Palestinians in the US Celebrate International Workers’ Day – May Day

From the US Palestinian Community Network – May 1, 2011 – On May Day, International Workers’ Day, the US Palestinian Community Network – and Palestinian workers in Palestine and in exile – join workers around the world in celebration of the incredible achievements of laborers for their just rights. On its 125th anniversary, we pay special tribute to the eight Haymarket martyrs and to their immense sacrifices. Their voice will never be strangled so long as we continue to fight for labor justice.

In Palestine as elsewhere, workers continue to struggle for and are deprived of their rights, including the right to work and the right to organize. Palestinian workers in the West Bank and Gaza are under siege and occupation, and under the chokehold of neoliberal policies aimed at further disenfranchising them; Palestinian workers in Israel face systematic discrimination and suppression of their independent organizations, and Palestinian workers in exile continue to confront discrimination, racism, and barriers to employment, particularly in Lebanon where Palestinians continue to face extensive legal barriers to employment.

From the earliest days of the Zionist movement in Palestine, Zionist settler colonialism has consistently and continually attacked Palestinian labor. In the 1920s and 1930s, as the Zionist movement, in collaboration with British colonialism, worked to expand its colonization of Palestine, policies and prohibitions against hiring Palestinian workers proliferated and Palestinian small businesses were systematically forced out of business by larger Zionist enterprises, increasing Palestinian unemployment in an attempt to drive Palestinian workers from their homelands in search of work and therefore dispossess them of their land. Palestinian organizing has also been ruthlessly suppressed – before and after the Nakba, in Palestine and in exile. Palestinian labor leaders languish in Israeli prisons, and Palestinian workers’ organizations are heavily suppressed in Jordan.

Even now, Palestinian workers are subject to collective punishment by Israel, including checkpoints, siege, closure and other policies that deepen poverty and increase unemployment, driving Palestinians to leave their homes in search of livelihoods whilst maintaining a reserve force of Palestinian unemployed labor for Zionist exploitation.

Palestinian workers have always been the backbone of the Palestinian national movement. From the strikes in the factories of Haifa in the early resistance to British colonialism, to the labor movements of the 1950s inside Israel, to their continued role as organizers and agitators, Palestinian workers propel the Palestinian struggle. In 1936, as part of the great Palestinian revolt against Zionist settler colonialism, Palestinian workers waged a historic general strike – the longest general strike in the history of the world. Palestinian workers’ organizations also played a key role in resisting occupation – as seen in the first Intifada, when labor organizations, unions, and workers’ popular committees coordinated general strikes, mass closures of stores and factories, and workers’ mobilizations.

International workers’ solidarity with the struggle of Palestinian workers and the Palestinian people is crucial. An increasing number of labor unions around the world have adopted Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. From South Africa to the UK to Canada to Italy to Norway to Brazil to Australia, and elsewhere around the world, trade unions are affirming their commitment to the rights of the Palestinian worker.

At the same time, the Histadrut, the official Israeli labor organization, dating from the earliest mobilizations of “Hebrew labor” to counter Palestinian workers, continues to present itself as a progressive or legitimate part of the international labor movement. To the contrary, the Histadrut is instrumentally connected to the Israeli state, playing a key role in building settlements, stealing and refusing to return millions of dollars in Palestinian workers’ dues, supporting the assault on Gaza and the attack on the Freedom Flotilla, and refusing to combat racism and discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Histadrut is not a labor union – it is a racist arm of a settler-colonial apartheid state. We reiterate the Palestinian BDS call, “We are thus asking the international trade unions to boycott the Histadrut…” and salute the international labor unions, including the Scottish Trade Union Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions who have announced their boycott of the Histadrut.

As Palestinian workers in exile, we call upon workers and trade unions in the US to support the BDS call and boycott the Histadrut. The historic action of June 2010 at the Port of Oakland, where International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 workers refused to unload an Israeli Zim ship in protest at the assault on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, was a groundbreaking moment in the U.S. labor movement’s steps toward solidarity with Palestine. “This action stands in the proud tradition of West Coast dock-workers who refused to handle cargo for Nazi Germany (1934) and fascist Italy (1935); those in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay Area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused shipping for apartheid South Africa; those in Oakland who refused to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and those at all twenty-nine West Coast ports who held a May Day strike against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008),” said Labor for Palestine. ILWU Local 10 is currently under attack and facing a lawsuit by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), after the rank and file dock workers’ voluntary action on April 4 in solidarity with the Wisconsin public workers. USPCN expresses its strongest support and solidarity with ILWU Local 10 and its members and commits itself to joining in their defense, as they have joined with us and so many before.

