Open letter to UK Trades Union Congress General Secretary
4th October 2010
Brendan Barber General Secretary Trades Union Congress Congress House Great Russell Street London WC1B 3LS
Dear Mr Barber,
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), of which all of Palestinian trade union federations are members, warmly welcomes the recent passing of a motion at the UK Trades Union Congress (TUC) that sets out plans for boycotting the products of and divesting from Israeli and international companies that are implicated in Israel's occupation and colonial settlements.
The global trade union movement has consistently demonstrated its commitment to Palestinian rights by adopting labour-led sanctions as a form of effective solidarity with Palestinians. In the wake of the attack on the Freedom Flotilla and in response to appeals from the BNC1 and from the entire Palestinian trade union movement,2 dockworkers in Sweden and California, USA implemented blockades of Israeli goods and an Israeli ship respectively. The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), representing over 80 million workers worldwide, called for a three-day strike against handling cargo to and from Israel.3 Dockworkers in India, Turkey, Norway and South Africa – where the South African Transport and Allied Workers' Union (SATAWU) pioneered the boycott against Israeli maritime trade in February 2009 by refusing to offload a ship in Durban in protest of Israel’s war of aggression on the Gaza Strip – also announced support and plans to implement blockades.4 The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) has launched a campaign to make every municipality in South Africa an “Apartheid Israel free zone”.5 Earlier this year, trade union federations and coalitions in Belgium,6 Canada and the Basque country joined other national federations and scores of individual unions in endorsing the global BDS movement.7
Adopting measures in the framework of the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is the most morally consistent and prominent form of trade union solidarity with Palestinian civil society and with Palestinian workers, in particular.
With almost seven million members, the TUC is the largest organised civil society body in the UK. Its pledge to lobby the UK Government and the EU to take stronger steps to ensure that Israel complies with UN resolutions is therefore a welcome and important one. The BNC hopes that the TUC feels able to lobby for and take steps to ensure the recognition and implementation of all of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people – the end of the occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands occupied by Israel since 1967 and dismantling of the wall, the recognition of the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and, crucially, the implementation of the Palestinian right to return as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
The BNC looks forward to the joint work between the TUC General Council and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) to actively encourage the boycott of, and divestment from, companies that profit from Israel's occupation. Given the size and important role of the TUC and UK trade unions in general, successful efforts to ensure that pension funds do not invest in corporate supporters of Israeli occupation and other violations of international law would have real and lasting political impacts. The BNC is hopeful about the prospects of such a pension divestment campaign as a necessary step towards the adoption of a full and comprehensive boycott of Israel, as called for by Palestinian civil society.
Given that the Scottish, Irish and South African Trade Union congresses have firmly endorsed BDS and are actively reviewing relations with the Histadrut as part of this process, and following the decision by UNISON and the UCU to take similar steps with regards to the Israeli trade union entity, the BNC is pleased that Congress condemns the Histadrut for seeking to justify the Israeli killing of civilians on the Freedom Flotilla. The Histadrut actively supported the 2008-09 Gaza massacre and is seen by the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, including Palestinian trade unionists, as remaining just as vital to Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and Apartheid as it ever has been. The BNC hopes this latest step is part of a process that will result in the TUC adopting the position of some of its international counterparts and member unions by reviewing its relationship with the Histadrut.
The trade union movement played a crucial role in the international solidarity that contributed to the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa. A wide range of trade unions in the UK are making significant and principled contributions to the global movement against Israeli Apartheid. The BNC warmly welcomes the news that Congress has adopted such strong and principled steps within the BDS framework, and it looks forward to and is willing to assist in any way that it can, the implementation of these policies at the grassroots, branch level as part of a movement towards the full adoption of the Palestinian civil society BDS call.
BNC Secretariat Occupied Palestine