British firefighters call for boycott of Israel

August 22, 2009

The British Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which represents 85% of firefighters and support staff in Britain, plans to move motions at the Trade Union Congress's (TUC) annual congress in September for the British trade union to work to increase Israel's international isolation.

The FBU's motions reflect growing support for the Palestinian struggle among unions internationally, resulting in Israel and its supporters in the labour movement becoming increasingly isolated.

The FBU has submitted a range of motions, including that the general council of the TUC pressure the British government to place trade sanctions on Israel, including ending arms sales; that the TUC developed an effective boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign; that the TUC review its ties with Israel's racist Histadrut union federation and seek to build solidarity with Palestinian General Confederation of Labour; and that the TUC affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

It reflects growing support among British unions for the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. This began with the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) voting to support the BDS campaign in March. This was followed by motions being passed in support of the BDS campaign at the congress of the University and College Union.

In addition, unions such as public sector union Unison, the National Union of Teachers, the Union of Shop Distribution and Allied Workers and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have recently passed softer motions supporting elements of the BDS campaign.

Significantly, the FBU's motions were put forward despite attempts by the Labour government to pressure unions to stop supporting the BDS campaign.

On June 23, foreign secretary David Miliband said "the government is dismayed that motions calling for boycotts of Israel are being discussed at trade union congresses and conferences this summer".

Miliband appointed Ivan Lewis, an outspoken supporter of Israel's December-January war on Gaza that killed more than 1300 Palestinian civilians, to dissuade unionists from supporting the BDS campaign.

Support in British unions for the boycott campaign has resulted from both revulsion at the Israel's war on Gaza as well as increasing investigation of the reality faced by Palestinians. STUC Assistant Secretary Mary Senior told on August 16: "It was very important we carefully considered the issue."

At the STUC's 2007 congress, a motion was passed calling on the leadership to "explore the merits of the calls" for a BDS campaign. The STUC organised a delegation that visited Palestine in February and March. This led to a report at the STUC congress recommending support for the BDS campaign.

Critics of the BDS campaign, many of them organised in the recently established pro-Israel Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP), have argued the BDS campaign breaks down the capacity to build links between Israeli and Palestinian workers that could end the conflict.

However, the basis on which such collaboration occurs is important.

The Israeli union federation Histadrut has a long history of supporting unjust policies against Palestinians. The report from the STUC delegation criticised the federation: "At no time did Histadrut acknowledge that the West Bank is occupied."

FBU President Mark Shaw outlined an alternative approach to building solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian workers to the August 16 Jerusalem Post: "In line with a resolution passed at our 2005 annual conference, we recognize '…that there are progressive elements within Israeli society, both within the working class and trade union movement, and political parties who strive for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian people and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state', he continued.

'We would seek to positively engage with such elements'."

[Chris Latham edits A copy of the Scottish Trade Union Congress Palestine delegation's report is available at]

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