Mary Senior, Assistant Secretary, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC)
speaking at ISM France conference, 30 June 2009
I have seen the apartheid wall, the checkpoints, and the displacement of people from their homes and their land. This is ethnic cleansing. ... It is not the STUC, and those that support BDS, that are the racists.
Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you this evening. I am delighted to be able to come to Paris to speak about the work the Scottish Trades Union Congress is taking forward on boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions – and on supporting Palestinians.
Last week I received a message from a trade union colleague in London, saying we are very brave in speaking out on the issue of boycott against Israel. If I took time to read blogs and some of the emails we get from Zionists and narrow-minded extremists, I think I would agree, that our position is a brave one. However, it is a position that we have carefully considered, investigated, deliberated, debated and democratically arrived at. I am absolutely confident that it is the right position to take.
The STUC is now in its 113th year. Through our affiliated trade unions we represent 655,000 workers and their families in Scotland. We have always been very clear that we represent our members as workers in the workplace, but also as citizens in the global community in which we live.
Our movement has always been internationalist. Our members fought against fascism in Spain in the 1930s. In the 1970s we welcomed Chilean refugees to Scotland. In the 1980s the STUC was one of the first organisations to support boycotts against apartheid South Africa. Our interest in Palestine is longstanding.
At our Annual Congress in 2007 a resolution was agreed which asked the STUC to explore the calls for boycott, disinvestments and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel until it complied with international laws and agreed principles of human rights.
Between May 2007 and April 2009 the STUC did just that.
We agreed a process for investigating the calls for BDS which included:
• Understanding what is meant by BDS
• Seeking the views of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions – this was important given the inference that the calls for BDS came from them.
• We consulted with trade unions in Scotland.
• We sought the views of other interested groups – including faith groups such as those in the Jewish Community, as well as other religious groups.
• Most importantly, we visited Palestine and Israel to speak directly with the trade unions there – and with others.
This process, and time period, was very important to us. It enabled us to give serious consideration to the matter, to speak with a wide range of people, and to understand the issues involved. The process was vital to bring all of our 37 affiliated trade unions and the 22 trade union councils that make up the STUC, on board with our decision.
The consultation we had with interested groups was important. In Scotland faith groups play a valued role in civic life. There is a significant Jewish community in our two largest cities Glasgow and Edinburgh. In asking them for their views, we endeavoured to be inclusive and sensitive to their concerns. This dialogue also helped to explain to them why we were deliberating on these issues, and influenced our decision not to target Israeli kosher products for boycott.
This dialogue has been difficult given their accusations of the conflation of Israel and Judaism. However, the STUC has been clear in this work that our target is the Israeli state, not Judaism or Jewish people. I am clear that it is Zionists that are guilty of conflation, in their blinkered anti-Semitic accusations towards us.
Our delegation to Palestine and Israel was the vital piece of the jigsaw in putting together our position on BDS. Eleven Scottish trade unionists participated in the delegation – including myself and our General Secretary. We spent half of our time with the Israeli trade union centre – Histadrut, and the other half with the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. Both organisations arranged excellent programmes for us – where we met trade union leaders, workplace reps, Government Ministers and officials in both Israel and the Occupied Territories.
The full report of our visit is available on the STUC website.
From Histadrut, the Israeli Welfare Minister and Israeli Foreign Affairs Officials, we heard a similar story. That Israel has no “partner” to work with for peace, that Hamas are controlled by Iran, that boycott would hurt Palestinian workers, and that in the peace process the Palestinians had “never missed a chance to miss a chance”.
There was no attempt to understand the affects of the occupation, or the impact of the Israeli attacks on Gaza on Palestinian people.
The Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions told us that BDS is a decision for us to take. However, it was absolutely clear in meetings with the Palestine General Union of Women, from the Professors’ Union at Birzeit University, and from our meeting with the Palestinian Minister for Planning, that there is strong support for BDS amongst Palestinian trade unions and civic society.
In fact it was made clear to us that it is imperative and urgent that international trade union colleagues do act. It was emphasised to us that Palestinians are not employed in the sectors of the Israeli economy which would be most affected by boycott, and that in any case, the economic sacrifice was worth the political gain.
But what really impressed upon us the need for boycotting actions was the strong sense of injustice and the human rights violations experienced on a daily basis by ordinary Palestinians.
The urgency of the situation was made very apparent to us, in terms of:
• the ongoing construction of the separation wall which divides families, and separates communities from schools, hospitals, land and work.
• We saw the growth of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the removal of Palestinians from their homes.
We saw that these daily violations of human rights, are a direct result of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
We had illuminating visits to two human rights organisations – B’Tselem in Israel, and Al-Haq in Ramallah. Both organisations document the occupation and the human rights violations.
B’Tselem’s recent report on Operation Cast Lead absolutely exposes the disproportionate military force and the horrific violations, murder and mutilation carried out by the Israeli Defence Force.
An earlier meeting we had with Israeli Foreign Office officials had confirmed this brutality, when one official told us that soldiers had fired on the corner of a building as a warning to people. Her failure to understand people had nowhere to take shelter was as heartless as it was bloodthirsty.
Al-Haq demonstrates how sanctions against Israel are not only legitimate but necessary, because of Israel’s breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
Al-Haq is currently pursuing the British Government in English Courts, arguing that as a signatory to the Geneva Convention, Britain must sanction Israel for its violations, otherwise these international laws are meaningless.
The visit and our deliberations has had a significant impact upon the STUC. We are morally compelled to support the calls for BDS and to call for positive investments in the Occupied Territories.
(As a trade union movement committed to international solidarity, collectivism and the pursuit of peace and justice, we have also agreed to review our relationship with the Israeli Histadrut, because of its public positions in relation to the attacks on Gaza and the Occupied Territories).
We are one of the first trade union organisations to take this step – similar positions have been adopted by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, by South African unions and by some Canadian unions.
We are now embarking upon our campaigning, speaking to you this evening is part of that. On Thursday we will meet with a British Government Minister, to impress upon him the case for British sanctions, and a change in UK foreign policy.
Last week the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband expressed his “dismay” at our trade unions debating boycott. Well, we are dismayed at his comments, and have written to tell him so! The British Government would do better to direct its energy to challenging Israel for its actions against Palestinians.
In September, we are planning a conference for Scottish trade unionists, to motivate, to educate and to identify clear targets for boycott - the Israeli agriculture exporter Carmel Agrexco or Eden Springs water are two possibilities.
We are also challenging the misinformation being promoted by the new alliance “TULIP” – Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine - which appears to be the creation of the British-led organisation Trade Union Friends of Israel. We must never underestimate the Zionist lobby. And we must be prepared to stand up to their accusations of anti-Semitism.
I have seen the apartheid wall, the checkpoints, and the displacement of people from their homes and their land. This is ethnic cleansing.
It is not the STUC, and those that support BDS, that are the racists.
Thank you again for your hospitality and for listening. The STUC is very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you.
I would urge you, if you can, to go to Palestine and see what is happening for yourself. It is a beautiful country, and I will never forget the welcome we received from the trade unionists in Nablus. But most of all I would urge you to support the calls for boycotts and disinvestments and sanctions against the state of Israel. We have to expose the human rights violations being carried out by Israel, and to use political, social and economic pressure to isolate and shame the state into ending the occupation.
Read talk by Tom Hickey, UCU trade unionist and BRICUP member.
View video report of conference
Source: ISM France