As Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza continues and thousands of civilians are killed or buried under rubble, a coalition of more than 30 Palestinian trade unions have issued an urgent call to labor organizations around the world to take action, including direct actions to halt arms deliveries to the Israeli military. While the vast majority of unions in the US are either staying silent or actively supporting Israel, fellow workers in Europe and the UK are heeding the call and taking direct action. Last week, for instance, over 100 members of the coalition Workers for a Free Palestine in the UK formed a human blockade in front of an arms factory in Kent owned by Instro Precision, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest weapons manufacturers. In this TRNN livestream, we speak with a number of workers involved with that action about how and why they came to be active fighters in the movement to stop Israel’s destruction of Gaza.
Studio Production / Post-Production: Adam Coley, David Hebden
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Welcome everyone to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us.
As Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza continues and thousands of Palestinian civilians, including many children, are killed or buried under the rubble, a coalition of more than 30 Palestinian trade unions have issued an urgent call to labor organizations around the world to take action, to force a ceasefire and to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine, including taking direct actions to halt arms deliveries to the Israeli military.
In the wake of the brutal Hamas-led attacks on October 7th that killed between 1,300 and 1,400 Israelis, the vast majority of them civilians, Israel’s far right government led by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu have waged a scorched earth bombing campaign and ground invasion of Gaza, a 22 by five mile open air prison where Palestinians have been held captive for decades and brutalized by Israel’s US-backed apartheid regime. At least 8,796 people have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s retaliatory offensive, Gaza’s Health Ministry said today, including 3,648 children.
As my colleague Taj Ali, a brilliant labor reporter in the UK writing for the UK-based publication The Tribune recently wrote, “Yasmin, a trade unionist in Palestine who helped coordinate the call for solidarity, says the British trade union movement has a big role to play in disabling Israel’s war machine. ‘Many of the weapons that Israel is using in Gaza are being produced in weapons factories around the globe. Many of them are transported through international ports. Companies like Elbit Systems, for example, are able to operate out of factories in the UK, France, and the United States and other places, as well as arms companies based in different countries around the world, shipping and selling their weapons to Israel. These are produced not by machines, these weapons are produced by workers, and many of them will be in trade unions.’”
Taj Ali continues: “While the call for solidarity has been issued to all counterparts and people of conscience, it focuses particularly on trade unions in relevant industries, calling on them to refuse to build or handle weapons destined for Israel and make public statements declaring their position. While focusing on the arms trade, the call also demands action against all companies involved in implementing Israel’s brutal and illegal siege including where they have contracts with research institutions and other bodies. Alongside the call for popular action in trade unions, the statement urges trade unions to place pressure on their governments to introduce a formal ban on all military trade with Israel. Samira Abdelalim, a Palestinian feminist and trade union activist based in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip, said, ‘We call on all workers everywhere to stop the brutality practiced by Israel. Workers, especially those in weapons factories, must always remember that they participate in creating tools that affect the future of the world.’”
Listen, labor has a long and proud tradition of using worker power to fight against war, genocide and apartheid around the globe. Let us not forget the heroic actions taken by members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, or the ILWU, who protested apartheid in South Africa and even refused to unload South African cargo at ports here in the United States. And just this week, leaders of multiple transport workers unions in Belgium called on their members to refuse to handle cargo containing military equipment being sent to Israel.
But actions like these so far, I’m afraid to say, are more the exception than the rule. While the vast majority of unions here in the United States are either staying silent or actively expressing support for Israel, fellow workers in Europe and the United Kingdom are heeding the call from their fellow workers and unionists in Palestine, and they’re taking direct action. Last week, for instance, over 100 members of the coalition Workers for a Free Palestine in the UK formed a human blockade in front of an arms factory in Kent owned by Instro Precision, which is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest weapons manufacturers.
In this Real News livestream, we’re going to do something a little bit different from what we’ve been doing the past couple of months. We’re going to speak with a number of folks who were involved with that action in Kent about how and why they came to be active fighters in the movement to stop Israel’s destruction of Gaza and its decades-long occupation of Palestine. I’m honored to be joined on The Real News livestream today by Jake Thomas, who is from the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, and we are also joined by Artin Giles, a labor activist and union member and organizer in the UK. Jake, Artin, thank you both so much for joining us today on The Real News. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for having us.
Well, it really means a lot to have you all both on across the pond. While all of this is going on, I know y’all are incredibly busy and we are all incredibly tired and devastated by what we are watching unfold, so I really appreciate you guys making the time to chat to us and our audience.
