At last weekend’s Labor Notes Conference in Dearborn, Michigan (April 22-4, 2010) (of which too many SNAFUS to mention combined with work disappointedly prevented me from attending) there was a panel discussing labor solidarity with Palestine; a controversial subject here in North America, as all Palestine discussion is. Not surprisingly, in much of the rest of the world, this discussion is well advanced. After all, the great majority of the world’s people and the world’s workers not only support Palestine, but identify with its suffering. Their solidarity is born of an empathy rooted in common experience and there exist deep connections between unions in Palestine and much of the rest of the world. But, when it comes to Israel/Palestine, what the rest of the world thinks doesn’t matter. It’s how the US perceives its interests that matter and for that reason building a solidarity movement within the United States is an essential task in the development of the Palestinian struggle.
Nowhere can that solidarity be more controversial, except perhaps in certain Universities, than in the labor movement. Not only is there a long-established opposition to having the labor movement take on political issues at all; additionally, Palestine is the Third Rail of US politics and given the unions subservience to the Democratic Party (traditionally more pro-Israel than the Republicans) any singing not from the hymn sheet is bound to provoke a backlash. Combine that with the association too many union members and leaders have between Palestine and the “War on Terror”, all in the context of good old-fashioned racism, and one gets a sense of why it is a brave activists determined to raise the issue. How that solidarity is manifested is still hotly debated. Boycott and divestment are those most talked about, and there is much to be said for that campaign.
Not talked about as much are things like sympathy strikes, hot cargoing or direct union aid (rather than through some specious NGO) and the struggle for demands politically in which workers themselves would directly engage. Not surprising, since none of things are talked about in any context (except at places like Labor Notes). When unions in this country had only five (five!?) major work stoppages in 2009 and have answered the greatest crisis the working class has faced in generations with nothing but an exhausted sigh then we would be wise to not expect much in defense of our Palestinian brothers and sisters. These union “leaders” are incapable of defending their own members; defend Palestinian workers? Not likely.
With a few notable exceptions, any movement towards union solidarity with Palestine is coming from the ranks, just as (with rare exception) any movement or energy against the assault on working people has also come from the rank and file. Hmmm, perhaps we should generalize from that… and organize to replace the bureaucrats with representatives of the rank and file who will defend their class’s interests. It does seem a logical conclusion, but we’ll leave that for another post.
Building solidarity among North American workers with Palestinian workers in their struggle for their national and class liberation is not only correct from the standpoint of justice and of principle, but it can also help to change to focus of the struggle, both in the US and in Israel/Palestine, from the simplistic notions of “two tribes locked in an age-old religious conflict” to one that places that conflict firmly in the context of the struggle between the imperialist world and those oppressed by empire; between global capital and global labor, while not at all ignoring that particular to Palestine and to Jewish history. In the present context, even small steps in that direction seem like leaps.
Much could be done to support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination from here in the US, certainly much more than has been done, but I can’t think of a more needed and potentially powerful project than mobilizing labor in support of Palestine. The implications, not just for the struggle in Palestine but for the struggle of workers here at home, are enormous. Of course, we are very far from such a campaign, but any movement towards an independent working class “foreign policy” can’t help but promote independent policies domestically as well. Any move in that direction is to be encouraged; quite apart from the urgent necessity of developing solidarity now with the Palestinians. Here then are the presentations.
Hasan Newash of the Palestine Office-Michigan addresses the Labor for Palestine meeting in preparing for a planned conference call from a trade unionist in Gaza. Because of technical difficulties the conference call was not completed.
More videos (at least on Youtube) from the Labor Notes Conference can be found here.