Unions take a stand for Gaza

Issue 

The news, on February 3, that South African dock workers in Durban had decided not to unload an Israeli ship due in on February 8 was welcomed by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), a section of which wants the union to join the international campaign of sanctions against apartheid Israel.

But unions in Australia are divided about what position to take on Israel's aggression.

In January, at the height of the hot war on Gaza, the Australian Council of Trade Unions's (ACTU) Alison Tate called for "everyone involved in the conflict" to work towards "peace". "Our government and all others must pressure Israel and Hamas to make sure this is the end of the war", she said on January 18.

ACTU assistant secretary and Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes rejects the idea that unions should get involved in an international boycott and divestment campaign.

"We don't believe a union campaign to boycott Israel helps advance the peace process", he said, according to the February 5 Age.

But many other union leaders disagree.

Sydney branch MUA officials added their names to a statement, printed in the Sydney Morning Herald in January, which condemned Israel's wanton killing of civilians.

"Some commentators have blamed Hamas for its rockets, ignoring the siege that for 1.5 million of the Gaza Strip have lived under since it chose Hamas in a fair and free election as its government. Gaza has become a starving prison", the statement read in part.

Signatories included John Pilger, Professor Stuart Rees, Tom Keneally, Judy Davis, Bishop Pat Power, Bruce Petty, Greens MLC Silvia Hale and a number of union officials including Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos, state secretary of the NSW Construction, Forestry, Mining Energy Union Andrew Ferguson, and secretary of the NSW Fire Brigades Employee's Union Simon Flynn.

Other union leaders signed on to a call, issued in early January, for PM Kevin Rudd to condemn Israel's aggression and to "suspend all economic, diplomatic, cultural and political ties with the Israeli state until this aggression and the Israeli siege of Gaza ends". (A list of the initial signatories can be found at the Socialist Alliance site.)

According to the website of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, more unions are joining the growing global campaign against Israel, which aims to replicate the successful campaign against apartheid South Africa.

The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), which agreed to ban shipments of Chinese weapons to Zimbabwe
last year, is just the latest union to take a stand for peace and justice.

Six of the largest trade unions in Norway have also signed on to the BDS campaign.

SATAWU's decision is a reminder of the first such action during the apartheid era when Danish dock workers in 1963 decided not to offload ships carrying South African products, the BDS website says.

This action triggered a similar boycott in Sweden, England and elsewhere.

COSATU, of which SATAWU is an affiliate, has called on other workers and unions across the globe to follow suit and to do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free.

This is the challenge currently facing Australian unions.

[For move information on the BDS campaign, visit http://bdsmovement.net.]

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