As I mentioned in that intro, I largely do these livestreams talking to workers in unionists here in North America. And so I wanted to have a discussion about labor’s role here in fighting to force a ceasefire and end Israel’s occupation in Palestine. But sadly, there’s not much to report here in the US. There are courageous groups of workers, Starbucks Workers United, who are a union, but they do not have a union contract with Starbucks at any of the stores that have voted to unionize yet. They have probably released the most powerful statement, more powerful than any of the other established unions here in the United States.
There are also small groups of workers like healthcare workers for Palestine, who I will be interviewing this week for my labor segment on breaking points. They are a group of rank and file healthcare workers in New York who are going to be leading a candlelight vigil in New York this Friday. So people should keep an eye out for that. But again, those are largely the exceptions that prove the rules, and so I was really encouraged to hear about the action that y’all were involved in over there in the UK, and I wanted to make sure that our Real News viewers and listeners knew about it and could hear directly from you about what happened, how y’all got involved, and where we go from here.
So I want us to start, before we really dig into all of that, I want to ask y’all if you can take a few minutes to introduce yourselves to the livestream. Let’s talk about who you are, what you do, and what your life in the UK has been like up until this past month as a working person in the United Kingdom, as unionists. And then I want you to talk about how and why you came to become active fighters in the movement to stop Israel’s genocidal destruction of Gaza. Jake, why don’t we start with you and then, Artin, we’ll toss it to you.
Yeah, thank you. I am a member of the IWGB Union. For those that don’t know, it’s this really, really small union in the UK that was set up by migrant cleaners at universities who were not happy with some of the larger, more bureaucratic unions that they were a part of and wanted their own fully democratic space. We kind of represent people who don’t have traditional employment contracts, like gig economy workers, outsourced workers. Before working full-time at the union, I was a delivery rider, so I was on a gig economy contract, and that kind of pushed me into getting more involved actively.
With the IWGB, because of our size and some of the people that we’re organizing, much like the Starbucks Workers you mentioned, we don’t really have formal recognition contracts with that many workplaces, so we do have to rely quite heavily on direct action and leverage in our campaigns that comes from the rank and file rather than from a contract or anyone in a position of power. So we’re fairly used to having to build that organically from the bottom up.
Having done that, having been involved in those networks, you get to know a lot of people on the left around both London and the UK, get a bit more active in other things. From there, you start to meet people who will introduce you to other people. And I think from there we started forming these networks where we have been able to respond to the calls from Palestinian trade unionists and try to organize actions on quite short notice and not just that, but try and learn from them and develop these models. It’s been quite an interesting experience moving from very local campaigning and workplace campaigning to such a massive scale international campaign. So yeah, I’m not sure if Artin had anything.
Thanks. Yeah. No, that was really interesting to hear, Jake, and a big fan of IWGB and the organizing that you guys are doing.
I got involved with the left scene here in the UK as it were really around 2011 when we had big occupied protests outside the London Stock Exchange. And that was something that was inspired by you guys with your Occupy Wall Street movement. And I guess got to know people, got to realize that this is where I want to be, the kind of fight against the system that we’re living in now. And then from that developed relationships with various comrades and started listening to more Lowkey and Immortal Technique and other inspiration from across the pond and realizing that we need to do something and that another world is possible.
And then I got more and more involved with the labor and trade union movement, specifically when Jeremy Corbyn stood for leader in 2015. And that saw a lot of particularly young people joining the Labor Party here and got involved with that campaign volunteering, seeing how I could help. I was teaching at the time when I came out of uni, and even in our schools you could see that the 13 years of a conservative government that we’ve had and the whole neoliberal system that we’re living in in our society is detrimental to the working class.
And so that’s how I got involved. And obviously seeing what Israel has done in the Netanyahu government and how they’re pursuing essentially ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, whether that be bit by bit on a daily basis with settlements and the blockade of Gaza or in an all out war that we’re seeing now. And it’s not a war actually, it’s genocides with, as you said, over 8,000 people dead. So really feeling like we need to be doing something, whatever it is. And obviously I was really, really happy to participate in the action last Thursday, which was in response to the Palestinian Trade Union’s call-out.
Well, I want to focus on last week’s action in a second, but I wanted to first just quickly build on what you were both talking about-
Dude, first just kind of quickly build on what you were both talking about there, right? Artin, you talked about the fight back against this system that is screwing over working people in general. Because I want to just remind people that before October 7th, I mean, we had done a lot of coverage over the past year and a half talking to fellow workers in the UK and across Europe about the strikes that have been happening. I mean, I interviewed a lot of the RMT folks who have been doing rolling strikes. We did coverage of the healthcare workers, strike nurses at the NHS, the posties going on strike. There’s been a real intense working class struggle happening in the UK over the past year and a half. And like us here in the States, y’all have been seeing more labor militancy than I think any of us really have in our lifetimes.
