“Standing in front of all these people and participating in this conference made me feel I was participating in a strong movement and that the struggle against imperialism and colonialism is still strong”
From the 9th to the 13th of July Mohammad Bleidi, president of the General Union of Workers Associations in the Food Industries and Agriculture (New Unions) in Palestine, attended the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT) trade union conference, held every three years. Bleidi had been invited to Sao Paulo by the CUT after a trip by the Brazilian trade union confederation to Palestine where they had got to know the New Unions. Bleidi explained how during the trip to Palestine, he wanted the CUT delegate to experience the suffering of Palestinian workers first hand, to see the situation on the ground with his own eyes “we even took him to the workers’ terminal at 3am.”
Bleidi naturally accepted the offer to attend the CUT conference and felt it would be an honour to be there and be able to learn from the valuable experience of the CUT and Brazilian workers. He said he would be delighted to present the case of the Palestinian workers to the Brazilians.
The conference was attended by delegations from around the world, and although Bleidi felt that “it was clear how interested the people were in Palestine and the Palestinian cause” he was disappointed to discover how many of the unions had “strong historical connections” with the Israeli trade union Histradrut. He felt it was vital to make these delegations aware of the fact that Histadrut “is not revolutionary, it supports the occupation” stressing that to treat Histadrut as a revolutionary trade union supporting fairness in the workplace is simply to normalise relationships with Israel. Beyond re-enforcing normalisation by continuing relationships with Israeli organisations which are not explicitly anti-occupation, he argued that supporting Histadrut actively helps degenerate the already appalling conditions of Palestinian workers in ’48.
“Unfortunately many of the trade unions around the world thought Histadrut is a normal, democratic trade union representing the workers, and perhaps it is for the Jewish Israeli workers, but not for the exploited Palestinian workers in Israel who receive reduced pay. What is happening on the workers’ terminals is shameful and humiliating. If it claims it is defending the workers rights I wonder how Histadrut can accept the humiliation and insulting treatment of the Palestinian workers on these terminals and checkpoints”
Building new relationships with international trade unions is not only important, but vital for the success of the New Unions in Palestine. Bleidi argues that there is a great need for new trade unions in Palestine which are close and committed to the rights of the workers whilst remaining clearly separate from the so-called “yellow” trade unions (those which operate with close connections to the authorities and the elite landowners and employers). These new unions also require the experience of trade unions such as the CUT which they can learn from. Unions like the CUT are bigger and more powerful and can provide the moral support for Palestinian trade unions to be able to efficiently defend the dignity and rights of workers.
The international solidarity shown by trade unions from around the world means a lot to the New Unions
“It means that we are not alone in confronting the occupation, in our struggle against the occupation and battle for rights; that we have comrades and brothers around the world that are supporting the struggle and who are ready to stand up. It gives us support because it lets us know we are not alone in this battle”
The New Unions see themselves as part of a wider movement, Bleidi reiterates how international solidarity is so effective as a means of strengthening the Palestinian cause as it puts Palestinians in the “global struggle of workers against colonialism, imperialism, and the exploitation of workers and people. Thus it is vital that workers across the world share with us the values of human rights and dignity.”
Talk of this united global struggle gave Bleidi particular hope for the future, the fact that Trade Unions had come from across the world to discuss wars, financial crises, and occupations, not simply just to learn about the CUT highlighted a sense of unity and responsibility for workers across the world.
“The fact that people are adapting to embrace and organise a special WSF event about Palestine makes you feel strongly that you are really not alone. Conferences like this are costly, on all sides, and entail a great deal of effort for mobilisation, and in order to commit oneself to such an event, which will be attended by thousands of people, shows the honesty of the support and the strong belief in our struggle”
Bleidi returned from Brazil “fully inspired and energetic to continue the building of the independent trade unions in spite of the lack of the limited resources to do so”. With the reinvigorated support from Brazilian and other international trade unions Bleidi hopes to establish the New Unions as a strong force for resisting oppression of the workers, and more generally, the occupation.
Finally he called for the immediate boycott of Israel “as a colonial, apartheid power. Every penny in support of the Israeli economy goes towards weapons that kill Palestinians, building the wall, expanding the settlements, and the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem of its indigenous population. I call for boycotting the Histadrut, because it is part of the associations of the occupation which has no clear stance against the occupation and keeps silent despite all the suffering and humiliation and abuse of Palestinian workers.”
“We are still under occupation, even if we have the Palestinian Authority and a president. We are still under occupation when even Mahmoud Abbas needs permission to travel from one Palestinian city to another. Israel has the duty as an occupying power to provide reasonable working conditions and ensure the rights of the workers including a safe journey to work”