Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ACTU: Missing in Action on Palestine

"[I]ndustrial workers and their trade unions have been the least active and militant components of the anti-imperialist movements. Many workers fear the loss of employment, faced by a mass of unemployed workers. Equally damaging, most of the trade union officials have consolidated control and become closely linked to tripartite pacts with the state and employers, and reject independent class action, let alone active anti-imperialist solidarity." (Empire With Imperialism: The Globalizing Dynamics of Neo-liberal Capitalism, James Petras & Henry Veltmeyer, 2005, p 113)

ACTU supremo Sharon Burrow met Dr Ron in 2006: "Two MPs from the Labor Party's left faction and the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) met with the director-general of the Peres Centre for Peace last week in a bid to build bridges. Tanya Plibersek and Maria Vamvakinou, both of whom have previously been critical of Israel, as well as ACTU chief Sharan Burrow, from the left flank of the union movement, met with the Peres Centre's Dr Ron Pundak during his 5-day visit to Australia to promote the opening of the Australian arm of the centre. Pundak told the AJN... he believed both Plibersek and Vamvakinou are 'pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian*, yet critical of many of the policies of the Israeli Government'." (Peres Centre woos ALP's left faction, The Australian Jewish News, 15/12/06) [*NB Palestinians, not Palestine.]

In 2008, however, despite Pundak's charms, Burrow could still - well, sort of - call a spade a spade in response to Israel's barbarous Operation Hot Winter in Gaza: "ACTU President Sharan Burrow is calling on the Australian government to take the urgent steps required to help parties to avoid further bloodshed and to request commitment from the Israeli Government to adhere to international laws and conventions in respect to military conduct." (The ACTU condemns military attacks against Palestinian & Israeli civilians, actu.asn.au, 5/3/08)

By 2009, however, in response to Israel's even more barbarous Operation Cast Lead (Gaza again), the "bloodshed" was gone, replaced by a "humanitarian crisis," and Australia, not Israel, was told to pull its finger out: "As the situation continues to escalate and the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip worsens, the ACTU calls on the Australian government working through the United Nations to increase pressure for an immediate ceasefire and an end to all violent hostilities." (Global action needed to effect immediate Gaza ceasefire & restart peace process, actu.asn.au, 7/1/09)

In 2008, international law and the UN was Burrow's reference point, including a recognition that Israeli occupation was simply not on: "'International humanitarian law prohibits targeting of civilan populations under all circumstances; in this conflict, this applies to both the Israeli military and those launching rockets from Gaza', said Ms Burrow. The ACTU supports the stance of the United Nations... The ACTU's policy is that "real progress be made to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, based on the co-existence of 2 sovereign states in line with United Nations' resolutions. Furthermore, the ACTU opposes the establishment of the 'separation wall' as a violation of Palestinian human rights'. The ACTU supports... UN policy that the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights should be ended." (ibid)

By 2009, however, the UN's only role was to clean up after Israel and "dialogue" was counselled. (Oh, yeah, and while we're watching the bloodbath in Gaza, let's put our hands together for... Israeli and Palestinian trade unions): "'The people suffering from Israel's military actions and Hamas' rockets are working people who live in Gaza and the Sderot region of Israel. The ACTU has long supported... a genuine internationally-backed negotiation process for a peaceful and sustainable resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Ms Burrow said the ACTU applauded the Palestinian and Israeli trade unions in their efforts for peace, for decent work, sustainable jobs and livelihoods, and for social and political rights for workers living in Israel and the Palestinian Territories... The people of Gaza who have been suffering so long without food, fuel, water and medicines, and without the opportunity to travel outside their enclave, must be able to receive essential humanitarian supplies from the United Nations and the international community', Ms Burrow said. She said a solution to bring about a lasting peace will only become possible if there is a willingness for dialogue and creating a ceasefire is the first step." (ibid)

In June 2009, while the ACTU Congress passed ringing resolutions on Western Sahara and Sri Lanka, to cite but two examples, Palestine had magically disappeared from the union agenda. But not, I hasten to add, from Burrow's thoughts, which were decidedly warm & fuzzy on the subject. In July, she once more advanced solidarity between Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists as the definitive answer to the Zionist project of wiping Palestine (and its people) off the map:

