September 23, 2011
Roger Lyons, Former President of the Trades Union Congress and current Chair of TUFI
Like lots of trade unionists, last week’s TUC Congress one again leaves me angry and frustrated. Once again a policy position that promotes hostility towards Israel and its trade unions that as Martin Bright last week pointed out in this paper breaks all TUC traditions of workers solidarity, internationalism and support for peacemaking.
Whilst at first glance there seems to be a difficult picture painted and I’m not going to down play this, there is also a challenge ahead that we need to engage in. Looking at the policy closely the TUC has not been asked to do anything or change its policies. Instead it is up to affiliated unions to carry out reviews of relations with Israeli institutions including the Histadrut, if they want to. We at Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) see this as the opportunity to further develop inter British and Israeli exchanges and isolate the delegitimisers for what they are. Particularly those who support the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which is against a two-state solution, peace negotiations, and increasingly follows the Hamas/Iranian line.
What did happen last week? In a rather confusing motion that set out a menu of “demands” where there seems to be a de facto support for the Gaddafi regime, a regime that had total opposition to trade unions, withdraw troops from Afghanistan in favour of the Taliban, to the now well trodden path of attacking Israel which this time calls to review all bi lateral relations with Israeli institutions that includes the Histadrut (Israeli TUC). Of course we believe this is an unfounded, discriminatory attack on the Histadrut and quite rightly the Histadrut are angry in this attempt to ostracize them. Also this unique attack on the Histadrut of all trade union centers in the entire world has a clear smell of anti-semitsim about it. I call on the TUC and all affiliates to wake up and realize where they are being lead.
However some at the Congress did oppose this position. The attack on the Histadrut was so wrong even Bob Crow’s RMT Union had to oppose on the grounds that it was an attack on organised labour and class struggle in Israel. Other trade unionists such as the leader of the shop workers union USDAW, objected to the assault on Histadrut without any evidence, and contrary to the good relations individual unions have with their sister unions in Israel.
What’s more disappointing is that this comes on the back of last year’s agreement between the Histadrut and their Palestinian counterpart the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) that was endorsed by the international trade union community with a large contribution played by the British TUC. This work will continue and perhaps the authors of this review call have the intention of breaking this link and work while also isolating the TUC in making a contribution.
I’m also afraid of the lack of relevance the direction this policy position is taking the TUC. For instance where was the Congress motion on Syria condemning the bloodshed and crackdown by the regime? Or maybe a policy that commits the TUC to help develop trade unionism in the Arab Spring countries now they are emerging from the yoke of regimes that have either opposed free trade unionism or used them as an apparatus of state control. In fact they could take lessons from the Histadrut who have made great gains recently in benefits for working people most notably in pension rights, free nursery care and the minimum wage.
As I said earlier the challenge is there. The review is an opportunity for all TUC affiliates to engage with their Israeli counterparts and either strengthen or form new links with workers in Israel. There is the issue that if we do not act now others will try and skew reviews in a negative direction.
We at TUFI are starting this process with a broad based delegation to the Israeli and Palestinian trade union centers in late October and will follow this up with a program of bi-lateral exchanges that we are asking unions to get involved in as well as seeking to attend all the major union conferences over the next year. We need the support of the community to carry this out as we see this as an ideal opportunity but we need to act fast.