Unionists push for Palestine solidarity

Across the country, socialists and activists have been pushing our unions for active support of Palestine – sometimes against stiff opposition.

At the University of Sydney, members of the National Tertiary Education Union voted to condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza and called on the Australian government to break military ties with Israel. The initiative came from Sydney Staff for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a group recently formed to promote Palestine solidarity and the BDS movement.

The union meeting on 30 July was called to discuss proposed job cuts at the university library and organise the union response. Most members stayed for the discussion on Gaza, and the motion passed with a clear majority. A proposed amendment that sought to condemn both sides was defeated.

The vote is significant, coming six weeks after the national office of the NTEU intervened to help overturn a branch decision to hold a discussion on the BDS campaign.

The Victorian branch of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union voted to condemn Israel’s attack and promote demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza. The union’s governing committee of management – mostly composed of delegates from different sections of the rail industry – had a lively debate about the right of Palestinians to self-defence and the history of union agitation against the former apartheid regime in South Africa. As a result of the motion, delegates at three major workplaces will take up a collection in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Health and Community Services Union members at the Austin hospital also took a collection and publicised solidarity rallies. Many members appreciated the public stand HACSU took against Israel’s attack. Though the intense workload means that conversations are often brief, the collection allowed for some political discussion, a rarity in many modern workplaces.

Jameela Jubran teaches at a high school in Melbourne’s western suburbs. She raised hundreds of dollars from students and sparked workplace debate by taking a collection. After requests from Jameela and others, the state branch of the Australian Education Union issued a statement, which Jameela organised to have circulated through the school’s union sub-branch.

While some teachers were bewildered at this “complex issue”, reflecting the strength of Zionist propaganda over the years, they were still happy to contribute to relief. Others, both students and teachers, were very pleased to see the union show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

It’s at the point of production that workers have real power. So even if it doesn’t feel like much, every ounce of strength and political clarity that we develop through these workplace activities lays a basis for the future.