Monthly Archives: June 2011

UK UNISON Public Workers Conference rejects “critical engagement” with the Histadrut

Report by Greg Dropkin
Published: 25/06/11

After a lengthy and high level debate, UNISON National Delegate Conference decisively rejected a resolution from the National Executive to restore relations with the Israeli trade union federation Histadrut on the basis of “critical engagement”. Recent documents from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the newly formed Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) featured in the debate.

Relations with the Histadrut were suspended last year after the federation defended Israel’s murderous attack on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship on the Freedom Flotilla aiming to break the siege on Gaza. The decision this week leaves the relationship suspended.

As mandated by the 2010 Conference, the union sent a delegation to Palestine last November to investigate whether any relationship with the Histadrut would be appropriate. The delegation reported that both Palestinian trade unionists and Israeli labour rights organisations, whilst highly critical of the Histadrut, thought that Unison should engage with the Israeli union federation. In particular a meeting with the PGFTU convinced the delegation that they should restore the relationship. A resolution reflecting this report was submitted to Conference by the National Executive Committee.

However, things have moved on since last November and the NEC encountered very well-informed opposition and a Conference which really wanted to understand the issues. After about 3 speakers from each side, Conference rejected a move to put the question, and debate continued.

In truth, there were strong opponents of the Histadrut within the Palestinan unions, including within the PGFTU, when the UNISON delegation made their visit. By April, the argument was out in the open and the PGFTU had issued a “clarification” which called on “all international organisations and trade unions not to use the relationship between the PGFTU and the Histadrut to justify establishing relationships with the Israeli occupation and its institutions that contribute towards strengthening the occupation”.

By the May Day weekend, the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS had formed. Its membership includes the General Union of Palestinian Workers, Federation of Independent Trade Unions (IFU), General Union of Palestinian Women, Union of Palestinian Professional Associations (comprising the professional syndicates of Engineers, Physicians, Pharmacists, Agricultural Engineers, Lawyers, Dentists and Veterinarians), General Union of Palestinian Teachers, General Union of Palestinian Peasants and Co-ops, General Union of Palestinian Writers, Union of Palestinian Farmers, Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), Union of Public Employees in Palestine-Civil Sector; and all of the trade union blocks that make up the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

The PTUC-BDS Statement of Principles deals with the Histadrut as part of the wider issue of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. It spells out, with references, the Histadrut’s role and then calls on “trade unions around the world to review and sever all ties with the Histadrut”.

The UNISON NEC resolution was moved by President Angela Lynes. Speakers for the resolution concentrated on what the delegation had been told last November.

But Andrew Berry (Islington), who had moved the resolution in 2010 which suspended relations pending a review, and mandated the NEC to send the delegation, pointed out that in view of the new situation the resolution should have been remitted. In the current circumstances, it should be rejected, leaving the resolution from 2010 in place so that UNISON can review and consider the new developments.

Several of those speaking for the NEC resolution seemed unhappy with their script.

The opposition included unlikely allies, ranging from Morning Star supporters to the SWP, Permanent Revolution, and independents. Delegates from the Royal Victoria Hospital (Belfast), Camden, Islington, and Manchester pursued the argument.

Camden Branch Sec George Binette read out the PTUC-BDS five-pronged indictment of the Histadrut’s key role in perpetuating Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of racial discrimination by:

1. Publicly supporting Israel’s violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other tenets of international law

2. Maintaining active commercial interests in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise

3. Allowing Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank to join the organization

4. Supporting Israel’s war of aggression on besieged Gaza in 2008/9; it has later justified Israel’s massacre of humanitarian relief workers and activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla on 31 May 2010

5. Illegally withholding over NIS 8. 3 billion (approximately $2. 43bn) over decades of occupation from wages earned by Palestinian workers from the Occupied Palestinian Territory, deducted for ’social and other trade union benefits’ that Palestinian laborers from the OPT have never received.

For the resolution, NEC member Colm McGee (Northern Ireland) quoted the opening of the PGFTU clarification: “Mr Shaher Saed detested the attempts by some organisations to exploit the relationship between the Histadrut and the PGFTU for political gain and to undermine the international trade unions efforts to defend the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.” Whilst McGee argued that this supported the NEC position, the next sentences from the PGFTU make clear that Shaher Saed was attacking those apologists for Zionism like the Trade Union Friends of Israel (now TULIP) who use the relationship between the PGFTU and Histadrut, a relationship of unequals, to justify establishing relationships with the Israeli occupation and its institutions.

