’s practices towards the Palestinian people as institutionally discriminatory, thereby challenging the normalisation of relations currently adopted for example by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and promoted by the White House.

Internationalism has a long tradition in the British trade union movement. In the 1860s, mill workers in the Manchester area refused to work with slave labour produced cotton imported from the southern states of the USA, despite the hardships their families suffered as a consequence. Volunteers, many from the trade union movement, fought in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists. In the 1960s, trade unionists were amongst the first to respond to the African National Congress call for a boycott of South Africa. It is this tradition that is echoed in the solidarity being expressed for the Palestinian people.

When acted on, the TUC decision could make a significant contribution to the building of the international solidarity movement and encouraging unions worldwide to play a major role in the campaign as they did in the campaign against Apartheid in South Africa.

The TUC commitment was the product of work by supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and trade unionists over many decades. Trade unions were recognised as important because of their potential to win millions of people to the campaign for justice for the Palestinians. Additionally, the unions are significant because some are affiliated to the Labour Party and they can therefore make a vital contribution to ensuring that the voice of the Palestinians and their supporters is not silenced by pro-Netanyahu apologists within the Party itself.

Over more than three decades, this work has resulted in a change from Palestine being the concern of a small minority into a cause with overwhelming support in the unions. Whilst breakthroughs took place in a small number of unions in the early 1990s, the support of the majority of unions was cemented by the adoption of a motion in 2006 which set the political agenda for subsequent years.

The motion, moved by the Fire Brigades Union expressed support for:

  • the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination;
  • the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland;
  • the withdrawal of Israeli troops from all occupied territories; and
  • the removal of the illegally constructed ‘apartheid wall’.

From the outset the TUC encouraged all its trade unions to affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), and since that date there have been innumerable meetings of union branches which have heard Palestinian speakers and returning British delegations discussing the situation of the Palestinian people. Hundreds, if not thousands, of trade unionists have visited historic Palestine, meeting workers, communities and campaigners to make themselves better informed on the issues resulting from the brutal actions of the Israeli state and its military. These trips have included meeting with a wide range of Palestinian activists and visiting many refugee camps, cultural centres, schools, universities, those facing house demolitions, child prisoners, members of Bedouin communities and Palestinian activists inside Israel.

This weighty cohort bringing their own first-hand knowledge of the situation have become effective advocates of the Palestinian cause and mobilisers for actions initiated by PSC. Whenever possible they have sought to develop this political solidarity into practical actions of human support.

The trade unions have been centrally involved in campaigning against all forms of racism including against Islamophobia and supporting the mobilisations around Black Lives Matter. At the same time those who support the Palestinians understand that there is no contradiction between militant opposition to antisemitism whilst maintaining a position of intransigent support for the rights of the oppressed Palestinians.

The challenge now is to continue to develop this work, to call on the Labour Party to endorse this campaign and to demand that British governments end their complicity with the Israeli government’s oppression of the Palestinian people and reject the intervention by President Trump or any future US administration to thwart the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Comments (13)

  • Terence McGinity says:

    Great news. Now this needs to be taken to the Labour Party at large.

  • Eveline says:

    excellent news. Starmer, take heed. stop pandering to the zionists and make Labour a voice for Palestine

  • Graeme Atkinson says:

    Not before time.

  • Linda P says:

    Nelson Mandela, when ‘ asked are you happy apartheid is over’ said apartheid isn’t over until the Palestinian people are free. Now it’s time for Kier Starmer to speak out in support of the Palestinians.

  • Ian Kemp says:

    I agree but will the present Shadow Cabinet dare . Its doubtful is it not.

  • steve mitchell says:

    This puts the Labour Party, of which I am member, to shame.

  • Diane Allen says:

    Terence: Sadly unlikely with Starmer at the helm! ☹️☹️

  • Carmen Malaree says:

    So glad to hear about the TUC support for the Palestinian people. I do hope this will counteract the notion spread by the media and some LMPs that opposing the Netanyahu government goes hand in hand with antisemitism as the approved TUC motion states that: “At the same time those who support the Palestinians understand that there is no contradiction between militant opposition to antisemitism whilst maintaining a position of intransigent support for the rights of the oppressed Palestinians.”

  • Philip Ward says:

    This is a step forward, but I think the terrain of struggle has moved – and this should have been apparent to the TUC, as the struggle in the LP has been going on for over 5 years. What the Israeli regime is really scared of is the growth of BDS and this is not mentioned in the article, except in a reference to South Africa. The latest offensive on this is Gavin Williamson’s attempt to blackmail universities into adopting the IHRA definition. This will put BDS campaigns in Universities into jeopardy and is a direct attack on academics and student organisations who speak out in support of Palestine. Opposition to Williamson’s diktat needs to be organised immediately.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I note that the IHRA has just published a “Working definition of antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination”. It’s very long-winded and contains a get-out clause that seems to allow forcibly moving Roma individuals and communities, providing it is “legal”, presumably because so many European governments do this. Interesting to see how the definition works when the words “Roma” or “Gypsy” are replaced with “Jew(s)”.

  • Phil says:

    Our government will do nothing so it’s up to the rest of us somehow. The TUC has the weight to make a difference, thank you.

  • Dr Rodney Watts says:

    Whilst some commenters are gloomy about the possible effects of the TUC resolution on the LP, and maybe they are correct in the shorter term, I am rather more optimistic. To my knowledge, only Sky News has reported it, but Unite the Union has since taken financial action against the Party: A figure of £1 million has been mentioned.

    Philip mentions Gavin Williamson’s disgraceful attempt to force Universities to adopt the IHRA “definition”, and whilst certainly of relevance and some concern, there are a number of ways ahead for the BDS/ Pro-Palestine movement. Indeed I can forsee the possibility of some more interesting legal battles.

    Yes, I am an optimist, but I remember being part of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1960’s, taking two attempts to get the Students Union at Birmingham Uni to boycott S. African goods. This was while sharing accommodation with Knox Matthews, whose father had spent time incarcerated with Nelson Mandela. It was also several years before the then Labour Party passed the first (imperfect) Race Relations Act.
    Sometimes we just have to dig in for the (very) long haul, but it will be worth it!!

  • rc says:

    Well spotted, PW. I take it that this is designed to push governments such as the Romanian, Hungarian, Polish, and especially the British (who don’t need to be pushed) to make sure that their persecutions are legally authorised. As with the current UK Secret Police (commit whatever crimes the relevant bureaucrat suggests or authorizes) Bill, so too with Patel’s current Gypsies are Illegal Bill…

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