Tim Gooden: The ACTU can and must do more for Palestine

May 15, 2024
Tim Gooden at a pro-Palestine rally in Naarm/Melbourne last November. Photo: Mit Gooden/Facebook

The trade union movement needs to take a much stronger stand to pressure the Australian government to take a stand to defend Palestinians from Israel’s genocide.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)’s stronger statement, on April 22, commits affiliated unions to oppose supplying weapons, or parts, to Israel “could or would be used to violate humanitarian law”.

There is an added urgency in the statement. It calls on Labor to:

• Take immediate steps to secure peace by using all influence, pressure and diplomatic measures to achieve a permanent ceasefire;

• Impose “targeted sanctions on Israeli officials who have called for the denial of aid”, and military and civil servants denying essential food and materials to civilians of Gaza; and

• Commit $100 million more in humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the West Bank.

However, for many workers, this is not enough.

Many want the ACTU to do a lot more to pressure Labor, as difficult as that would be for some.

Can you imagine where the union support for Palestine and to end the genocidal war would be today if the ACTU leadership had spent the last six months educating workers, writing articles for union journals, visiting workplaces and putting up Palestinian flags on work sites?

If they had done that, they would be in a position to exert serious pressure, including calling a national day of action, taking strike actions and organising huge mobilisations of unions to the weekly or fortnightly protest marches for Palestine.

If they had spent the last six months doing the education work, the union movement would be a lot more better organised today and we could proudly stand up to say we’re defending other workers — in Palestine and Israel.

But the union movement is lacking this kind of leadership.

Workers will mobilise around important social issues, such as a war, but such a campaign (like campaigns around economic issues) have to be led — that is the rank-and-file have to be convinced it’s important.

As we know, the biased and destructive news from the Herald Sun and Sky News does nothing to help build solidarity with the oppressed people of Palestine.

When it comes to the arms trade, all unions should be saying: “No, we won’t be involved in this.”

It does not matter whether the union covers university or manufacturing workers: they all need to decide not to support genocide.

They also need to support the boycott and divestment calls where they can. If that exposes the union to the laws prohibiting secondary boycotts in the workplace, the ACTU needs to help ensure the union is not prosecuted.

The whole union movement needs to get involved in stopping the arms trade to Israel. Profit-making from weapons, and parts used in weapons, in the genocide in Gaza is a critical issue of international working-class solidarity.

Given how big and sustained the pro-Palestine movement is today — without institutional support — if the ACTU cannot lead a campaign to stop sending weapons to Israel to continue the genocide in Gaza, you have to ask what would it be prepared to lead on?

More than 40,000 Palestinians have been killed in just over seven months, and many more are missing. The war in the Gaza Strip is about to get even worse.

Now is the time to take action. We can’t leave it to individual unions to go it alone. Acting together, as we all know, means that the state will find it harder to come down on them.

The ACTU has to break ties with Labor’s “Israel has a right to defend itself” policy and stand up for humanity and workers.

Only then will the ACTU be standing up for its policy of supporting “an end to the occupation of Palestine and a just and sustainable peace in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions”.

[Tim Gooden is a retired shop steward in the Construction, Forestry, Mining in and Energy Union. He is also a retired secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council and is a member of Socialist Alliance.]

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