At its Biennial Delegate Conference in May 2008 the public sector union IMPACT passed two motions criticizing Israeli suppression of the Palestinian people and calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and services. The motions also called for divestment from those companies engaged in or profiting from the occupation as well as an education campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people. Conference furthermore called on the Irish Government to take a stand on Palestine independent of EU foreign policy, demanded the restoration of EU funding, and also called for the suspension of the preferential trading status enjoyed under the Euro-Med Agreement.
The passing of these motions is yet another very significant development in terms of trade union solidarity since IMPACT is the largest public sector union in Ireland. As such it represents a huge cross section of Irish opinion and is indicative of the outrage felt by the Irish people over Israeli injustices and war crimes. It should be noted that the IMPACT motions follow on from the motions passed by NIPSA, the largest public sector union in Northern Ireland. At the NIPSA conference a total of five motions were passed — all unanimous — severely criticizing Israel and calling for a number of solidarity activities including boycott and divestment and the suspension of Euro-Med.
That the two largest public sector unions in Ireland — encompassing both jurisdictions — have come out so strongly in favor of boycott and divestment is of great significance. It sends a very strong message to the Israeli government, and to the Irish government, that one of the most important sectors of Irish civil society is aware of what is happening in the region and is prepared to do something about it. This was also evident at the national May Day parade in Belfast when no less than three of the speakers on the platform called for a mobilization of the Irish working class in solidarity with our oppressed brothers and sisters in Palestine.
The adoption of these two motions by IMPACT in recent days is also a complete endorsement of the policy position of boycott and divestment taken by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at their Biennial Delegate Conference in July 2007. The ICTU policy, with its detail of Israeli atrocities and injustices, as well as its specification of a wide range of solidarity activities, is undoubtedly one of the strongest and most determined positions taken by any trade union congress world-wide. In the wake of the ICTU conference the leaders of the trade union movement here were confronted by the Israeli ambassadors to both the UK and the Irish Republic. An ICTU fact-finding delegation to the region in November 2007, involving senior trade union leaders, also had to withstand an extremely critical — at times bordering on hysterical — response from both Histadrut (the Israeli trade union confederation) and from the Israeli business sector. The witnessing of the conditions being endured by Palestinians under armed occupation however served only to reinforce the decision of congress. Peter Mc Loone, the General Secretary of IMPACT, was a member of that delegation and in fact was one of only four members who were permitted access to Gaza. It is no surprise that he also took the platform at the IMPACT conference to speak strongly in favor of the motions, urging the membership to take a firm stand to relieve the suffering of the Palestinian people and to help to bring about the ending of Israeli injustice.
Once again the Irish trade union movement has made a powerful statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people as they continue to endure the horrors of Israeli occupation and war crimes. Sixty years after the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands — the Palestinian people continue to endure conditions that have been described as “apartheid under occupation.” It is an occupation that involves the terrorizing of the entire Palestinian population and systematic abuses of human rights including the state sponsored theft and destruction of lands, water and homes. Israel and its allies appear to be banking on the assumption that because it has gone on for so long, and because it has become such a common practice, many in the Western world have become inured to such violence, even when that violence involves mass civilian casualties as at Beit Hanoun or on the beach at Gaza; even when it involves the murder of a Palestinian mother and four of her children, aged between one and five, as happened in Beit Hanoun on the morning of 28 April. The question for all civilized people however is whether at this very critical moment in our history we either collude with Israeli terror and violence, which — and this is the really worrying thing — is right in front of our eyes, and thus become brutalized ourselves, or else we can take a stand against it and call injustice by its name — to “speak truth to power.”