Britain’s trade union movement has sent its strongest ever message of support for the Palestinian people by calling for boycott and disinvestment from firms that profit from the occupation and illegal settlements.
The TUC Congress unanimously passed the composite motion moved by transport union TSSA and seconded by GMB.
Delegates denounced the Israeli government for the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the assault on the Mavi Marmara flotilla in May, in which nine solidarity activists were killed.
Delegates were also unequivocal in condemning Israel’s Histadrut trade union federation, which backed the murderous attack on the flotilla.
The TUC general council will now stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unionists and Britain’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign in pressing for an end to the siege of Gaza, a full inquiry into the flotilla attack and progress towards a “free Palestine.”
Moving the motion, TSSA president Andy Bain accused the Israeli government of “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinians and urged delegates to go out and “make the boycott work.”
He said: “The occupation has seen industries taken over. You are moved off your land and walls are built to divide people from their land.”
But Mr Bain made clear his opposition to any anti-semitism, insisting: “We are not against Jews – we are against the actions of the Israeli state.”
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said the two-state solution was the only way to secure peace in the region.
“But we must do more than pass resolutions or spout pious words to ease our guilt,” he said.
Although welcoming a subclause in the motion supporting dialogue with the Palestinian trade unions and Histadrut, Mr Kenny made no apology for calling for “targeted boycotts” against companies benefiting from the occupation.
“There are household names making profits on the backs of a war of oppression. Their hands are very dirty and we will demand that these companies verify their supplier,” he said to multiple applause.
Supporting the motion Unison delegate Mike Kirby recalled his experiences of being on the STUC delegation to Palestine last year.
Mr Kirby said: “We condemn the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli state and the Histadrut decision not to join the court of international condemnation.”
Partway through the debate, several delegates made a visual show of support for Palestine workers, with many holding Palestinian flags in solidarity.
PCS delegate Hugh Lanning praised the TUC for bringing a “better composite motion than last year,” identifying it as a “clearer policy because we are united in our position.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber expressed the support of the general council for the motion, demanding that the “siege of Gaza must end.”
An international convoy bound for Gaza will set off on Saturday to bring much-needed aid to the region.
Marcus Dysch, September 14, 2010
A motion passed at the TUC congress in Manchester this afternoon stopped short of agreeing to a full boycott of Israel.
The TUC had been expected to extend its boycotts policy and encourage further disinvestment.
The move follows the agreement at last year’s conference to support a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The motion voted through today stated: “Congress instructs the General Council to work closely with the PSC to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall.”
It had been expected that this part of the motion would also call for the council to actively organise its own boycott, but that line was dropped.
The resolution condemned the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) support for Israel’s action during May’s Gaza flotilla incident.
Delegates agreed that a report should be produced on the impact of the boycott and investment withdrawal strategy. The TUC will join other unions around the world to coordinate international “active solidarity to end the siege of Gaza and for a free Palestine”.
The motion was moved by the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association and supported by the GMB, UNISON, Fire Brigades’ Union and Public and Commercial Services Union.
PSC chairman Hugh Lanning said: “This motion builds on that passed at last year’s conference. It is a massive step forward in the movement for justice for the Palestinian people, and reflects growing public anger at Israel’s aggression towards the Palestinians and those, such as the humanitarians on the Gaza aid flotilla, who try to help them.”
He said the vote showed British union members were prepared to stand up “in support of an oppressed people” in the same way they had to end apartheid in South Africa.
A joint statement from the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies said: “The TUC rejection of a general boycott of Israeli goods, despite the efforts of the PSC, is good news, and a serious setback for the pro-boycott movement.
“We recognise the efforts of serious trade union, TUC and international TUC leaders in opposing this divisive measure.
“However, the tone of the TUC’s resolution is at odds with the realities of Israeli-Palestinian Trade Union cooperation and the renewed peace process. We are also concerned that the resolution again mandates the TUC to work closely with the PSC, an organisation that does not share the TUC’s support for a two-state solution.
“Communal leaders will be meeting the TUC leadership to raise these concerns.”
Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor called the decision appalling. He said: “It speaks volumes about the calibre of those who voted for it.
“Whilst many around the world are helping to create an environment for peace, some in the TUC prefer to create a noisy distraction.
“These people contrast sharply with those responsible leaders, who at that very same time, were offering hope to the people of the Middle East. This resolution, in comparison, is hopeless, in both senses of the word.”
The actions of the Israeli military, under the orders of their Government, in mounting a deadly assault on activists on the Mavi Marmara and other ships seeking to take humanitarian aid to Gaza, is particularly condemned.
Congress furthermore condemns the Histadrut statement of 31 May which sought to justify the Israeli action and the failure of the Histadrut to condemn settlement construction. Congress endorses the 3 June 2010 statement of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, criticising the Histadrut and calling for an immediate end to the military blockade on Gaza and for a full independent inquiry into the attack on the Mavi Marmara.
Congress believes that the effective annexation of massive swathes of land by Israel in defiance of international law, using walls and checkpoints and destroying Palestinian homes in the process, is a deliberate strategy to undermine the viability of the West Bank and thereby the potential for an independent Palestinian state.
Congress instructs the General Council to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall.
Congress instructs the General Council to bring to Congress a report on the impact of the boycott and investment withdrawal strategy, together with the outcome of the PGFTU/Histadrut discussions recently facilitated by the ITUC and TUC. Congress agrees to join unions around the world for maximum coordination internationally for active solidarity to end the siege of Gaza and for a free Palestine.