And so I want to just sort of refresh people’s memories there for a second and ask if we could go back around the table and just if you could say a little bit to folks here in North America about what you all have been up against as working people in the United Kingdom. What has been happening on that front? What are working people facing in terms of trying to make a living, dealing with organizing on the job, dealing with the conservative government and the austerity measures? We don’t have to cover everything, but I just wanted to give y’all a chance to sort of refresh people’s memories here about the working class struggle in the UK and then we’ll talk about how that has kind of fused with this struggle to end Israel’s war on Gaza and occupation of Palestine. So Jake, let’s go back to you and then Artin, jump in when he’s done.
Yeah, I mean it seems like quite a long time ago now, thinking back to some of the first RMT strikes that were going on and having that strike wave of transport workers, doctors, nurses, as you were saying, but not just that. Also, small individual workplaces, seeing workers in the charity sector feeling like they have the confidence to go on strike, seeing outsourced workers striking not just for pay, but for in-housing and having these quite specific campaigns. So there has definitely been a change in attitude that obviously we can talk for ages about 13 years of Tory rule and the cost of living crisis and everything that’s been happening post COVID. But I think more generally, it has reached a breaking point where people are seeing other people going on strike and realizing that they can do that themselves, realizing that the organization that goes into it is possible from rank and file and that you don’t necessarily need these bigger organizations.
And I think that’s played into when we started seeing some of the trustees coming from Gaza. People are realizing that even though there isn’t particularly political leadership, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re completely powerless and are using some of the skills that people have learned from organizing over the last couple of years and bringing that into these campaigns, which is quite interesting. We obviously have quite large organizations like PSC, Palestine Solidarity Campaign who are organizing quite big things and have a lot of funding, but a lot of this is just coming from people in WhatsApp groups talking to each other, bringing experiences that they’ve had on picket lines, winning small victories in their workplaces and using those techniques to do things on a bigger scale and seeing what can be transferred from one thing to another.
So it is good to see that despite not all of the campaigns in that strike wave of 2022 and 23 being victories, there is a lot of class consciousness and skills and knowledge that has come from that as well as networks being built and people managing to meet other comrades who can come together and help in times of crisis like this.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And just to kind of follow on from that, I mean obviously like Jake was saying, it was a little while ago last year, we had I think what some people called the hot strike summer, which then turned into a cold winter striking season. And I think what was crucial, and a lot of the people with strong experience with this realize this and are kind of saying, this message is, it’s nice weather now, but this fight isn’t going to be over until November, December. We’re going to have to be doing the same things on these picket lines early in the morning when it’s freezing temperatures almost, and keeping that morale up. But I think, like Jake was saying, we’ve seen essentially leadership in the trade union movement from so many different unions, including especially the RMT and Lynch and hopefully some of who viewers have been able to see some of his excellent media appearances where he’s really shutting down these right-wing commentators and telling them how it is, which is that workers want a pay rise.
We’re going through some of the worst cost of living crisis that we’ve seen with inflation skyrocketing. And these workers haven’t had a pay rise in many cases for two, three years, if not more, especially when you factor in COVID and lots of the stuff that happens around that. So certainly I remember going on many of the pickets and tools such as Strike Map and other things have really helped. And that is again, people coming together in many cases in a voluntary capacity, not getting paid and saying, how can we support these pickets? How can we support these strikes? And so Strike Map for those who don’t know is an online tool where you can type in your postcode or zip code as you’d call it, and find where your nearest picket is on that day so you can join and show solidarity to school teachers, doctors, nurses, et cetera, et cetera.
I think we’ve really seen a wave from that. So as Jake was saying, I think people started realizing that this is the way that we’re going to win power. This is the way that we’re going to win a power rise. This is the way that we’re going to win better conditions. I mean, I was speaking at a rally in Leicester, which is a couple of hours north of London, and I had a worker come up to me kind of saying, “Oh, I want to go on strike. I want to take my workplace out on strike.” And they weren’t a member of a union. And so it was kind of like, okay, well this is the first step and this is how we organize it and this is how we can win. But you really saw that energy of people kind of saying, enough is enough. We’re fed up.
And when you see multinational companies or big companies here in the UK making profits and profits, when you see CEOs and directors pay going up by exponential amounts, and then you look at your pay packet and realize that the price of cheese, the price of butter is almost doubled in many cases in the last few months.
