COSATU: Actions against Israel's barbarism and in support of Palestinian resistance an unprecedented success

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is humbled by the inspirational messages from all over the world for our boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign against Israel.

By Bongani Masuku, COSATU international relations officer

February 12, 2009 -- The South African week of action against Israeli barbarism and in support of Palestinian heroism and resistance has been an unprecedented success. COSATU, its affiliates, particularly the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) and the rest of Palestinian solidarity movement in South Africa are humbled by the large number of letters of support we have received from trade unions, solidarity groups, workers, activists and people of conscience from all over the world for our stance in solidarity with the people of Palestine. In particular, letters congratulated SATAWU dock workers in Durban for their determined refusal to off-load goods from Israel carried on the Johanna Russ.

Messages of support included those from the Palestinian Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee, dock workers in Liverpool, trade unions in Australia and Canada, and solidarity organisations from around the world.

We note, in contrast, the vicious, racist and extremely offensive campaign waged against COSATU by the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein in several of their fora and publications. We believe that this reflects the fact that our campaign to support the struggle for freedom of the Palestinian people and for the isolation of apartheid Israel is having the desired impact of putting pressure on Israel and its apologists in South Africa.

We treat with particular contempt the comment, as reported in the media, by Goldstein that COSATU is racist and that our actions are immoral. What is immoral is the insistence by Goldstein, the SAZF and the SAJBD that they will support Israel’s murderous actions in Gaza, including the massacres of civilians, the bombing of schools, places of worship, ambulances, hospitals and UN refugee centres. The real racism is manner in which Israel treats the Palestinian people – both in the Occupied Territory as well as its own citizens – as sub-human beings. The members of COSATU know what racism is; we lived with it and fought against it for decades while the SAZF and SAJBD supported the apartheid state in South Africa, just as they uncritically support apartheid in Israel.

We will not be cowed by the attempted intimidation of Zionists in South Africa, as evidenced on Friday when they attempted to provoke protesters in Raedene, Johannesburg – one of them even hurling projectiles at us. We pledge to stand our ground in demanding justice and peace for our brothers and sisters in Palestine, as we do for oppressed and suffering people everywhere in the world. Already, other COSATU affiliates are seriously discussing their own strategies to act on the BDS campaign. We expect that, over the next few months, more affiliates will outline their programs of action in support of the call ‘FREE PALESTINE! ISOLATE APARTHEID ISRAEL!’

COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi addressing a rally in Cape Town on Sunday, said: “COSATU calls on workers in the rest of the world to follow the lead of our members in SATAWU who have vowed not to unload any Israeli goods, and our members who are planning a campaign not to handle any Israeli goods in supermarkets, and other stores”.

He added: “Workers of the world united to isolate the apartheid South African state in 1970s and 1980s. Workers need to stretch our hands across the seas and our continents to join together, now, to isolate the Apartheid Israeli state and to Free Palestine.”

We also note that Histadrut (Israel's trade union federation) supports unequivocally the acts of brutality against the people of Palestine, whilst also seeking to reverse the advances of the global BDS campaign. This is not only unfortunate, but also a serious challenge to the unity of the international trade union movement in struggle for justice.

We note that very heart-warming and humbling messages have been written by many friends of justice all over the world. We will quote from a few below to illustrate the growing voices of justice that refuse to be intimidated by Zionist threats and double standards by the powerful.

Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)

Please accept our deep gratification and appreciation for all efforts you exerted to secure solidarity to our people against Israel's violations and crimes. Please convey our thanks and appreciation to our comrades in COSATU for their courageous steps and stunning efforts to support Palestinian people and to condemn Israeli aggression on Gaza and West Bank. The activities and the actions that have been exerted show your historical tradition to face the apartheid either in south Africa or in Palestine . We learn from your experience the belief of facing the crimes of the occupation.

