Union members at the Foundation for Young Australians across the country joined the Global Strike for Gaza, demanding their employer make a statement of solidarity with Palestine.
They walked out on 25 January and held a national Zoom meeting of strikers. In Melbourne, strikers joined the Sitintifada—a daily protest outside the Victorian parliament.
Australian Services Union member Lee spoke to Solidarity.
“The FYA’s core purpose is to uplift the voices of young people and we work with brilliant young Palestinian activists.
“But we weren’t allowed to share the school strike for Palestine or any Palestinian protests at all, even though we work closely with climate strikers and post all the time about all youth-led campaigns.
“We sent the FYA board a request for them to put out a statement on Palestine and after three months had no response. We tried again after 100 days of genocide in Gaza, but still got no response.
“We saw that there was a call out for a global strike for Palestine and we decided to jump on that.
“Members were saying, do you want to stand in solidarity against injustice, for the people of Palestine or is our solidarity even real?
“We gave them one more chance and when we got no response we walked out.”
Other demands on the board were to:
- amplify the voices of young people speaking out about the devastation in Gaza
- let FYA teams decide how to support youth-led organisations who provide direct support to Palestinians
- show support for Palestinian liberation by implementing boycotts (BDS).
Union activists have built 50 per cent membership and 90 per cent support at FYA through organising around insecure work and other industrial issues.
Last year, First Nations staff walked out of a meeting that was supposed to address issues of systemic racism in the organisation, and unionised staff joined them.
The stoppage started on a Thursday and workers did not return to the office until the Monday.
Lee said, “Once news spread that First Nations staff had walked out there was a discussion in each area and, one by one, the areas started to walk out.
“The issue was simple—do you want to stand in solidarity against injustice, for our First Nations staff or not?”
Liyan, the ASU delegate at FYA, added, “The walkout was about the restructure of a team that was mostly black and brown staff. The restructure was expected but the approach was horrendous.
“I think the common theme is the lack of agency and ownership the workers at FYA have over their work.
“We are hired for our commitment for social justice and experience in this space yet our vision for our workplace is consistently ignored by the board.
“Union organising has been the only way for staff to be able to even have a say in the direction of our organisation.”
Lee spoke of the effect the spontaneous midyear walkout had on staff and how it built the confidence to walk out for Palestine.
“The action built an enormous sense of solidarity between union members and got people talking about the power of collective organising.”
Liyan said that regardless of whether the board heeds the call of FYA ASU members over Palestine, they were not afraid of taking more industrial action.
“There is a restructure in three months and we may have to walk out again.”