International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace process

The Histadrut, the Israeli TUC, plays a vital role in working for a two-state solution - British trade unions should work to build ties with it, not break them.

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By Professor Alan Johnson, Director and Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM), and a member of Labour Friends of Israel

‘The Histadrut are just an arm of the Israeli government, aren’t they?” This question, genuine and urgent, was put to me a few weeks ago at the Unite union’s annual conference by a former general secretary of a British trade union. We were standing in the lobby of the Grand Hotel in Brighton: I had just handed him a copy of The New Histadrut: Peace, Social Justice and the Israeli Trade Unions, a pamphlet (pdf) I’d written for Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI).

No, the Histadrut is not an arm of the Israeli government. It is the Israeli TUC.

Histadrut-strikeIt leads the fight for workers’ rights and job security in Israel. It unites over 700,000 union members in one organisation regardless of religion, race or gender. It has organised Arab workers with full membership since 1959, and the super-exploited migrant workers since 2009.

If you support a two-state solution, you should be building, not breaking, links with the Histadrut. Why? Because the Histadrut supports a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More importantly, it is engaged in making that solution a reality.

In 2008, under the auspices of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), it signed a landmark agreement with the Palestinian national trade union centre, the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). That agreement was hailed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for offering ‘hope on the way to peace’ between Israel and the Palestinians.

Maybe the Histadrut could teach us a thing or two. It supported Israel’s 2011 mass street protests for social justice, and, in 2012, organised a successful four-day General Strike in solidarity with Israel’s most vulnerable contract workers.

 


See also:

Israeli trade unionists striking for non-unionised workers’ rights shows way forward 17 Feb 2012

Israel-Palestine in 2012 5 Jan 2012

Building links not breaking links: Lessons from the Nablus Project 20 Nov 2011

Mitchell tells Israelis and Palestinians: “Get in the room: sit down and negotiate” 18 Oct 2011

Even a second Rabin could not save the Israeli Labor Party 4 Nov 2010


 

I think the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has framed the Histadrut.

When Unison sent a delegation to Israel in 2010, it reported:

“The PGFTU in particular said that UNISON should maintain links with the Histadrut so that we could specifically put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.

[The other independent Israeli pro-labour organisations] Kav laOved, Koach laOvdim and WAC/Ma’an all felt that international trade union influence on the Histadrut was essential.”

I ended by urging on him the sentiments expressed by Michael Leahy, General Secretary of Community Union in the preface to the pamphlet:

Breaking links with the Israeli trade union movement would be a radical departure from the best internationalist traditions of our movement, in favour of a new kind of gesture politics.

Progressive voices in the British trade union movement have traditionally refused to boycott other free trade unions because of what their governments do. We have not gone in for gesture politics. We have preferred engagement, worker-to-worker links, practical solidarity and, yes, a critical dialogue.

Those traditions have served us well. We should stick to them.”

Hopefully a new conversation has opened up about the Histadrut within the British labour movement.

To order copies of the pamphlet, contact Steve Scott at TUFI, or download the pamphlet form the TUFI website.

 


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19 Responses to “International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace process”

  1. NewsatLeft

    International engagement with Israel’s trade… http://t.co/Bxyzwrgn #MovementPolitics #Histadrut #internationalism #Israel #Palestine

  2. NewsatLeft

    International engagement with Israel’s trade… http://t.co/NMblxOzA #MovementPolitics #Histadrut #internationalism #Israel #Palestine

  3. Pulp Ark

    International engagement with Israel’s trade… http://t.co/8OO6EaIT #MovementPolitics #Histadrut #internationalism #muslim #tcot #sioa

  4. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace… http://t.co/qkoHOFEP

  5. Shamik Das

    International engagement with Israel's trade unions is essential to the peac http://t.co/gGLa1HPf by @BritainIsrael's Alan Johnson

  6. BevR

    RT @leftfootfwd: International engagement with Israel's trade unions is essential to the peace process http://t.co/zIOZ4oWY

  7. Ben S

    If the Histadrut had indeed been ‘framed’, we could always just take a look at some of their recent behaviour which would clear them. Let’s give it a go:

    When Israeli commandos killed nine civilians in international waters, many trade unions were appalled and condemned it. Who did Histadrut issue a statement to condemn? The dead civilians:
    “The conduct of the flotilla organizers, through the rejection of the Israeli proposal, was to attain provocation to strengthen Hamas”.
    http://www.histadrut.org.il/index.php?page_id=1801