And what you’ve got now in the UK is supermarkets putting security tags that used to be on bottles of alcohol or TVs onto things like baby powder and milk and butter because these things are expensive and people are kind of not being able to afford them. And one last thing I’d say is, as Jake was saying, you’ve seen real union power and that inspiration from places like the RMT, the UC, et cetera, where you had charity workers and just very recently members in my union unite, went on strike at St. Mongo’s, which is a homeless charity. And I think there’s always been this perception that there’s really lots of charity bosses will try and always guilt tribute to not getting a pay rise because you work for a charity because you are helping those who are less privileged than you.
We’re not a big company that’s making loads and loads of profits, so you’re almost guilt trip to keep your pay low. But they said, we’re not having this. They said, we’re helping some of the most vulnerable people. We need a pay rise that we haven’t had for a long time. And they went out on an indefinite strike and told the management that we’re not going to come to work until we get a pay rise and until you negotiate with us. And the whole movement was behind them. They had many people out on their picket lines, 20, 30, 40 days straight and eventually a couple of months ago, won around a 10% pay rise.
And that was a really, I’d say historic action. And it took a lot of work, it took a lot of organizing. Some of the comrades that I know who are helping organize those pickets, it took a lot of messages, a lot of early morning starts, a lot of late nights, a lot of pleading with people to come out on the picket line. Okay, great, you’re on strike, but we need you on the picket line to show that solidarity and to show that we’re strong. And as I said, it paid off and that was an inspiration to many.
Hell, yeah. And I mean, I hope that the echoes of what Artin and Jake are describing are resonating with folks here in the United States because this is what we have been covering. I’ve been running myself ragged covering this for years, and I feel like I joke because I feel like I’m in the twilight zone. I’m interviewing different workers from different industries and from different backgrounds, and yet they’re all in some way telling a different version of the same story. So many of the workers who have gone on strike whom we’ve spoken to this year alone, are giving a similar version of reality that Artin and Jake just described. Right? We in here working, people are working longer, they’re working harder, and yet our wages have been stagnating or even going down while the cost of living continues to rise all while our bosses and these massive corporations are raking in record profits.
This has been the theme throughout so many interviews that we’ve done just in recent months. We were focusing on the potential UPS strike in the summer that was narrowly averted when the teamsters reached a contract deal with UPS, but that was a big part of it is like, “Hey, we sacrificed through COVID, we’ve been working our butts off. We got people dying in the back of those package cars with no air conditioning, and yet the company is raking in record profits and telling us that it can’t give us raises and can’t bring temp and two tier three tier workers up to full-time benefits and pay and so on and so forth.” That was also what the auto workers with the UAW, who just concluded at least temporarily, their historic strike against the big three automakers, GM, Ford, and Stellantis. We talked to auto workers who were saying that I cannot afford to buy the car that I am making anymore because of the direction that this industry has been going in, and yet my company is raking in record profits.
This is what hotels in Vegas like MGM and Wynn and Caesars, they are raking in record profits after bouncing back from COVID. And yet hospitality workers with Unite here in Las Vegas and LA and around the country are either on strike or prepared to go on strike because they are also not able to keep up with the cost of living while their employers are raking in record profits. I’ll continue. This is what the Hollywood strikes were about. The writers, the actors, they were all saying the same thing is we can’t afford to pay our rent. We can’t afford to work in this industry. All while these major studios and the tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Netflix, they are raking in record profits as well.
Lastly, the railroad workers that we spoke to all throughout last year, we even spoke to railroad workers here in the US and railroad workers in France and the UK all describing a similar version of the same problem, that workers are being run into the ground, the bosses keep making staff cuts, piling more work onto fewer workers. Working conditions are getting worse and worse while the cost of living continues to rise. And the companies, the executives and the shareholders are raking in more profits than they ever had. So are we sensing a theme here?
And so I wanted to remind us of that. That is the circumstance in which we have been and are still even as working people like Jake and Artin are also getting involved in this necessary fight to stop the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our eyes in Israel and Palestine. So I want to bring us back to there, and I want to focus on the action last week in Kent that y’all were involved in because we should sadly assume that a lot of people who are watching this live stream may not have heard about this or maybe only saw coverage of it on social media. So I want to ask you guys, if you could take us there, if you can give us a kind of on the ground-
… I want to ask you guys if you could take us there, if you can give us a kind of on the ground view of where this action came from, what it was like being involved in it, what it looked like on the day, and also what else is going on over there in the UK? So Jake, let’s toss it back to you.