In reply, South Manchester Hospitals Branch Sec Frances Kelly corrected McGee’s account and held up the PGFTU document to read “It is time all world organisations decided to boycott all Israeli institutions implicated in the occupation and its practices”. Like George Binette, she quoted the PTUC-BDS on the role of the Histadrut in perpetuating Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of racial discrimination.

Winding up for the NEC, President Angela Lynes accepted the criticisms of the Histadrut but insisted that the PGFTU wanted UNISON to restore relations with the Israeli federation.

It was mainly a civil and considered debate. All the speakers against the NEC resolution paid tribute to the delegation for their work in solidarity.

Conference then rejected the resolution decisively.

June 13 New York City Picket Tells Labor Officials to Dump Israel Bonds

by Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine
June 18, 2011

On June 13, more than fifty labor and anti-apartheid activists participated in a spirited picket of an Israel Bonds “celebration” dinner in New York City that honored prominent labor official Denis Hughes.[1]

Part of a rapidly growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel,[2] the protest was called by New York City Labor Against the WarLabor for PalestineDump Israel BondsAl-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return CoalitionInternational Jewish Anti-Zionist NetworkInternational Action Center, and the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter.

It dominated the dinner’s only media coverage, headlined “Protesters chant outside Israel Bonds gala,” which reported that, “Protesters were in force Monday night as the State of Israel Bonds, a prominent charity for real estate folks, celebrated its 60th anniversary honoring Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO.”[3]

Labor Complicity

For decades, US labor officials have invested unknown millions from union retirement funds — often without their members’ knowledge — in the Bonds.[4]

This year’s dinner awarded a “Peace Medal” to Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. Hughes was director and chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank during the notorious “credit bubble” decade. It was chaired by Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and head of the Jewish Labor Committee.[5]

Appelbaum has long traded on his image as a “progressive” labor leader to attack growing international trade union support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.[6] Recently, he has been at the forefront of a witch-hunt that banned supporters of Palestinian rights from meeting at the NYC LGBT Community Center.[7]

Dump Israel Bonds Campaign

The June 13 protest builds on earlier efforts to end such complicity.

On October 14, 1973, just eight days after Israel provoked its fourth war in twenty-five years, three thousand Arab autoworkers in Detroit held a wildcat (unofficial) strike and march to protest UAW Local 600’s purchase, without membership approval, of $300,000 in Israel Bonds. On November 28, 1973, Arab workers and their supporters struck again, this time a B’nai B’rith “Humanitarian Award” for UAW International President Leonard Woodcock.[8]

On May 21, 2002, immediately following the infamous Israeli massacre in Jenin in the West Bank, New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) picketed an AFL-CIO Israel Bonds National Labor Division event where “special guest” Israeli Consul General Alon Pinkus “express[ed] his gratitude to the labor movement for its decades of support.”[9]

On December 4, 2004, NYCLAW and Al Awda-NY co-founded Labor for Palestine, a network which called for U.S. labor bodies to “Divest all labor investments in Israeli Apartheid.”[10]

Since then, Labor for Palestine has organized numerous events, and has issued public statements condemning labor officials’ support for Israel and calling for labor bodies to cut ties with the Histadrut, “the Zionist labor federation that not only supported Israel’s war on Gaza, but which has spearheaded — and whitewashed — racism, apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians since the 1920s.”[11]

More recently, it has supported the Dump Israel Bonds campaign, established by Connecticut trade unionist Stan Heller.

It has also worked with US Palestinian Community NetworkInternational Jewish Anti-Zionist Network/LaborUS Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and other allied campaigns.

PTUC-BDS Call and LFP Statement

The June 13 picket followed a May 4, 2011 call from the newly-formed Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS) which asked labor bodies around the world to “divest . . . from Israel Bonds and all Israeli and international companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid.”[12]

The protest was accompanied by an online statement calling on Hughes and Appelbaum to “Stop Scabbing for Apartheid — Withdraw From Israel Bonds “Celebration.”[13]

The statement points out that the Israel Bonds dinner “follows the May 15 Israeli massacre of unarmed Palestinian refugees exercising their right to return, the first anniversary of the deadly May 31, 2010 Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s arrogant U.S. tour.”

