Union solidarity with Palestine has exploded as anger grows over Israel’s genocide in Gaza and the Labor government’s support for Israel.
Over 2600 unionists have now signed the statement “Union members in solidarity with Palestine”. Union flags are obvious at demonstrations, giving confidence to unionists to take further action.
Unionists for Palestine public meetings drew 150 in Sydney and 200 in Melbourne. Solidarity groups within individual unions are springing up everywhere.
MUA members and other unionists are rallying against a ship from the Israeli company Zim docking in Port Botany in Sydney, with a protest in Melbourne too. The action received union backing after Palestinian activist Ahmed Abadla addressed Sydney’s MUA monthly branch meeting.
Many official union statements have followed the line of the national peak body the ACTU. While it called for a ceasefire, it equally condemned both Hamas and Israel, as if resistance to occupation is the same as the violence of the occupier.
The ACTU repeated Labor Party talking points, labelling Hamas a terrorist organisation and claiming, “Hamas does not represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people”, which fits the agenda of the West to eliminate Hamas, just as they tried to do after Hamas won the last Palestinian elections in 2006.
However, the surge of rank-and-file activity has put pressure on union officials who have been slow or hostile to acting. Officials from the United Services Union spent $7000 to text all members distancing themselves from the Unionists for Palestine petition, but over 80 of their members have signed anyway.
Rank-and-file union organising
Australian Services Union (ASU) member, Alex explained how activists have built support in the ASU: “We had a meeting of ASU members for Palestine with roughly 50 members in attendance from around the country. We built this from the Unionists for Palestine petition, which over 400 ASU members have signed so far.
“Members insisted on being involved as unionists, and pushed back against official suggestions in response to our demands for union backing that we should instead donate or be involved in Palestine solidarity as individuals.”
The meeting’s vote to request an ASU contingent with union flags at rallies resulted in the officials bringing flags to rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
There are now over 140 ASU NSW members in an organising WhatsApp group. ASU members have been leafleting for protests and have a Palestine 101 lunchtime meeting planned. People have also joined the ASU on the spot after seeing the flags at Palestine rallies.
NSW Teachers Federation officials have attended Palestine rallies, but initially declined to bring union flags. Although the union has a longstanding position of support for Palestine, it was initially reluctant to publicly stand up to the pro-Israel media onslaught, and concerned not to disrupt their relationship with the equally pro-Israel NSW Labor government.
But pressure from activists has now seen the union shift its position on carrying flags. A motion was passed at Marrickville High School calling to “bring NSWTF union flags to future major Palestine rallies so that teacher union contingents are proudly visible”.
Teachers for Palestine NSW was launched at a meeting of 15 teachers, and has grown to an organising group of over 100.
Sydney University NTEU members held a Sydney Staff for BDS forum that drew 210 people, and have helped organise union contingents at the protests. Nine NTEU members held a successful pro-Palestine stall at Sydney Uni, and built a Staff Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campus meeting.
Now is the moment to organise rank-and-file unionists to win support for the Palestinian cause as common sense within the union movement. Union forums, and political material exposing the media lies, and explaining the political questions, are also needed to win wider layers of members. Grassroots union action will also be important to break the Labor Party from its appalling support for Israel.
Palestinian trade unions have released a call to end all complicity and stop arming Israel:
“We ask you to speak out and take action in the face of injustice as trade unions have done historically. We make this call in the belief that the struggle for Palestinian justice and liberation is not only a regionally and globally determined struggle. It is a lever for the liberation of all dispossessed and exploited people of the world.”
Unions have a proud history standing against Apartheid and war.
The movement against the Vietnam war saw workers economically disrupt the war machine.
Maritime unions first refused to load Australian ships with war supplies. Later seafarers banned work on all US ships. The moratorium marches involved maritime workers, teachers, and construction workers on strike against the war.
Organising in our unions now can build towards union action that will have to confront anti-strike laws in Australia and directly disrupt economic and military ties with Israel.
By Chris Breen