Unionists speak up for Palestine

A group of labor movement activists call for support for the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

(Vanissa Chan) (Vanissa Chan)

"For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."
--Martin Luther King Jr., "Beyond Vietnam," April 4, 1967

WE SALUTE the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union in Durban and Western Australian dock worker members of the Maritime Union of Australia for refusing to handle Israeli shipping.

Theirs is a courageous response to Israel's attack on Palestinians in Gaza that, since December 27 alone, has left some 1,400 dead and 5,000 wounded--nearly all of them civilians.

This action is in the best tradition of dock workers in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay Area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused to handle shipping for apartheid South Africa; Oakland dock workers' refusal to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and West Coast dock workers' strike against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008).

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) rightly "calls on other workers and unions to follow suit and to do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free."

COSATU's appeal is particularly relevant for workers in the United States, whose government stands behind Israel's war against the Palestinians, and without which Israeli apartheid cannot continue. In the past 10 years alone, U.S. military aid to Israel was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be $30 billion. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is U.S. aircraft, white phosphorous and bullets that kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties condone the slaughter in Gaza.

Such support bolsters Israel's longstanding role as watchdog and junior partner for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle East--and beyond. In that capacity, Israel was apartheid South Africa's closest ally.

As with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, workers in the United States pay a staggering human and financial price, including deepening economic crisis, for U.S.-Israeli war and occupation. Yet in contrast to trade union bodies in South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Britain, Canada and elsewhere, most of labor officialdom in this country--often without the knowledge or consent of union members--is a main accomplice of Israeli apartheid.

For more than 60 years, it has closely collaborated with the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation that has spearheaded--and whitewashed--apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since the 1920s. U.S. labor leaders have plowed at least $5 billion of our union pension funds and retirement plans into State of Israel Bonds.

In April 2002, while Israel butchered Palestinian refugees at Jenin in the West Bank, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was a featured speaker at a belligerent "National Solidarity Rally for Israel."

In July 2007, the Jewish Labor Committee, a Histadrut mouthpiece, enlisted top officials of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to condemn British union support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.

Now, by their silence, these same leaders are complicit in Israel's massacre in Gaza.

These policies echo infamous "AFL-CIA" support for U.S. war and dictatorship in Vietnam, Latin America, Gulf War I, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It strengthens the U.S.-Israel war machine and labor's corporate enemies, reinforces racism and Islamophobia, and makes a mockery of international solidarity.

For all these reasons, we join COSATU in supporting the growing international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which demands Palestinian self-determination, including an end to Israeli military occupation, the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and elimination of apartheid throughout historic Palestine.

Join us in publicizing the example of South African and Australian dock workers, and working toward the same kind of labor solidarity here at home. Join us in demanding immediate and total:

1. End to U.S. aid for Israel.

2. Divestment of business and labor investments in Israel.

3. Labor boycott of Israel.

4. Withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from the Middle East.

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Initial Signers (list in formation):

Larry Adams, co-convener, New York City Labor Against the War; former president, NPMHU Local 300

Anthony Arnove, National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981*

Black Workers for Justice (North Carolina)

Marty Goodman, former executive board member, TWU Local 100

Monadel Herzallah, president, Arab American Union Members Council, California

Michael Letwin, co-convener, New York City Labor Against the War; former president, UAW Local 2325/Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys

Brenda Stokely, co-convener, New York City Labor Against the War; former president, AFSCME DC 1707; co-chair, Million Worker March

Clarence Thomas, national co-chair, Million Worker March Movement; executive board member, ILWU Local 10*

Sam Weinstein, former president, UWUA Local 132

Steve Zeltzer, producer, Labor Video Project

(*Affiliation for identification only--no organizational endorsement implied)