Workers and Palestine

21 October 2023
Marty Hirst

In the face of overwhelming horror, it can seem almost impossible to fight back in any meaningful way. Many people are feeling like that now in response to Israel’s unrelenting and murderous attacks on the Palestinian populations of Gaza and the West Bank.

Activist groups have been quick to organise protest marches and rallies, and they have been huge all around the world. There are many actions we can take to build local solidarity movements and put political pressure on governments to stop supplying Israel with weapons and to end imperialist political support for apartheid Zionism.

The working class has a special role to play in this movement because it is the only group with the power to paralyse and even overthrow global capitalism.

So it is vital that the trade union movement acts in solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has issued a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire, the lifting of the siege and the delivery of emergency aid to Gaza and the West Bank. However, the statement does not go far enough, and it’s not mobilising trade union members to join the solidarity movement.

Instead of helping to channel the anger of workers who are rightly horrified by Israel’s actions it engages in a lot of “both sides are to blame” and merely makes passive calls aimed at a government that has shown—in its words and actions—that it is willing to allow Israel to continue murdering Palestinians as long as they do it “humanely”.

The workers’ movement in the Middle East provides some clues as to how union members in Australia might make their solidarity active and more meaningful. The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions has called on unionists in the West to help stop the global arms trade that provides the Zionist armies with their weapons of mass destruction.

The Palestinian unions are calling on unions around the world:

  • To refuse to build weapons destined for Israel.
  • To refuse to transport weapons to Israel.
  • To pass motions in their trade union to this effect.
  • To take action against complicit companies involved in implementing Israel’s brutal and illegal siege, especially if they have contracts with your institution.
  • To pressure governments to stop all military trade with Israel, and in the case of the US, funding to it.

There are practical steps that trade unions in Australia could take, such as divesting union funds from financial institutions that deal with the global arms industry. This is a simple and direct action that could happen immediately. Rank-and-file unionists can begin to raise this issue in our workplaces and unions by passing motions, having lunchroom conversations and doing a bit of research.

We have history on our side. As the Palestinian unions note, trade union boycotts have been successful in the past in helping to topple fascist and racist regimes.

Australian unions also have a proud record of active solidarity. In 1938, wharfies in Port Kembla refused to load iron onto a ship that was going to transport it to Japan. The wharfies argued that pig iron going to Japan was to be used to manufacture bullets and bombs that were killing peasants in Japan’s brutal invasion of China.

The unions lent their weight to the anti-Vietnam-war movement and were instrumental in Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s decision to end conscription. Trade unions and rank-and-file workers were also key to the Australian wing of the anti-apartheid movement that helped to end white rule in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, it is important for trade unions and rank-and-file activists to connect with Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement to coordinate action against Israeli companies operating in Australia and to isolate the Zionist state.

When workers take collective action, they set in motion the great levers of historical change. Socialists have always argued for this perspective: to unite workers all over the world against imperialism and to put an end to the rotten capitalist system once and for all.

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