Yeah, so this was around 150 workers, doctors, teachers, people from all sorts of different backgrounds that have come together desperately wanting to do something quite immediate and materially effective around what’s happening at the moment. As I said earlier, we’re really struggling in terms of political leadership at the moment, so we do feel like we need to make these kinds of interventions ourself rather than waiting around for elections and trying to lobby politicians internally. So I think there are networks who trade unionists who had got together and quite organically thought, what can we do that is accessible and safe and also will have an actual material impact? So I think targeting Israeli arms factories is something that’s happened quite a lot before, groups like Palestine Action in the UK have sent very small groups to go and physically disrupt what’s been going on. And we were looking for a way that we could take that kind of action whilst making it a bit safer for people who didn’t want to risk losing their jobs, who didn’t want to risk legal action or didn’t want to risk being on the wrong end of police brutality.
So we made sure that everything was done in quite a secure way, that we had the numbers to make sure that we were going to be safe around it and that it was accessible for ordinary working people to be able to participate in while still being effective. So I mean, on the ground we were getting up at 3:00 AM taking a coach down to Kent, standing in the rain, it was chucking it down the entire time. But there were a lot of people there just showing solidarity and it was an incredible thing to be a part of, especially I think we got word that people in Palestine had seen the action going on, which is absolutely amazing. And obviously, yeah, it’s a small thing at the moment, but I think we learned a lot and as a movement and as these networks that I mentioned, we are learning about how we can replicate and scale this stuff.
So it was really good to find a way to draw in ordinary people who might not necessarily think that they have that kind of power to make these material differences and give people the confidence and the security to take action and say, “Look, this is something that’s happened. It should happen again. This is how it happened,” and hopefully inspiring people not just across the UK but in other places to take similar kinds of action knowing that it does work, it is safe and it is something that is being demanded by Palestinian trade unionists at the moment.
Yeah, I completely echo that. I mean it was a cold rainy morning, but then the sun came out and there was around 150 of us blocking the various entrances and speaking to the workers. I mean, the main aim was to try and speak to the workers and tell them maybe consider turning around kind of thing and try and not to be complicit in this. And it’s also about getting those contacts with workers who are in the factory so that you might not turn them around today, but maybe there’s something that you can do to speak to them and kind of build those relationships. And hopefully we’ve made a start of that. I mean, we know for a fact that we blockaded, I think it was four lorries that tried coming out of one entrance and then realizing they unsuccessful because there was a picket there and then tried coming out of the other entrance where we were stationed. And again, they weren’t able to get out.
I think at one point one of the companies told us, “Look, we’ve emptied our trucks, could you please just let them out of the site?” And we said, “No, because we’re not going to let anything move out of this site because you’re supporting genocide essentially.” And so it was quite an inspiring action. As Jake said, it was really heartening to see that that Palestinian trade unions had spotted this and we’re happy that we were responding to that call. And hopefully it’s inspired comrades in other parts of the country and other parts of the world to take this action or try and do similar.
Because in 2014 when you had Operation Cast Iron, I believe it was, or Cast Lead, that Israel bombed Gaza, again killing over 2,000 civilians. In 2014, the UK government did suspend export licenses for weapons destined to Israel and did suspend any new licenses being issued for weapons to be exported to Israel. That was 2014 when 2,000 people were killed. I think what we’re seeing now is on a bigger scale where you’ve got over eight… I’m sure by the end of this call it’ll probably have doubled. You had two massive airstrikes on the refugee camp within 24 hours killing over a hundred people. And these are people with lives, these are people with futures, these are people who could have been artists, could have been teachers, could have been doctors, could have been nurses. And so what we’re saying to the UK government is, if you are not going to suspend these licenses, then we will stop the exports ourselves because we’re not going to wait around and we are going to stand up to the complicity in this genocide.
I think that’s beautifully and powerfully put and it’s a message that all working people and people of conscience need to hear right now. I wanted to just kind of quickly follow up on that and just ask, not asking y’all to reveal anything that is sensitive to your organizing or anything like that, but just what was the reception? Did you get a chance to talk to any of the workers inside the arms manufacturing facility? Did they express anything to you that stuck with you? Were you getting honks of support or honks of the opposite of support? Just curious about how the action was received.