BDS National Committee (BNC) in Palestine

[We] warmly salute the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), a member of COSATU, for its decision today not to offload an Israeli ship that is due to arrive in Durban... Coming weeks after the massive Israeli massacre in Gaza, this distinguished expression by SATAWU of effective solidarity with the Palestinian people in general, and with Gaza in particular, sets a historic precedent that reminds us of the first such action during the apartheid era taken by Danish dock workers in 1963, when they decided not to offload ships carrying South African products, triggering a similar boycott in Sweden, England and elsewhere.

Northern Branch of the Independent Workers Union, Ireland

The Northern Branch of the Independent Workers Union, Ireland sends its greetings and solidarity to the inspiring actions of South African dock workers and this stance by COSATU and tireless work of Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The protests that erupted round the world in response to Israel's onslaught in Gaza showed the anger of ordinary people at the persistent injustice faced by Palestinians. It is clear that this must be transformed into more concrete actions to change the conditions for Palestinians and the way power is abused by the wealthy in today's world. The actions by the dockers in South Africa, again, show the spirit of resistance that other trade unions would do well to follow and we salute the courage and direction marked out by your example.

The Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid – Southern California

The Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid-Southern California ( wishes to voice its enthusiastic support of the members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) in Durban for taking the lead in the struggle to defeat apartheid in the State of Israel by being the first group of workers to refuse to offload a ship coming from Israel and carrying Israeli goods.

These brave workers lived under, and struggled against, apartheid in South Africa. As such, they know firsthand the brutalities and dehumanisation of the apartheid system. They also know how important international solidarity was in the struggle to defeat apartheid in South Africa.

Freedom Socialist Party sections in both Australia and the United States

I’m writing... to congratulate COSATU on the stance that you have taken to support the just struggles of the Palestinian people through building a mass movement to boycott Israeli goods and demand divestment and sanctions.

South African workers, more than workers anywhere else in the world, will clearly understand and appreciate the power that an international mass movement that has the backing of organised labour can have. The leadership you are providing is inspirational and will boost efforts of unionists around the globe and help galvanise the power of organised workers everywhere to support our Palestinian sisters and brothers.

International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 10, USA

Congratulations to COSATU, SATAWU, the dockers who stood firm on the night against all manoeuvres, and everyone involved in this magnificent and historic action. I know there are other dockworkers around the world who are watching very closely, and who may be inspired to act themselves.

South African Municipal Workers Union

[We] salute your members for their wonderful act of solidarity by refusing to off-load the Johanna Russ with its cargo of Israeli goods. SATAWU has set the rest of the labour movement an inspiring example of what can be done.

LO Norway

We have appreciated COSATU’s clear and strong engagement in this issue, and your information sharing on this. LO-Norway will continue following the situation and continue our solidarity work with the Palestinian workers. LO condemns Israel’s bombing and ground invasion of Gaza. Killing civilians and abusing the population cannot be justified. Israel must immediately stop its acts of war.

Deb Reich, Israel

Dissidents in Israel! I want to thank you for what you do to help bring justice here. I have spent most of my adult life trying to help other Jews in Israel understand that there is a way out of the vast nightmare of injustices perpetrated here in the name of various noble ideals. The brainwashing is so thorough here that people become quite incapacitated -- unable to comprehend the simple idea that, while pluralism can embrace and make space for endless varieties of particularity, all of which can thrive in happy proximity -- the reverse is impossible: particularity and exclusivism cannot make space for a healthy pluralism. If you want a decent shared prosperity, you have to open up to it!

When a military giant refuses to get the message, international economic pressure such as you have brought to bear is evidently the only answer that makes sense. Let us hope the tide will turn soon and minimise the number of innocents who are forced to pay with their lives for the blindness, fear and prejudice of their neighbours.

Permit me to say thanks again for your courageous stand. Its importance is probably even greater than we realize; one day, looking back, all will see how significant your action has been.

BDS National Committee in Palestine

Refusing to fall prey to Zionist intimidation and bullying (which have very effectively, alas, muzzled mainstream condemnation of Israeli crimes in the west for many years), the COSATU-led BDS campaign in South Africa is truly setting new precedents with unique courage, vision and the best tradition of internationalism and solidarity.