Saturday 2 August 2014

Solidarity with Gaza - we need more than motions

My report on UNITE's 2014 Policy Conference included details of the union's strengthened policy on Palestine, supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

One of the dangers with union conferences is that worthy motions can be passed, but little done to turn them into action.  The horrific slaughter unfolding in Gaza lays down a challenge to UNITE's leadership and to every activist and member - what are we going to do to make our policy count?

The response around the world has been inspiring.  I've been to a few of the demonstrations locally, and the national demonstration in London on 19th July.  Even local demonstrations have been attracting thousands, like this in Salford organised at very short notice on 12th July:

There is another national demonstration in London on Saturday 9th August.  Will UNITE regions fund and publicise transport?  Will branches mobilise members and chip in too?  The groups organising most of the demonstrations, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Stop the War Coalition, operate on a shoe-string and need help to get the message out and to fund leaflets, posters, coaches etc.

Can we take the campaign into workplaces too?  This won't always be easy.  If you work for one of the companies involved heavily in the occupation, such as HP or G4S, there's always a pressure to keep quiet.  But the unions have a proud record of taking up such issues and making a difference.  Many UNITE activists will know the story of Sergio Requena-Rueda, who used to be the convenor at Marconi and later Ericsson in Coventry.  Imprisoned in one of Pinochet's concentration camps in Chile, Sergio heard on a guard's radio about the solidarity of union members at Rolls Royce East Kilbride who refused to service jets for Pinochet's airforce.  Sergio tells how the news from half way round the world gave people in the camp hope - and saved lives.

Most of us may not have the organisation or confidence to be able to give such dramatic solidarity, but we should raise the issue and ask about policies on trade with Israel, use of Israeli goods etc.  And we should all be demanding the UK government stops helping arm Israel.  When the anti-apartheid movement was in full swing, unions involved members in campaigning to get South African fruit removed from workplace canteens.  Fewer workplaces have canteens now, but some do, while others have nearby shops where the same argument can be had.  Some members are doing collections for Medical Aid for Palestinians in their workplaces - both to raise money and to get people discussing the issues.

We can help by giving solidarity to other struggles in the Middle East too.  It's no coincidence that when the Egyptian revolution was at its height, the border to Gaza was opened.  Now the military are back in control and workers are facing massive repression, they even stopped an aid convoy passing from Egypt into Gaza.  The bloodshed in Palestine isn't a local issue - it is one symptom of the jigsaw of brutal regimes backed at different times by the big powers seeking to control the region in their own interests.

If unions are to show their relevance to a younger generation shaped by protests against racism, war and global inequality, we need to up our game.

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