Yeah, I mean we were getting cars coming around honking in support. We were able to talk to a lot of workers as Artin said, but not just from the factory that we were allocating, but also other businesses that were sharing that industrial park and a lot of people that were working there were quite shocked to know that people that this factory [inaudible 00:32:41] was making weapons that are being used to bombard children at this point. And being able to go to quite a small place that might not have that kind of political conscious and bring it to people on the ground and say, “Look, this is what’s happening right on your doorstep,” I think was quite powerful for a lot of people, including a lot of the locals there that didn’t know the extent to what was going on.
So it was good to get that local support. And I think it shows how unrepresented our medium and our political classes are at the moment. When you talk to this about basically anyone on the street, there is huge support for a ceasefire, there’s huge support for the kinds of actions that are going on like this and you don’t really see it until you talk to people directly just because of how distorted some of those views are. So it was amazing to see firsthand that people, when this was brought to them, were really starting to care.
And just to add to what Artin was saying, we were there talking to workers and I think a lot of the time when you talk about action that trade unionists can take that will disrupt arms manufacturing or transportation logistics, people think, “Well, I don’t work in those sectors so I can’t necessarily do anything. I can’t withdraw my labor.” But as trade unionists, we are used to being on picket lines, we’re used to having structured conversations with workers. We’re used to direct action and campaigning. So there are ways that you can use those skills. None of us were workers in that factory, but we can go to that factory and we can use those organizing skills to have an effect in these other sectors as well. So I think, yeah, there’s always different ways that you can participate in that sort of thing even if you’re not directly involved in those sectors, which is good.
Yeah, [inaudible 00:34:22].
Anything to add to that, Artin?
Just quickly, I mean obviously the factory action I think was important and not only is symbolic but actually did disrupt… Because obviously I think we have to remember that lots of these factories and arms companies have these kind of just in time supply lines. So even though we were only there for around six, seven hours, half the day, we did I think disrupt some of those supply chains because those trucks would’ve been going to other factories to take parts to essentially put on missiles which would’ve been built in other factories. And so even though we weren’t there for the whole day, we weren’t there for longer, I think there was an impact in the kind of supply chain which then disrupted future orders, et cetera, et cetera, down the line.
But even away from the factory, I think my view is that we should be doing everything and anything that we can and whether that is doing a hard picket like this, going on the mass demonstrations, doing the local demonstrations. I mean tonight for example, your vice president is going to meet Rishi Sunak in Downing Street and I know that there’s a protest being organized about that, demanding a ceasefire now and to stop the genocide. And so whatever it is that we can do. And as Jake was saying, even…
I mean, my union Unite, I was personally disappointed with the statement that we put out a couple of weeks ago, it did not call for a ceasefire and that was something that I felt had to be changed. And so many of us Unite members, other comrades organized a letter, an open letter to send to the executive committee to say, “This isn’t what we support. We want you to call for a ceasefire. We want our union,” which is alongside Unison, the biggest trade union in the UK representing over 1.2 million workers. We want them to call for a ceasefire, as actually Unison has managed to do last week and a number of other unions have also done.
And so we organized this letter, the executive committee held an emergency meeting. Lots of motions are being put to local branches and obviously, which is the democratic structure of the union so that those branches can then put pressure onto the executive committee to ask them to call for a ceasefire. Lots of branches are putting in motions which echo the calls by Palestinian trade unions crucially to also support any worker who does not want to load weapons onto shipments that are destined for Israel or who does not want to make those weapons.
And I think that’s a crucial call because whilst it would be great to, like the Belgian trade unions have done, refuse collectively to load any weapons onto these shipments destined for Israel, there is also a need to support any individual worker who says, “This goes against my conscience and I do not want to do it,” and have their trade union backing them. So we’ve submitted that motion to my local branch which is meeting next week and hopefully many other branches will have done this. So it’s not just about what we can do physically on the ground to disrupt or to show symbolically that we’re against it, but it’s also putting pressure onto our unions to say that this is not happening in our name and we want you to call for a ceasefire.
Hell yeah. And you guys have both so beautifully answered this next question in pieces, I just wanted to give us a chance to really condense this. Because we only have a few minutes left and I know I got to let you guys go because it’s a busy, busy day. But when the media, and trust me, the media here is absolute dog shit, so I sympathize with you guys in terms of that propaganda. We are seeing some cracks in the armor, there are some corporate and public TV stations that have actually been giving a little bit of the history of the occupation, the longer context that people need, not acting as if this all just started on October 7th. So that’s been encouraging to see, but we’re also seeing a lot of propaganda in the other direction. McCarthyite chill across the country.