USPCN reaffirms that the voices of Palestinian workers must be heard. Palestinian workers are united in their call for BDS and we demand that any trade union leaders who claim to speak for Palestinian workers reaffirm their full support for the demands and objectives of Palestinian workers in Palestine and in exile – including BDS and the boycott of the Histadrut. The Palestinian labor movement – like the Palestinian national movement as a whole – must be rebuilt on a democratic and inclusive basis. Palestinian workers have an important role to play in the Palestinian national movement, and just as the unions of Palestinian students and women must be reborn, so too must the organizations of Palestinian workers. In this way, the will of Palestinian workers will be legitimately represented, rather than allow appointed and undemocratic leaders to speak in their name.

We are also very conscious of the role of the Palestinian Authority in undermining Palestinian workers’ rights – from political pressure by refusing to pay salaries, to the Ramallah PA’s neoliberal policies of “economic peace” and “industrial zones.” Salam Fayyad, a former representative of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – known internationally for their anti-worker “austerity” policies – serves as Prime Minister of the Ramallah PA. Despite the recent announcement of a unity agreement between Hamas and Fateh in the West Bank and Gaza, it is clear to us that the PA can never represent the Palestinian people as a whole, and that the PA’s institutional structures are deeply entwined with the interests of the Palestinian capitalist class to the detriment of Palestinian workers or meaningful Palestinian economic popular development.

As Palestinians and Palestinian workers in the U.S., we are particularly appalled by the obvious relations of Palestinian and Palestinian American large capitalists in undermining the Palestinian national movement, and Palestinian labor. We condemn the choice of Bashar Masri, a Palestinian capitalist responsible for the “Rawabi” gated community in the West Bank to speak before the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Chicago on May 12, and to therefore encourage greater trade and economic cooperation between the US and Israel. While the Palestinian people are calling for full boycott of Israel, Masri and his ilk are working to undermine that call, and to support their and the Israeli economy’s profiting from occupation and settler colonialism. We call upon all supporters of Palestinian workers to protest in Chicago on May 12 against Masri’s economic collaboration with Israel at the expense of Palestinian workers and the Palestinian people.

In Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and across the Arab world, the movement of Arab workers for dignity and social justice have been central to toppling dictatorships and demanding radical change. We salute our fellow Arab workers for their inspiring victories and pledge to continue the struggle together.

In the United States, recognizing that the demands of justice for immigrants are central to any movement for justice for workers in the U.S., May Day has become a day of workers’ as well as migrants’ struggle. As a result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, there are now over five million Palestinian refugees, many of whom live without status, all over the world. Issues of status, forced migration and refugee rights have always played a central role in the fight for justice for Palestine, including Palestinian refugees’ right to return home. The migrant struggle is therefore our own; we are indivisible from the call of undocumented workers for their rights.

Indeed, Israel is not only a settler colonial state responsible for dispossession and oppression of Palestinians in Palestine; Israel is also a world leader in ‘homeland security’ and border technology. Israeli technology and weaponry can be found at border fences and immigration detention centers in the U.S. and around the world, with the wall the U.S. government is building on the border with Mexico mirroring the Apartheid wall in Palestine. This technology as made the lives of migrants unbearable, cruelly depriving them of a right to work.

We stand today for full justice, legalization, and rights for immigrants in the US and around the world, an end to federal policies such as “Secure Communities” and 287(g) that create unsafe communities for immigrants and people of color across the U.S., and an end to the racist anti-immigrant policies in Arizona, Georgia and elsewhere that target the Latino, Black community, and Arab community, and other communities of color.

On International Workers’ Day 2011, we stand in solidarity with the international workers’ movement, and call upon that movement to continue and expand its efforts in solidarity with Palestine, including a full embrace of BDS and boycott of the Histadrut, and support for Palestinian workers’ struggles. We salute the workers of our community and commit ourselves to building and organizing Palestinian workers in the U.S. as part of the Palestinian national movement, and as part of the international labor, immigrant justice, and antiracist movements.

Workers’ solidarity can end exploitation and injustice – and will bring down occupation and colonialism in Palestine.

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