    When Israeli forces attacked Gaza, killing hundreds upon hundreds of civilians and destroying much of the civilian infrastructure – sewage pumping stations, a flour mill, university buildings, electricity substations – again, the Histadrut was there to support the killing:
    “Israel had no choice but to respond to the repeated attacks and aggression as an act of justifiable self-defense.”
    http://www.labourstart.org/israel/Histadrut_on_Gaza.pdf

    Palestinian organisations have to liase with Histadrut on practical matters. That’s a world away from international unions choosing to form links with such a reprehensible organisation.

  8. Alan Johnson

    'International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace process', LFF, please RT @NickCohen4 http://t.co/JThN8iix

  9. Nick Cohen

    'International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace process', LFF, please RT @NickCohen4 http://t.co/JThN8iix

  10. adamglantz

    'International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace process', LFF, please RT @NickCohen4 http://t.co/JThN8iix

  11. Alan Johnson

    The whole global trade union movement needs to provide strong support for the PGFTU and to the Histadrut which are both independent trade union organisations which do not speak for their governments. We need to show that practical union cooperation is the right way forward.
    – David Cockcroft, International Transport Federation General Secretary, December 2009

  12. Cllr John Ferrett

    'International engagement with Israel’s trade unions is essential to the peace process', LFF, please RT @NickCohen4 http://t.co/JThN8iix

  13. Alan Johnson

    Even the ‘anti-Zionist’ writer Uri Davis argues that ‘the contradiction characterising the Histadrut since its establishment in 1920, the conflict between its interests as the second largest employer in Israel and its trade union interests was now greatly reduced … the Histadrut of today is much “leaner” and closer to a trade union in the social-democratic European sense of the term than its earlier form.’

  14. Ben S

    That’s not really a reply Alan, but, yes, I accept that Histadrut _independently_ supported the flotilla raid, it _independently_ supported the bombing of Gaza.

    Doesn’t that make it more culpable for its positions, not less?

  15. Alan Johnson

    Avital Shapira-Shabirow, the Director of International Relations in the International Department of the Histadrut, explains the Histadrut’s position.

    “Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Since then there has not been a single settlement in Gaza. In response Hamas made ordinary Israelis face the horrific daily fear of being hit by missiles and mortar attacks; this fact can’t just be brushed aside. When Hamas sent over waves of missiles it was part of a plan to demolish the State of Israel. Hamas is a terrorist organisation that does not recognise the existence of the State of Israel.

    Furthermore, the Hamas is a dictatorial teror organisation which conducted a military coup in 2007, which constantly tramples human rights, workers rights and represses al trade union activity in the Gaza Strip.

    The Histadrut believed that Israel had the right to protect its innocent workers and inhabitants after facing years of violence and terror from Gaza directed at Green Line Israel.

    I would ask British trade unionists how they would react after 10 years of facing repeated rocket and mortar attacks on London or Glasgow? I would ask them whether it is legitimate for a state to protect the rights of its citizens. I would ask the British unions to be even-handed and understand the suffering of the Israeli workers. Please understand that the Histadrut only supports the right of Israel to protect itself, as well as calling publicly for the urgent easing of the humanitarian situation of the Gazans.”

  16. Alan Johnson

    John Sweeney, President, American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO), Larry Cohen, President, Communications Workers of America, William Lucy, President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and 41 other American senior trade union leaders

    Trade unionists and their organisations seeking [a two-state solution] should be assisting those working to bring the two sides together in direct talks and then negotiations. In this regard we call for increased engagement of trade unions with their counterparts on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  17. Sarah

    Hmmm – According to Avital’s quote, she clearly thinks that she can justify supporting an assault on Gaza which killed over 1400 Palestinians by saying that ‘Israel had the right to protect its innocent workers and inhabitants after facing years of violence and terror from Gaza directed at Green Line Israel.’

    If Histadrut wants to be treated as a trade union like any other, it needs to stop acting as a cheerleader for the Israeli government’s violations of international law and human rights

  18. Anonymous

    Ah yes, they’re only Jews after all. Who cares if they’re murdered.

  19. Paul Kindred

    RT @leftfootfwd: International engagement with Israel's trade unions is essential to the peace process http://t.co/HXfWpixR

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