Trade Union Conference in Brazil Brings Hope to Palestinian Workers

“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”

Labour Day in Palestine: A day of struggle for dignity

As the General Union of Workers Associations in the Food Industries and Agriculture – New Unions we are struggling for workers rights, their dignity and against Israeli occupation, apartheid and colonialism and the corporate exploitation striving on this.

As New Unions we have made our first steps claiming the rights and dignity of the workers in the infamous industrial settlement compound of “Buds for Peace” in Tulkarem.  Prospered under the auspices of the Oslo process, in this industrial compound some of the most polluting Israeli industries exploit Palestinian workers behind heavy metal doors, colonize and poison our land and entrench the occupation on our people. Our strikes and struggles have won victories for the workers in the industrial compound and have once again shown that only the determined struggle of the people can bring us forward on the path to justice and freedom.

This May 1 is a special day for us: it is the first time Palestinian agricultural workers can celebrate Labour Day with a recognized trade union confederation in which they can organize and struggle for their rights.  On this occasion, we reaffirm our determination to continue all possible efforts to ensure that Israeli occupation and apartheid cannot profit on the exploitation of our workers and that the achievement of fair labour conditions in Palestine cannot be postponed until the liberation of Palestine.

Today, we stand as well in solidarity with the brave struggle of our brothers and sisters in Israeli jails. Most of them are since April 17 in a mass hunger strike, eight of them are on hunger strike for over 50 days. We join the Palestinian calls for global solidarity actions on May 5 to support the prisoners. We urge you to join this collective effort and to:

– Raise awareness within your union about the Palestinian prisoners hunger strike as part of the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation.

– Denounce and campaign against contracts with Israeli or international companies involved in the Israeli prison system, such as G4S.

In this spirit of solidarity with all those struggling for justice and freedom and among workers across the globe, we ask you to join the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions until Israel complies with international law.  We call on you to take principled stands of ending ties with Israeli corporation and institutions and international corporations and institutions complicit with Israeli occupation, apartheid and colonialism.

Your trade unions may have played a role in promoting solidarity with the South African freedom struggle, which was according to our comrades from COSATU such a crucial support to their own struggle. Today, we are calling you from Palestine to once again as workers and trade unions shoulder the responsibility where most governments have failed: stop supporting who develops, profits from, sustains and markets Israeli apartheid.

Based on this understanding of the urgency for effective solidarity to our ongoing struggle, we particularly thank our comrades in the Brazilian trade unions (CUT, CTB, Conlutas) that are currently working to allow Palestinians and the international solidarity movement to gather in a historic land mark event: the World Social Forum Free Palestine to be held from November 28 – December 1 2012 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

This event and the preparatory process towards it will allow us to strengthen solidarity with our Palestinian struggle and to plan, discuss and strategize together how to tear down walls of occupation and capitalist oppression across the globe. We therefore ask trade unions across the globe to join the WSF Free Palestine 2012 with strong delegation and to be an active part in the preparatory process towards the WSF Free Palestine.

Together we can defeat Israeli apartheid, occupation and colonialism!

Together we can create a world of justice, equality and dignity!

Workers at Tulkarem workers terminal

 

Click here to see the slideshow on the workers “terminal” in Tulkarem.

The terminal is one of the few crossing points at which Palestinian workers are allowed to cross the Green Line to reach their work places in Israel. All workers have to line up for the daily Israeli procedures of humiliation, control and repression marketed as “security”. This can take up to three hours.

In order to be able to pass the terminal, each worker has to apply and to regularly renew a “permit” given to him in form of a magnetic card after a “security” control. Political activity by the workers or family members of the workers can lead to the withdrawal of the “permit”.

Workers are forced to undergo these humiliating and oppressive procedures as the Israeli system of occupation, apartheid and ghettoization through the Wall, the settlements and the over 500 checkpoints does not allow any possibility for a Palestinian economy to survive. Unemployment is high and jobs across the Green Line are often the only possibility for workers to make a living.

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The Buds of Peace? An interview with workers from Tulkarem industrial zone

The Nitzanei Shalom settlement industrial zone was built on the land of the West Bank town of Tulkarem in the early eighties.  The land was confiscated by order of the Israeli military. The name means the ‘buds of peace’. Presently the zone houses eight factories owned by Israelis but worked in by Palestinians. The zone has been accused of causing a deterioration in health for the nearby residents of Tulkarem, unsafe working conditions and underpaying workers.

Corporate Watch interviewed several workers from the Solor and Yamit factories:

Q. What affect does the industrial zone have on the people of Tulkarem?

A. (Ahmad) The factories were established on farmland stolen from people from Tulkarem. The factories are dangerous in that they pollute the environment in Tulkarem. They are also unsafe for the workers, they do not adhere to any health and safety regulations as they are based in occupied territory and there is nothing to protect workers. Accidents are common.

(Rashid) The Solor factory is very unsafe. Three workers have died – in 2000, 2002 and 2008 from burns sustained from gas related fires at the factoy.

Q. How much are workers paid?

A. (Rashid) In Solor workers receive 90 shekels a day, well under the Israeli minimum wage. Before we started to organise in the factory we were paid 65 shekels a day

(Ahmad) In Yamit workers used to receive a similarly low wage but two years ago we went on strike. the strike lasted for two months and eventually, when the boss felt that he could no longer breathe, he agree to our demands and now we receive 200 shekels a day as well as proper contracts.

(Rashid) In Solor the workers tried to organise but were not strong enough. I was fired for organising and for speaking to the media about the conditions in the factory. In total ten people were sacked for organising. There is still a case going through the courts about their pay. The people who were sacked did not receive any papers or any notification of why they were being fired. They were just told not to come back the next day.

Q. Did the Histradrut do anything to support the workers.

A. (Rashid) People from the Histradrut came to see the conditions in the factories but they did not do anything.

Q. Can trade unions access workers in the industrial zone?

A. Since 2008 Palestinian trade unionists have not been able to get a permit to enter the industrial zone. The Histradrut (the Israeli trade union) does not represent us.

Q. Do companies in the industrial zone export their products outside Israel?

A. (Rashid)  Solor has an office in Jordan and exports to India and Abu Dhabi. When products are being exported the workers are not allowed to see what is written on the export labels.

(Ahmad) Yamit exports products to Egypt and France. When products are exported to France they have “Netafim” written on them.

Q. What do you think of the international boycott of Israel?

(Ahmad) Whatever you can do to close these factories and boycott Israel will be good. Any money spent on Israeli products is like bullets to our hearts.

(Rashid) the most important thing is for the workers in the industrial zones to be united and fight for their rights.

Q. If these factories closed wouldn’t you lose your jobs?

A. If it wasn’t for the occupation we would not need to work in factories like these.

Q. Do you think there should be an international boycott of the Histradrut?

(some of the workers seemed a little uncomfortable about this question)

A. (Hashem) Yes there should definitely be a boycott of the Histradrut. This is very important. 1% of all wages we receive while working in the industrial zone is given to the Histradrut but we receive nothing from them. We receive no health insurance or representation. It is important for the trade union movement to boycott Histradrut.

*All names in this article have been changed .

(republished from Corporate Watch: http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/03/28/the-buds-of-peace-an-interview-with-workers-from-tulkarem-industrial-zone/)