Canberra unions debate Palestine

May 15, 2002


CANBERRA — The May Day meeting of the ACT Trades and Labour Council/Unions ACT (ACT TLC) debated motions on Palestine, in the presence of Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) national secretary Sharan Burrow.

ACT TLC secretary Jeremy Pyner put a motion to endorse the ACTU International Committee's resolution on "Middle East violence". The resolution calls on "both Israelis and Palestinians to commit to an immediate withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from Palestinian territory and do everything possible to prevent further suicide bombers". It also calls on "all parties involved" to accept the peace proposals of the main UN resolutions, the Oslo accord, the Mitchell recommendations and the Saudi peace plan.

An attempt by National Tertiary Education Union delegate Rick Kuhn, a member of the Canberra Committee for Peace in the Middle East and Palestinian Rights, to amend the TLC secretary's motion was stopped by a point of order. The meeting chair ruled that the ACTU motion should be voted on unamended, because it was moved by the TLC Secretary, and only if it was defeated could a different version be debated.

The ACTU motion's biggest fault, Kuhn pointed out, was that it did not identify Israel as an oppressor and the Palestinians as ppressed. He asked the meeting if it would have been reasonable to call upon both the Indonesian military and the East Timorese resistance movement to stop their violence during the fight for East Timor's independence.

Kuhn argued that the suicide bombings could most easily be stopped by the total withdrawal of the Israeli military from the Occupied Territories. He also explained the racist nature of the Israeli state — its confiscation of Palestinian land, its refusal to let Palestinian refugees return while holding an "open-border" policy for Jewish people world-wide and its reliance on Zionist arguments that Israel is only for Jewish people.

Ridiculing the inadequacy of the peace plans to date, Kuhn pointed out that the UN often supports US interests.

However, the meeting voted overwhelmingly to endorse the ACTU resolution. All those delegates voting against were members of socialist organisations.

Pyner also put a motion for a 72-hour "community vigil" outside the Israeli embassy, which was passed. Although the ACT TLC has often put bans on the entry of goods and services to embassies as a gesture of international solidarity, a suggestion to put one on the Israeli embassy was dismissed because the local branch of the Transport Workers Union did not agree.

Following the ACTU motion, NTEU member Pat Brewer put a motion to endorse a joint statement of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia to the meeting. The statement called on the Australian government to impose sanctions against Israel until it withdraws from the Occupied Territories. This was passed.

Brewer also put a motion to endorse the sentiments expressed by the Union Aid Abroad media release of April 24, which "deplored" the Israeli blocking of medical and general aid to Jenin, and called for a withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as for a UN peacekeeping force to go into the Occupied Territories. This was also passed.

After the meeting, Burrow told unionists that she had agreed with Kuhn's arguments, and that she welcomed the ACT TLC resolution for a vigil at the Israeli embassy. She related how she and Pyner had visited the Israeli ambassador in late April to press, unsuccessfully, for an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and Israeli acceptance of an international peace-keeping force.

From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002.
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