The following statement was issued by Labor for Palestine on 17 February 2009:
“For the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
— Martin Luther King Jr., 4 April 1967
We salute the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) in Durban, and Western Australian dock worker members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), for refusing to handle Israeli cargo.
Theirs is a courageous response to Israel’s attack on Palestinians in Gaza that, since 27 December alone, have left some 1,400 dead and 5,000 wounded — nearly all of them civilians.
This action is in the best tradition of dock workers in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused to handle shipping for apartheid South Africa; Oakland dock workers’ refusal to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and West Coast dock workers’ strike against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008).
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) rightly “calls on other workers and unions to follow suit and to do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free.”
COSATU’s appeal is particularly relevant for workers in the United States, whose government stands behind Israel’s war against the Palestinians, and without which Israeli apartheid cannot continue.
In the past 10 years alone, US military aid to Israel was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be $30 billion. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is US aircraft, white phosphorous and bullets that kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers. Both the Democratic and Republican parties condone the slaughter in Gaza.
Such support bolsters Israel’s longstanding role as watchdog and junior partner for US domination over the oil-rich Middle East — and beyond. In that capacity, Israel was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally.
As with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, workers in the US pay a staggering human and financial price, including deepening economic crisis, for US-Israeli war and occupation.
Yet, in contrast to trade union bodies in South Africa, Australia, Denmark, Britain, Canada and elsewhere, most of labor officialdom in this country — often without the knowledge or consent of union members — is a main accomplice of Israeli apartheid.
For more than 60 years, it has closely collaborated with the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation that has spearheaded — and whitewashed — apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since the 1920s.
US labor leaders have plowed at least $5 billion of our union pension funds and retirement plans into State of Israel Bonds.
In April 2002, while Israel butchered Palestinian refugees at Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was a featured speaker at a belligerent “National Solidarity Rally for Israel.”
In July 2007, the Jewish Labor Committee, a Histadrut mouthpiece, enlisted top officials of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to condemn British union support for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Now, by their silence, these same leaders are complicit in Israel’s massacre in Gaza.
These policies echo infamous “AFL-CIA” support for US war and dictatorship in Vietnam, Latin America, Gulf War I, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
It strengthens the US-Israel war machine and labor’s corporate enemies, reinforces racism and Islamophobia, and makes a mockery of international solidarity.
For all these reasons, we join COSATU in supporting the growing international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, which demands Palestinian self-determination, including an end to Israeli military occupation, the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and elimination of apartheid throughout historic Palestine.
Join us in publicizing the example of South African and Australian dock workers, and working toward the same kind of labor solidarity here at home.
Join us in demanding immediate and total:
- End to US aid for Israel.
- Divestment of business and labor investments in Israel.
- Labor boycott of Israel.
- Withdrawal of US and allied forces from the Middle East.