It notes that, “Whitewashing this betrayal is the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation, and its ‘progressive’ U.S. mouthpiece, the Jewish Labor Committee.”

Recounting labor’s role in opposing apartheid South Africa, it expressed support for dockers from South Africa to Oakland, CA, who have refused to handle Israeli cargo, and argues that, “[r]ather than being used to secretly finance racism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and colonialism, union members’ funds should be transparently invested in justice for all workers.”

So far, the statement has been signed by more than one hundred trade unionists, many of whom are current or former elected union officials. To sign, please go here.

Further Details

Labor speakers at the picket included:
Marty Goodman, former Executive Board member, Transport Workers Union Local 100
Stanley Heller, 40-year member of the AFT
Michael Letwin, Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Labor for Palestine; New York City Labor Against the War
Brenda Stokely, Former President, AFSCME DC 1707; New York City Labor Against the War; Million Worker March Movement
Mike Gimbel, Retired member of AFSCME Local 375 Executive Board
Steve Millies, member, Transportation Communications International Union

Also speaking were:
Bill Doares, Al-Awda NY, PRRC
Jill Dowling, Committee to Stop FBI Repression
Alan Stolzer, Military Resistance Organization
Sherry Wolf, Siege Busters Working Group; International Socialist Organization
David Letwin, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network
Johnnie Stevens, Workers World Party
Ann Lamb, Jericho Movement
Rabbi Weiberman, True Torah Jews Against Zionism


Additional Coverage:


[8]  Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), pp. 76-81.


Sign on: Stop Scabbing for Apartheid — Withdraw From Israel Bonds “Celebration”

June 7, 2011

Click here to sign on!, or email

“[All of Palestinian labor] calls on trade unions around the world to actively show solidarity with the Palestinian people by. . . . divesting from Israel Bonds and all Israeli and international companies and institutions complicit in Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid.”Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for BDS (PTUC-BDS), May 4, 2011[1]

The undersigned labor, anti-apartheid and human rights activists call on you — Dennis Hughes (President of the New York State AFL-CIO) and Stuart Appelbaum (President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and head of the Jewish Labor Committee) — to respect the above call from Palestinian labor by withdrawing as “Honoree” and “Chair,” respectively, of the “State of Israel Bonds” fundraiser in New York City on June 13, 2011.[2]

For decades, top U.S. labor officials have effectively scabbed on Palestinian workers by investing billions — the exact amount has not been made public — from union members’ pension funds in State of Israel Bonds, a pillar of apartheid that enjoys tax-exempt status from the U.S. government.

Whitewashing this betrayal is the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation[3], and its “progressive” U.S. mouthpiece, the Jewish Labor Committee.[4]

Obscenely, the Israel Bonds “celebration” on June 13 follows the May 15 Israeli massacre of unarmed Palestinian refugees exercising their right to return, the first anniversary of the deadly May 31, 2010 Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s arrogant U.S. tour.

Meanwhile, the world is inspired by mass, democratic revolutions in the Middle East that challenge U.S./Israeli-backed neoliberalism, dictatorship and oppression. At the heart of this revolution, Palestinian labor has reiterated its longstanding appeal for unions everywhere to support the growing movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

The BDS campaign demands that Israel acknowledge the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination, and fully complies with international law by:

* Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967 (including East Jerusalem), as well as dismantling of the illegal wall and colonies;

* Recognizing the fundamental right of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, as well as ending the system of racial discrimination against them; and

* Respecting, protecting and supporting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

BDS has been endorsed by labor bodies around the world, including the trade union congresses of South Africa, Brazil, Ireland, Scotland and the UK, and labor bodies in Australia, France, Canada, Norway, Catalunya, Italy, Spain and Turkey.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which plays a leading role in the BDS movement, hasn’t forgotten Israel was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally. And as veteran South African freedom fighters have observed, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is “worse than apartheid.”

US workers have particularly strong reasons to support the movement against apartheid Israel. In the past ten years alone, the US government — with overwhelming bipartisan support — has given Israel $17 billion in military aid; over the next decade, it will give another $30 billion.

