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Building trade union solidarity with Palestine

By Adam Hanieh

``International solidarity is fundamental to a progressive and fighting labour movement. It is not an optional part of labour activism or a form of charity. International solidarity goes to the heart of what it means to be a labour activist. It means seeing the struggle of our sisters and brothers in other countries as our own struggle. Their victories as our victories'' -- Canadian Union of Public Employees International Solidarity Committee: What We Stand For.

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May 20, 2008 -- In July 2005, more than 170 Palestinian organisations urged the world to adopt a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in the manner of [the campaign against] South Africa's apartheid regime. This call was signed by all the main Palestinian trade union federations, as well as refugee, women's and student organisations from across Palestine and the Arab world. It represented the broadest political statement in Palestinian history, precipitating a powerful global solidarity campaign that has grown dramatically over the last few years.

Since the 2005 call from Palestine, the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid has made significant advances within the Canadian labour movement. The first major turning point in this regard was the passing of Resolution 50 by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE Ontario) in May 2006. Resolution 50 was the first BDS resolution against Israeli apartheid in Canadian labour movement history. It inspired activists across the world, including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which wrote to CUPE Ontario immediately after the resolution stating: ``Your unwavering resolve inspires us, we who lived through decades of apartheid oppression, as it will undoubtedly inspire and endear you to millions of Palestinian and other freedom loving people throughout the world.''

Despite a vicious backlash launched by pro-Israel groups outside of the union, activists in CUPE Ontario responded to the challenge. An education campaign was launched within union locals [branches] and committees that has been widely praised as the most effective grassroots campaign in the union's history. Literally thousands of rank and file CUPE members received material on Resolution 50 or participated in workshops on Palestine. The work has revitalised CUPE Ontario's international solidarity work, building a large, open and active member-led committee that is beginning to take up other international solidarity issues with similar energy. The campaign around Resolution 50 has demonstrated the main strategic significance of union resolutions, as a tool to educate and mobilise rank and file members, and build an appreciation of international solidarity as an integral component of a fighting labour movement. Resolutions mean nothing if they are not linked to rank and file organising.

In April 2008 the BDS movement in Canada received another historic boost. The national convention of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) passed a resolution modeled on CUPE Ontario's Resolution 50. The CUPW resolution committed the union to conducting an education campaign similar to CUPE Ontario and expressed support for the 2005 BDS call from Palestine. The CUPW resolution was doubly significant: not only did it represent the first time a national union in Canada had passed a BDS resolution, but CUPW had also been the first Canadian union to pass a boycott resolution against South African apartheid.

The CUPW and CUPE Ontario resolutions indicate that solidarity with Palestinian workers, and the recognition that Israel must be isolated in the manner of South African apartheid, is becoming an established principle of a progressive, principled trade union politics. If we are to wage an effective fight against neoliberal policies such as privatisation, lay-offs and union busting in Canada, then we must also stand with workers struggling against oppression internationally. The CUPE Ontario International Solidarity Committee puts it this way: ``International solidarity is fundamental to a progressive and fighting labour movement. It is not an optional part of labour activism or a form of charity. International solidarity goes to the heart of what it means to be a labour activist. It means seeing the struggle of our sisters and brothers in other countries as our own struggle. Their victories as our victories'' -- CUPE International Solidarity Committee: What We Stand For.

Challenges and next steps

Despite these significant victories, major challenges remain. There is a general unevenness of solidarity work across unions, cities and regions across North America. In some areas, a handful of disconnected activists can feel as though they are confronting a powerful and organised opposition that makes it difficult to raise the question of Palestine in an effective manner.

Within the context of an accelerating neoliberal offensive against organised labour, the fight for international solidarity must be situated within a renewal of general labour politics. Over the last two decades there has been a generalised drop in consciousness around international solidarity issues. We need to be able to explain why international solidarity –- too often seen as a form of charity or expensive junkets for overseas conferences -– actually matters to the lives of workers.

We also face the across-the-board challenge of declining union membership and weakened capacities to fight back. In many cases, the various fights to defend working conditions, extend the rights of non-status immigrants and their families, or resist the neo-liberal devastation of urban environments and infrastructure, are led by organisations and campaigns with only tenuous links to trade unions. Part of building a successful solidarity movement with Palestine is the ability to link with and support these movements, and find ways to bring these concerns into our international solidarity framework. This process is also critical to rebuilding an effective union movement.

