Breakthroughs for Palestinian Labour Solidarity

Article excerpt

Inspired by the Intifada (Arabic for uprising) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestine solidarity within the Canadian labour movement faces new challenges.

After more than a year of organizing, the Canada-Palestine Trade Union Solidarity Committee successfully lobbied the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) to send a factfinding delegation to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This article reports on the major events leading up to the CLC tour and some of the findings of the delegation.

The 1988 CLC convention in Vancouver passed a resolution on the Middle East condemning "the senseless, brutal violence used by Israel against demonstrators in the West Bank and Gaza." The convention called for a United Nations International Peace Conference in which all concerned parties, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, would attend. The CLC policypaper, "Preparing for Peace -- Labour's Vision," called for negotiations leading to the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

The following fall, an emissary from the General Federation of Trade Unions on the West Bank visited Canada in a nationwide tour as a guest of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW). Addressing meetings held at labour councils and at conventions of provincial federations of labour, he gave an eye-witness account of the Intifada, including a history of the repression of Palestine trade union rights. He explained that the Histadrut, the main trade union federation in Israel, is also a major employer in Israel. Palestinian workers who cross the green line to work in Israel receive lower wages than Israeli workers and are often employed in jobs that no one else will do. They are obliged to pay dues to the Histardrut for which they receive no services in return. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, under Israeli military occupation since 1967, closing of union offices, arrests, detentions and deportations of trade union leaders are regularly carried out by the Israeli military.

During the 1988 convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) an emergency resolution was unanimously passed calling on the CLC to pressure the Canadian government to condemn the conduct of the United States government for barring Yasser Arafat from addressing the UN General Assembly in New York. The preamble of the resolution noted the declaration in Algiers of the Palestinian state. The convention reaffirmed the CLC's call for a UN International Peace Conference. At the convention Julie Davis, Vice-President of the OFL, expressed support for the proposal that the CLC send a fact-finding tour to visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In the Spring of 1989, the CLC sent a study mission to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The members of the delegation were: Richard Mercier, Secretary-Treasurer, CLC and leader of the delegation; Julie Davis, Secretary-Treasurer, OFL; Carol Phillips, Assistant to the President, CAW; Keith Oleksuik, Associate Canadian Counsel, United Steelworkers of America; John Weir, Director, Community and Social Action Departments, B.C. Federation of Labour; Jules Bloch, Counsel, Labourer's International Union; Lou Lenkinski, OFL and Paul Puritt, CLC International Affairs Staff.

This was the first time in the history of the CLC that direct links were made with trade unions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past, the CLC and its affiliates regularly visited Israel on Histadrut-sponsored tours. The study mission met with trade union representatives from all four political tendencies united under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). They visited refugee camps, working women's committees, popular health committees, medical relief committees; they talked to Palestinian labour lawyers, doctors, health offi-Jordan, and North Yemen. There is a new rapprochement between Egypt and Libya. Although Syria has been conspicuously absent from the various peace plans and proposals that are put forward, its position is consistent with the international consensus on the Arab-Israeli conflict; i. …