As a result, Palestinian workers are killed by US-supplied naval vessels, jet fighters, Apache helicopters, white phosphorous and other weapons. In 2008/2009 alone, such weapons killed 1400 people in Gaza, most of them civilians — a massacre condemned by the UN, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, including those that are Israeli.

Meanwhile, amidst spiraling economic crisis, workers in this country pay a staggering human and financial price for US-Israeli war and occupation from Palestine to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.

Thus, following the May 31, 2010 Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, members of ILWU Local 10 in Oakland courageously followed the South African dockers’ example by refusing to handle Israeli cargo.

Their solidarity 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).

Respecting the BDS call is a matter of basic labor solidarity. Indeed, just as trade unionists fight “replacement” of striking workers, we stand against the dispossession, occupation and inequality inflicted on millions of Palestinian working people and their descendants for more than six decades.

Rather than being used to secretly finance racism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid and colonialism, union members’ funds should be transparently invested in justice for all workers.

An essential first step is labor divestment from “State of Israel Bonds.”






Endorse this statement:

Monadel Herzallah, Arab American Union Members Council, San Francisco, CA

Larry Adams, Former President, NPMHU L. 300; Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; People’s Organization for Progress

Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine; Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325

Brenda Stokely, Former President, AFSCME DC 1707; Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; Co-Chair, Million Worker March Movement

Mohammad Jawabreh, Palestinian Progressive Labor Action Front,  Ramallah, Palestine

Progressive Labor Action Front – Palestine

Sameer Matar, Union of Agricultural Engineers, Jenin, Palestine

Sam Weinstein, Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), Washington DC

Marty Goodman, Transport Workers Union Local 100, former Executive Board member, New York, NY

Stanley Heller, 40 year AFT member West Haven, CT, now AFT 933 Retired; New Haven, CT

Joe Iosbaker, SEIU Local 73, Executive Board Member, Chicago, IL

Azalia Torres, Former Executive Bd. Member, ALAA/UAW L. 2325, Brooklyn, NY

Lee Sustar, NWU/UAW L. 1981; Chicago, IL

Steve Zeltzer, Producer, Labor Video Project

Noha Momtaz Tahrir Arafa, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325, Brooklyn, NY

Steve Terry, ALAA/UAW L. 2325, Brooklyn, NY

Steve Gillis, Vice President, USW Local 8751, The Boston School Bus Drivers’ Union

Sherna Berger Gluck, former vice-president, CFA/SEIU 1983

Roger Dittmann, Ph.D., Former Secretary, United Professors of California, Member, SEIU

Jeff Klein, President (retired), SEIU/NAGE Local R1-168

Joe Lombardo, CSEA and Troy Area Labor Council

Bill Preston, President of American Federation of Government Employees, Local 17, Washington, DC

Bill Bateman, Coordinator, RI Unemployed Council

Burnis E. Tuck, AFL-CIO, AFGE, Local 3172, retired, IWW (International Workers of the World), current member

Mike Gimbel, Retired member of Local 375, AFSCME exective Board

Joe Balkis, Teamsters Local 705

Nathaniel Miller, IWW International Solidarity Commission

Howard B. Lenow, Union Attorney, Wayland, MA

Anthony Arnove, National Writers Union

Frank Couget, Shop Steward, National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO

Martha Grevatt, Former Chair, Civil and Human Rights Committee, UAW Local 122

Carl Gentile, National Representative, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) AFL-CIO

Jim Holstun, UUP Buffalo Center Chapter, NYSUT, AFT

Mary Scully, IUE-CWA Local 201 (retired)

Mark Clinton, Massachusetts Community College Council, Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Education Association

Marvin Cohen, American Federation of Teachers (retired)

Patrick J, Finn, Ph. D., UUP United University Professions SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

Mary E. Finn, Ph. D., UUP United University Professions SUNY Buffalo, Buffalo, NY

Manzar Foroohar, Delegate Assembly, California Faculty Association (CFA), Former Chapter President, CFA, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Former State-wide Membership Committee Chair and member of the state-wide bargaining team, CFA

Mark Richey, retired member, United Teachers of Richmond, California

Leslie Cohen, former SEIU Local 285 member

Dave Slaney, former President, USWA Local 2431 (retired)

