Building links not breaking links: Lessons from the Nablus Project

BICOM’s Alan Johnson argues the lesson of the FBU Dundee to Nablus Project is that derecognition is not the most effective way to help Palestinians.

Professor Alan Johnson was the co-author with Abdullah Muhsin of “Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions” (TUC, 2006); he works at BICOM and writes in a personal capacity

Should British trade unions build on their links to Israeli unions or break them? Which course of action would be best for the Palestinians?

That question has been posed by the decision of the 2011 TUC conference to:

“Call on all unions… to review their bi-lateral relations with all Israeli organisations, including [the Israeli trade union federation] Histadrut.”

Some argue that UK unions must break all links with the Histadrut to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, but a recent incident suggests they might be wrong.

The Fire Brigades Union runs a humanitarian project, ‘FBU Dundee to Nablus Project’ and in October the project team delivered humanitarian aid to the Nablus Municipality Fire Department.

Leaving Dundee, the firefighters travelled from Scotland to Palestine, passing through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece and Israel. Along the way they strengthened links with firefighters in Austria, Greece, Israel and Palestine.

The project team met with the Israeli Histadrut in Tel Aviv on October 11th.

Jim Malone, FBU regional organiser for Scotland, speaking at the House of Commons this week, picks up the story:

“The meeting was hosted by the Histadrut and lasted for a very interesting four hours. [There took place] a robust exchange of opinions as to the understanding the FBU and the Histadrut had as to the human and trade union rights afforded Palestinian workers and the Palestinian people.”

When the Histadrut discovered the Israeli authorities were delaying the progress of the humanitarian aid from Haifa to Nablus, it offered its full support. Avital Shapira, head of Histadrut international relations, mobilised the union’s resources and liaised directly with the port authorities. And this week the humanitarian equipment was released.

The FBUs Jim Malone was ecstatic. But he also understood what had made the difference.

Today’s news is fantastic, we were faced by many challenges in delivering the project, however with the help of the Israeli Histadrut, the PGFTU and the Nablus Municipality Fire Department we have achieved our goal in delivering this vital equipment.

This is what solidarity could look like if we would only dump the talk of ‘derecognition’ and boycott. What is good for the Palestinian workers is the critical but constructive use of the historic links between the Israeli and UK unions, not their destruction for the sake of making a gesture.

The episode suggests a question at any rate. If the TUC and the STUC follow the guidance of the PSA and break links with the Histadrut, who will help the Palestinian firefighters next time?

We could say with the FBU’s Jim Malone that

“the workers of Greece, Israel and Palestine share with UK trade unionists a desire for peace and prosperity for all and through solidarity we will continue to fight injustice and intolerance wherever we see it.”

Let’s build on the links we have and use them to bring workers together.

See also:

Mitchell tells Israelis and Palestinians: “Get in the room, sit down and negotiate”Shamik Das, October 18th 2011

Palestine UN bid: Without courage, the cause of moderates will be lostSara Ibrahim, September 21st 2011

Too many on the Left are continuing to promote Islamist extremistsGeorge Readings, May 20th 2011

Palestine Papers revelations shed new light on peace processSeph Brown, January 24th 2011

Even a second Rabin could not save the Israeli Labor PartyDaniel Elton, November 4th 2010

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