The White House press secretary just yesterday compared people protesting in the United States demanding an end to Israel’s bombing of Gaza and an end to the occupation, the White House press secretary compared those people to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville just a few years ago during the Trump administration, which is absolutely fucking despicable. And I fought those white supremacists…
Absolutely fucking despicable. And I fought those white supremacists in the streets in Michigan. I know what they’re about. And I know that people like Richard Spencer, who is a full-fledged white nationalist who was leading a lot of those marches, explicitly pointed to Israel as the example of the kind of white ethnostate he and others wanted to establish here in the United States. So to the White House press secretary and the Biden administration, fuck you. We see you. We know exactly what you are after and we’re not going to take it anymore. Sorry, I’m speaking for myself. No one else, but I’m really pissed about that, as you can tell.
But I wanted to just ask… Because in that media maelstrom, in amidst all the propaganda, when people talk about these solidarity actions with Palestinians, these direct actions that are being taken here in Baltimore and around the country, we talk about the people involved as just activists who appear from nowhere in the same way that we talk about consumers as if they are somehow this separate category of person not working people. Workers are consumers. Workers are activists. We’re the same people. We just have complex lives. And so you guys are working people like the rest of us. You are, and other unions full of people like the rest of us are taking action and speaking out against the occupation as we did during apartheid in South Africa. Workers and unions are now, as we are seeing, as I mentioned in the intro, more people are starting to use their labor power as a means of protest, like the Belgian unions that have announced that they will refuse to handle Israeli weapons cargo.
So I wanted to just ask you guys, if you could talk us through how you and other workers and unions in the UK are fussing the power and principles of the labor movement with the fight for a ceasefire and the fight to end the occupation, Israel’s occupation in Palestine.
Yeah, sure. So just quickly, and I’m sure Jake will have not much more to say, but it’s essentially using those networks that we’ve built up through other organizing, through the picket lines that we were talking about a short while ago, meeting people in localities, meeting people in their workplace, using those workplace connections to say, “Look, we all want to see an end to the killing. Surely that’s the minimum that we can ask for, and that’s why we’re demanding a ceasefire.” Lots of trade unions are affiliated to the Palestine solidarity campaign, which has been leading alongside a coalition of groups, the callouts for these mass demonstrations that are happening. Lots of the trade unions have got good strong policies on things like boycott, divestment and sanctions, as well as other things. So it is very good to see that.
And what we are saying is let’s, as workers, stand with those policies and stand with the people of Palestine that we’ve talked about a lot. There’s many conferences, trade union events that I’ve been to where they’ll have a Palestinian speaker or someone from the PSC campaign, but that’s not during this kind of conflict. And what we’re saying is all those periods of talking, let’s put it into action now because this is the moment when those years of talking and years of saying, we support Palestine, this is the time when they need our support and that’s why we’re going all out to end this war.
Yeah, absolutely. Definitely echo that. Yeah, I think one of the things that we touched on earlier was that I think being members of unions across so many different sectors means that we can take a huge range of actions. Not necessarily everything will be directly stopping arms going to Israel. There are so many different things that people are doing. Members of our university and colleges union lecturers and researchers are organizing research boycotts. Uber drivers are organizing boycotts of insurance companies that are on the BDS list. There are a lot of things that you can do. There are cultural boycotts the arts workers are working on because not everyone is going to be fully up for doing quite intense direct action that involves blockading things that puts yourself at legal risk. So I think as a movement, it’s really important that we have a lot of different things going on that can allow people to participate in whatever way they can and not necessarily feel like they’re just spectating the whole time.
The other thing I just wanted to finally touch upon was, as you said, with the media and with our politicians, it can often feel like you are in a minority. I think when we’ve been having these massive marches every weekend that have been increasing, I think the last one was reported to be around half a million people, and they’re reported on as this third party. It’s not actual people are there, it’s just this pro-Palestine march or some people have been calling it like a pro-Hamas march. And when you actually go there and when you speak to people, you realize that this is how everyone is feeling at the moment. There’s over three quarters of the country have pulled to demand ceasefire.
So I think if you are feeling disillusioned and powerless about these kinds of things, don’t look to the media and don’t look to politicians, just look to the rank and file. Have these conversations within your workplaces. Look at the actions that are going on because that will give you a lot more confidence and resolve to actually find ways of fighting back rather than being told, “Actually no, you don’t actually think this. This is what the consensus is.” We don’t need to be told how we’re thinking. We can collectively decide what we want to do and what action we want to take.