"Trade unionists must show they can create practical examples of solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians, the president of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow, told a labour movement meeting in Sydney this week. 'These practical working models would be a demonstration to all that a peaceful end to the strife between the two peoples can be achieved', Ms Burrow told a largely labour movement audience attending a Fringe Event at the Australian Labor Party national conference... The discussions [of practical solutions at the Fringe Event] highlighted the recent creation of a new global labour grouping Trade Unions Linking Israel & Palestine (TULIP) which seeks to promote solidarity with both the Israeli trade union movement, the Histadrut, and the Palestinian trade union movement, the PGFTU. Paul Howes, the national secretary of the AWU, is a founder of TULIP, a global anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) trade union group. Ms Burrow, who is also President of the International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC], related stories about her several visits to the region where she shared both feelings of fear and optimism, despite the horrors, with her Palestinian and Israeli trade union sisters and brothers. She praised the purpose of the Fringe Event to look at what the labour movement does best: 'build solidarity because we recognise that a worker is a worker is a worker, who deserved equal treatment in our eyes as they are all brothers and sisters... If we can build solidarity between unions, first and foremost in this region the PGFTU and the Histadrut - something we have been doing through the work most particularly of the International Transport Workers Federation [ITWF] - then I am sure that trade unions can make a difference." (Unions back Palestine/Israel peace, labor.net.au, 2/8/09)

Still, Burrow somehow manages to take time off from group-hugging her "Palestinian and Israeli trade union sisters and brothers" and popping up at anti-BDS (Israel) functions to head up pro-BDS (Burma) campaigns: "'No company could be proud of dealing with Burma... Major companies around the world are now withdrawing. Businesses who stay in there know they are helping the junta and therefore [abetting] the abuse of human and trade union rights...' Ms Burrow will join Burmese democracy activists in Sydney today for the beginning of a campaign to pressure Australian companies into withdrawing from Burma." (Jetstar denies link to Burma rights abuse, Deborah Snow, Sydney Morning Herald, 28/9/09)

Now let's contrast 'our' ACTU's complete absence of a resolution on Palestine (Burrow's warm and fuzzies notwithstanding) with Resolution 76 of Britain's Trade Union Congress (TUC): "Congress condemns the Government of Israel's January offensive in Gaza resulting in 1,450 Palestinian deaths and 5,000 injured and the massive destruction of infrastructure. Congress further condemns the ongoing blockade that is in contravention of International Law. Congress calls on the General Council to: i) use its influence with the British Government to make appropriate representations to the international community to secure support for a negotiated settlement based on justice for the Palestinians; ii) build solidarity with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. Congress condemns the Histadrut statement of 13 January 2009 in which it backed the attacks on Gaza and calls on the GC to pressure the Government to: a) condemn the Israeli military aggression and end the blockade on Gaza; b) end all arms trading with Israel; c) impose a ban on the importing of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories; d) support moves to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Congress further calls on the GC to encourage affiliation to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and to develop an effective Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign by working closely with the PSC to: 1) raise greater awareness on the issues; 2) promote a targeted consumer-led boycott; 3) encourage trade unionists to boycott Israeli goods, especially agricultural products that have been produced in the illegal settlements; 4) encourage campaigns of disinvestment from companies associated with the occupation."

Way to go!


Anonymous said...

The Labor Party is a disgrace on this issue. I think it is time for the pro-Palestinian lobby to start playing electoral politics. The two major parties see no upside in condemning Israel's behaviour. With Julia Irwin standing down, there is no-one left in Labor who is willing to raise the issue publicly.

The obvious strategy is to target the Senate. The first task is for all the pro-Palestinian groups to start encouraging people to consider voting on the Palestinian issue. The Greens have a balanced policy position and should be rewarded. In terms of the lower house, the obvious seat to target is Plibersek's Sydney. I believe she support the cause of fairness to the Palestinian people, but has gone quiet (presumably to shore up her pre-selection and opportunities for advancement). With Liberal preferences, Sydney could easily go to the Greens - all that is required is for a few Labor voters like me to switch to the Greens.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a list of Israeli goods/services in Australia which are to be boycotted?

MERC said...

Here's a partial one: Dead Sea mineral products, Max Brenner, Motorola, Optus, Westfield. Try bdsmovement.net and bigcampaign.org

Anonymous said...

Be assured there are people inside the Labor Party who are strong on the issue and who do speak out including at the ALP National conference held up in Sydney this year

Anonymous said...

"Be assured there are people inside the Labor Party who are strong on the issue"

it's such a pity that they are irrelevant / powerless when it comes down to it, however.