Brick by brick: Building labour solidarity with Palestine

These are the types of questions that labour movement activists will discuss at the upcoming conference, ``Brick by Brick: Building Labour Solidarity with Palestine'', to be held in Toronto from May 30–June 1, 2008, following the Canadian Labour Congress convention, also being held in Toronto. The conference promises to be an exciting event with strong international participation. Two representatives from the executive of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), Manawell Abdul-al and Amne Rimawi, have confirmed their attendance. In addition to these two guests, Paul Loulou Chery, secretary of the Confederation of Haitian Workers, will be speaking at a public forum to launch the conference on May 30. Salim Vally, a prominent former trade unionist, educator and activist in the Congress of South African Trade Unions, will also be speaking.

Conference registrants include a wide range of union leaders and labour movement activists from Toronto, Quebec, Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Unions represented include the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Autoworkers, the Fédération Nationale des Enseignantes et Enseignants du Québec, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Communication Workers Union, United Teachers Los Angeles and others.

This conference is aimed at labour movement activists committed to finding ways of doing Palestine solidarity work in their unions and workplaces. It will be a venue to share experiences, resources and strategies. There is much to learn from each other in how to move forward resolutions around Palestine, conduct educational work in unions and workplaces, deal with organised, pro-Israel backlash, and find ways to win spaces in our unions. The conference is organised around a series of workshops that will be repeated to maximise participation. In addition, four plenary sessions will help to shape a common view of our strategies in the next period.

Adam Hanieh is a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and an activist with Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA).

 

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Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) Congratulates Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) on Historic Boycott Resolution!

http://www.caiaweb.org/node/628

CAIA extends its warm congratulations to the delegates of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers national convention held in Ottawa, Canada, April 13-17, 2008. At the convention, CUPW passed an historic resolution, Resolution 338/339, in support of the global campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli Apartheid.

This resolution is an extremely significant landmark for the Palestinian solidarity movement in Canada. It represents the first time in North American history that a national union has passed a BDS resolution. The resolution recognizes Israel as an apartheid state and expresses CUPW's support for boycott and divestment from Israel. It was passed almost unanimously after nearly one hour of discussion on the convention floor.

CUPW represents more than 50,000 postal workers across Canada and has been at the forefront of campaigns against privatization and deregulation at Canada Post. The union has a proud history of international solidarity. During the South African apartheid years, CUPW was at the forefront of labour solidarity with South African workers and engaged in concrete actions such as the refusal to handle mail from South Africa.

The CUPW resolution was modeled on Resolution 50 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario), which was passed in May 2006 and re-affirmed in 2007. The resolution commits CUPW to ``support the international campaign of BDS until Israel meets its obligations to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands as stipulated in UN Resolution 194''.

The resolution states that CUPW will work ``with Palestinian solidarity and human rights organizations to develop an educational campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the political and economic support of Canada for these practices''. The resolution also calls on the Canadian government to increase humanitarian aid to Palestinians who have been affected by the conflict, and commits CUPW to research on Canadian involvement in the occupation.

CAIA congratulates CUPW on this vital show of support for Palestinian workers and their families. At a time when the Palestinian people are suffering under brutal siege and daily bombardment this resolution is an important show of solidarity. Today alone, 22 Palestinian civilians, including 5 children, were killed by Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip. The explicit recognition by yet another Canadian union that Israel is an apartheid state, deserving of international isolation and boycott in the manner of South African Apartheid, is an inspiration for the North American and international labour movements. It is one further confirmation that the Israeli apartheid regime has deservedly become a pariah for progressive movements across the globe.

We call on supporters across the world to take the following action in support of CUPW:

1. Immediately email and fax the CUPW National office congratulating them on their stand against Israeli apartheid... Please fax your letter of support to CUPW National Office at (613) 563-7861 or email endapartheid@riseup.net and we will pass them on to the CUPW national officeholders.

2. If you are a member of a union then get involved! Please contact the CAIA Labour Committee, Labour for Palestine, at labour@caiaweb.org for ideas and ways to get involved in Palestinian solidarity work within your workplace and union.

3. Visit your local post office and thank the workers for this resolution! Let them know that you appreciate this show of solidarity with Palestine.

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