Hell yeah. No, I mean, that’s laborers’ enduring message, right? Is that we are the agents of change. We have it within ourselves to change our circumstances. If we organize, if we harness the collective power that we have, there are so many more of us than there are of them. So whether you want to take on Amazon, unionize, force them to recognize your union and get a contract so that you have more of a say in your workplace, but Amazon’s going to resist you every step of the way, just like the Biden administration and CNN and all the weapons contractors are going to fight you every step of the way, laborers’ enduring message is that we have strengthened numbers and that we are the ones who can actually make that change. And I am so grateful to you both and to everyone out there who is fighting to make that change however you can.
And I just wanted to end in a quick rapid fire round around the table, and I promise I’ll let you guys go. As I mentioned, things are really dark here in the United States. There is a lot of resistance, but there is a deep McCarthyite kind of chill that is settled across the country, and that includes within the world of organized labor. I mean, the Starbucks workers have been viciously attacked for releasing their statement earlier this month. Just incredible, dedicated labor organizers like Cooper Caraway who was previously employed with SEIU Connecticut was fired. I mean, well, there’s a public narrative about it, but clearly, the union like cave to pressure to let Cooper go, which is a huge mistake and betrayal in my opinion. We, of course, have published Cooper’s work and spoken with Cooper here at The Real News Network and we stand resolutely with him and all workers and unionists who are speaking out against this genocide.
But I wanted to ask you guys, just with the last minute that I’ve got you, what you would say to people, working people here in the United States and Canada about why they should get involved in this fight, even amidst all of that pressure to do nothing and stay silent?
I think there is obviously a huge urgency. Every day we’re seeing worse and worse scenes coming out. And ideally, we would’ve been doing this sort of thing two, three weeks ago. So there is a timescale on this and things need to be done properly and urgently. But I think also, a lot of people are understandably scared of putting themselves on the line, whether that’s employment-wise or legally. And I think it’s one thing for us to come out and say, “Look, you need to be brave and you need to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” It’s important that we do that. But I think for organizers and for people that are already active, it’s really important that we make sure that people do feel safe when they’re coming into these spaces, when they’re taking part in these actions and really prioritizing that as something that’s core to our organizing strategy, making sure that people are able to participate and we don’t exclude a huge movement of people, all of whom are feeling quite rightfully devastated and horrible about what’s happening, who might want to get involved, but feel these barriers.
So bring as many people in as you can, make sure that things are secure and safe, make sure that people are supported, that you’re standing with people who might be unfairly attacked and targeted so that you can have mass participation, you can scale to these bigger actions.
Yeah, certainly, certainly. And just to add onto that, I mean, I thought the can action that we did a couple of Thursdays ago or last Thursday, I think it was really, really well organized essentially. We had a really good briefing from… I just went along as a participant, but a really good briefing from the people who were organizing it. There was food provided, there was a few chairs for people who wanted to sit down at various points. We were constantly asked, “Okay, if it gets to this stage, would you be happy to do this? Or is this something that you’d rather prefer?” And so a lot of care was put in to that. And so that was really, really heartening to see because, as Jake said, we’re a movement. We’re a really diverse movement. Like you were saying, we didn’t sharp out of nowhere. These are doctors who come at the end of the shift. These are teachers who come at the end of a school day. These are, in some cases, teacher who had half-term and could come to the action because of that. And so it’s really, really heartening to see so many people get involved, but also that care being taken.
But what I’d say is there is something you can do, whether that is something similar to what we participated in, all going along to the demonstrations, all going along to the sit-ins, like we saw at Grand Central Station, which actually inspired the sit-in here in Waterloo Station only a couple of days later. There is something that you could do, whether that’s something as simple as writing to your Congress person if you are scared of being fired. But as Jake was saying, there is safety in numbers. And the first thing that you can do is find other people in your workplace, find other people in your community, find other people in your networks who want to do this and build that safety in numbers because it is scary taking action on your own, but the thing is, our movement is more powerful than they’re.
And just to finish, our home secretary, Suella Braverman, said something quite similar about these marches. I think she called them only a couple of days ago it was a hate march. And this is half a million people. But we know that we are stronger. We know that we are right. Our principles are what guide us, and we are going to work to make sure that they live to regret the day that they supported this genocide.
That is Jake Thomas from the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain and Artin Giles, Labor Activist Union member and organizer in the UK. Both of whom were involved in last Thursday’s blockade in Kent, United Kingdom.
Jake, Artin, thank you both so much for chatting to us on The Real News Network. Thank you for fighting. We really, really appreciate it.
It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you, solidarity.
And thank you all for watching, and thank you all for caring. Please do whatever you can to stop this madness because what happens next depends on how hard we fight now. For the Real News Network, this is Maximilian Alvarez signing off. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Solidarity forever.
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