Dr. Sue Blackwell, member of National Executive Committee, University and College Union, UK

Mike Treen, National Director, Unite Union, Auckland, NZ

Brian Kelly, Belfast Branch Committee UCU (N. Ireland: personal capacity); formerly IUMSWA L 25 (Boston), Carpenters L 33 (Boston)

Andre Powell, Delegate, Baltimore MD Metro AFL-CIO Central Labor Council, AFSCME

Amy Hines, Labor Relations Representative/Organizer, AEU, Concord, CA

John Penetra, Technician, CWA Local 1118, Albany, NY

Dennis Kortheuer, California Faculty Association, Long Beach, CA

Denise Hammond, President, CUPE 1281, Toronto, ON, Canada

Hanspeter Gysin, Unia (Tradeunion Building, Industry, Services), Switzerland

Sid Shniad, Research Director, Telecommunications Workers Union, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Barbara Foley, AAUP, Rutgers University – Newark, NJ

Janice Rothstein, AFSCME 3299, San Francisco, CA

Paul Pryse, Teaching Assistants’ Association, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Steve Leigh, steward, SEIU local 925, Seattle, WA

Glenn Shelton, NPMHU, Detroit, MI

Janet Hudgins, CUPE (retired), Vancouver, BC, Canada

Dennis Laumann, United Campus Workers-Communication Workers Local 3865 of America, Memphis, TN

Edward Stiel, IBEW Local 302, San Francisco, CA

David Laibman, Professional Staff Congress (AFT Local 4331), Brooklyn, NY

Stephen Cheng, Brandworkers International

John Dudley, SEIU, Branford, CT

Richard Krushnic, Steward, Bargaining Committee Member, SEIU 888, Cambridge, MA

Paul Field, Unite the Union, UK

Powell DeGange, organizer, UNITE HERE, San Francisco, CA

Jim Harris, former member, SEIU 535, Richmond, CA

Dr. Russell Dale, PSC CUNY, New York, NY

David Heap, UWO Faculty Association, London, ON, Canada

Bob McCubbin, California Teachers Association, San Diego, CA

Susan Stout, CAW (retired), North Vancouver, BC, Canada

David Klein, California Faculty Association (CFA), Los Angeles, CA

Gregory A. Butler, shop steward, Carpenters Local 157, New York, NY

B. Ross Ashley, former shop steward, former executive council member, local 204, SEIU (retired), Toronto, ON, Canada

Keith Sadler, UAW Local 12, Toledo, OH, USA

Tammy Murphy, AFT and BTEA, Bensalem, PA

Ann Roos, AFT, New York

Evalyn Segal, California State Employees Association, Walnut Creek, CA

Jim Baldridge, former Executive Board member, 1199E/SEIU, Baltimore, MD

Glenn Shelton, NPMHU, Detroit, MI

Erin Breault, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, Pittsburgh, PA

Nancy Eberg, AFGE, North Haven, CT

Coraminita Mahr, Vice President, 1199/SEIU, New York, NY

George Gruenthal, Former Chapter Co-Chair, CJF Chapter, Local 107, DC 1707, New York, NY

Michael Martin, Steel Workers Union, Portage, MI

Mark D. Stansbery, CWA 4502, Columbus, OH

Fred Hirsch, Executive Board member, Plumbers and Fitters Local 393, Santa Cruz, CA

Les Bayless, Secretary Treasurer (retired), 1199 SEIU, Baltimore, MD

Roger Keeran, United University Professions (UUP NYSUT), Jersey City, NJ

Michael Scheinberg, AFT/NJ, Collingswood, NJ

Michael P. Kaehler, Local President, American Postal Workers’ Union, AFL-CIO, Saint Cloud, MN

Scott Mahood, ILWU, Portland, OR

Ron Strand, Health Sciences Association, NUPGE, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Laurie and Dave King, Jobs with Justice, Portland, OR

Vincent Ruiz Bouvet, former member, LIUNA; California ALJ’s and State Attorneys Association, Ventura, CA

Will Thomas, NEA-NH, Auburn, NH

Zoe Lawlor, UNITE Union, Ireland

Mike Marqusee, National Union of Journalists, London, UK

B. Emmel, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Moorhead, MN

Tony Cochran, Union Organizer, UNITE HERE, Ashland, OR

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