Public servants ‘won’t be silenced’ for opposing genocide in Palestine

July 9, 2024
public sector workers wont be silenced
Public sector workers won't be silenced over Israel’s genocide. Photo: Peter Boyle

Despite enormous pressure and threats of losing their jobs, public servants continue to organise to demand Labor takes a stand against Israel’s genocide in Palestine.

Their “crime” was signing an open letter that called on federal Labor “to take swift and decisive action to end its support of the genocide, ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation of Palestine by immediately ceasing all military exports to Israel”.

Some have been told they are violating their terms of employment, including that public servants stay “neutral”.

But, as one public servant, Janet, told Green Left, as public sector workers are supposed to serve the public, how can they be “neutral” when the government is “abetting” a genocide?

“Public servants are told we are not allowed to take a political stand or espouse a political view.

“We have ‘codes of ethics’ governing what we can and can’t do.

“But I have no fear of the consequences in speaking out for Palestine. There is nothing ethical in genocide.” 

Public servant Marx told GL that most laws and codes of conduct primarily “protect the interests of the ruling class”.

The government also wants the population to feel that “we can’t do anything to change the status quo”, he said. “If I have the capability to influence politics, however small, I would exercise that right.”

Another public servant, Steve, pointed to authorities’ double standards on the issue of neutrality.

“New South Wales Labor is able to light up the Sydney Opera House with the Israeli flag.

“The federal government did nothing when a Zionist lobby group told the ABC to sack Antoinette Lattouf. They ignore the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court’s condemnations of Israel. Is this political neutrality?”

The Public servants condemn Australian Government complicity in Palestinian genocide letter, signed by about 2400 so far, calls on Labor to take practical steps to give clout to its conditional ceasefire call.

They include: immediately stopping all military exports to Israel (as the United Nations has requested); Stop Pine Gap from providing reconnaissance to Israel; and disclose information relating to Australian companies’ military exports licenses to Israel.

The letter ends with this: “As public servants, we present these demands as our duty to the public.”

Marx said “Australia should cut diplomatic ties with Israel and recall the ambassador until a permanent ceasefire is in effect. We could learn a thing or two from Bolivia, Chile and Colombia.

“At the bare minimum, Labor should stop all arms exports and rescind military contracts with Israel.”

According to Janet, Israel’s war on Palestine is “shaping politics and the future for all of us. The Israeli state has been granted such impunity … from many Western governments, including our own.

“The message is that international law means nothing, that economic, military and geo-political ties take precedence over human rights, freedoms and compassion.”

Asked about the sort of workplace discussions about this war, Marx said most of the people in his workplace are “apathetic, afraid or too ‘culturally trained’ not to upset the people in high places”.

Janet said her union, the Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association, had been “achingly slow and ineffectual” in taking a strong stand.

“Ultimately, it has taken safe passage — coming in behind each statement made by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.”

She said the whole union movement “should be on the streets” demanding Australia stops arming Israel and providing refuge to Palestinians seeking safety.

“This government was quick off the mark in providing refuge to Ukrainians: why are Palestinian lives worth so much less?”

Steve, who took action against Indonesia’s genocidal war in East Timor after the independence referendum, said Australia “could provide safe haven to refugee families from Gaza; it could join South Africa’s case in the International Court of Justice”.

He said many public servants “are under the pump” due to understaffing and excessive workload and that this limits conversations at work.

Nevertheless, he is finding that more workers are becoming more open to talking about the war.

“In Muloobinba/Newcastle, solidarity actions with Palestine are amazingly diverse and youthful.

“The movement supports those public servants who have signed the letter, and this has inspired others to sign on and even join their union.

Marx said public servants would continue to support each other. He said activists are encouraging those who receive backlash to report it and not to accept the union’s inaction.

Steve said that most public sector unions, with some notable exceptions, are “still led by and reflect the interests of older men closely linked to Labor”.

“While they give lip service to social justice and peace, this doesn’t extend to real solidarity — especially the kind that might upset their political masters.

“Signatories in some unions feel they have been hung out to dry.”

Janet said every sector of society has to take a stand to demand a free Palestine.

“All public servants have a responsibility to call out a government that aids and abets a genocide.

“Those who don’t will be judged by history,” she said, adding “We will not be silenced”.

[Public servants can sign the open letter here.] 

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