Indian unions condemn Modi’s plan to send workers to Israel

November 19, 2023
check point Palestine
Beit Iba checkpoint in Palestine. Photo: Kashfi Halford/Flickr (CC By NC 2.0 DEED)

The Indian government’s plan to send Indians to replace Palestinian workers in Israel would make the country “complicit” in Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza, said India’s trade unions.

A statement released on November 9, by 10 of India’s largest trade union confederations — representing about 100 million workers — said Israel is “shamelessly escalating its genocidal attack on Palestinians”. It called for an immediate ceasefire and condemned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “unethical and duplicitous stand on this issue”.

Modi was quick to condemn Hamas’ October 7 attack, posting on X: “We stand in solidarity with Israel at this difficult hour.”

At the Voice of Global South Summit on November 17, he called for a “restrained response” and condemned “the death of civilians in the Israel-Hamas conflict”. But India abstained from the United Nations resolution for a ceasefire on October 27.

The trade union statement condemned an agreement struck in May between Modi and Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen to send 42,000 Indians to Israel to replace Palestinian workers. “Now, the Indian government is planning to export around 90,000 construction workers to Israel as demanded by them.

“The Indian government is playing a despicable role in supporting the Israeli plans to throw out Palestinian workers.”

According to People’s Dispatch, Israel revoked thousands of Palestinian work permits after the October 7 attacks and subsequently abducted and detained 4000 workers from Gaza. Others were forced to walk on foot to Gaza or the West Bank, with at least one person dying on the journey.

The statement pointed out the disastrous impact of Israel’s occupation of Palestine on Palestinian workers. “The settler-colonial occupation of Palestine has decimated its economy, causing high levels of poverty and unemployment and has resulted in Palestinians being dependent on Israel for employment.”

It pointed out that, on average, 130,000 Palestinians were employed in Israel, making up 65–70% of Israel’s workforce.

“Nothing could be more immoral and disastrous for India than the said ‘export’ of workers to Israel,” the statement said. “That India is even considering ‘exporting’ workers shows the manner in which it has dehumanised and commodified Indian workers.

“Such a step will amount to complicity on India’s part with Israel’s ongoing genocidal war against Palestinians.

“India’s trade union movement must rise in solidarity with Palestinian workers and reject this disastrous idea … Indian workers should boycott Israeli products … [and] refuse to handle Israeli cargo.”

The statement was signed by the Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All India United Trade Union Centre, Trade Union Coordination Centre, Self Employed Women’s Association, All India Central Council of Trade Unions, Labour Progressive Federation and United Trade Union Congress.

“We demand that the agreement with Israel to export Indian workers be scrapped immediately.

“We demand an immediate halt to Israeli aggression against Palestine; end its occupation; we demand the Palestinian right to a sovereign homeland be upheld.”

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