Category Archives: Labor Zionism

Why is the American Federation of Teachers promoting Israeli apartheid? (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

Why is the American Federation of Teachers promoting Israeli apartheid?

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten led a propaganda tour to Israel and uses her union to push J Street’s anti-Palestinian-rights agenda. (Flickr)

The Israel lobby group J Street has just wrapped up its annual conference in Washington, DC.

The prevailing mood of alarm and despair in the wake of Israel’s election was captured by keynote speaker Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-strong American Federation of Teachers (AFT) trade union.

“This is a difficult moment for those of us who believe in the ideal of Jews and Palestinians living side by side, in two states, with real rights, and with security,” Weingarten lamented.

She lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “last-ditch effort to retain power.” It was, she said, “both painful and pitiful – just days after thousands of us went to Selma to honor those brutally beaten fighting to exercise the right to vote – to watch Netanyahu renounce the two-state solution and demonize Israel’s Arab citizens for exercising their basic democratic rights.”

Weingarten fretted about a status quo that “threatens the future of the State of Israel.” She posited herself as a representative of the reasonable middle in a “vast chasm between those who believe: Israel, right or wrong, and never mind the occupation or democracy; and those who believe: Israel is evil and doesn’t have a right to exist, which then justifies BDS, or worse, violence or terrorism.”

Fighting BDS

Her attack on BDS – the Palestinian-led campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions – and her attempt to associate it with “violence” and “terrorism,” echoes her earlier condemnation of the American Studies Association for endorsing the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli institutions complicit in occupation and human rights violations.

Weingarten then began to speak about a delegation of AFT officials earlier this year to “Israel and the West Bank” that she traveled on along with J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami.


Weingarten is one of the most influential and high-profile union leaders in the country. But at a time when inner city public school teachers are battling against education cuts and privatization, she is spending her time on advocacy for Israel that has nothing to do with that agenda.

Without consulting her constituents, she is using her union platform to push a Zionist agenda informed by her view that the Israeli occupation army is the sacred and miraculous answer to the Holocaust.

Her address to J Street represented precisely the kind of liberal Zionism that Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf condemned when he appeared on the same stage: full of easy potshots at the bogeyman Netanyahu, but total silence about Israel’s siege and massacres in Gaza.

Union funds

The AFT president’s speech was not the only involvement of a US teacher’s union in the conference. The J Street program lists the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) as a major donor to the conference.

IFT, which represents more than 100,000 educators and public employees in Illinois and is affiliated with the AFT, ignored repeated requests for comment about the amount of the donation and its purpose.

But here’s a clue: IFT president Dan Montgomery, who serves as a vice-president of the AFT, also went on the junket with Weingarten and Ben-Ami.

Israel lobby’s kinder face

J Street poses as the kinder, gentler face of the Israel lobby, the alternative to hardlineAIPAC. But it is just as adamantly opposed to fundamental Palestinian rights.

Its insistence on a “two-state solution” is motivated by a desire to rescue Israel as a “Jewish state” by hiving the Palestinians off into bantustan-like reservations where they can pose no “demographic threat” to Israeli Jewish power.

For the same reason, J Street opposes the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

It has unyieldingly supported recent Israeli massacres of Palestinians, including the attack on Gaza last summer that killed more than 2,200 people. It has endorsed the Obama administration’s campaign to end all efforts to bring Israeli war criminals to justice.

J Street has regularly hosted and honored Israeli leaders implicated in war crimes. At the same time, it staunchly opposes the nonviolent BDS movement.

Normalizing apartheid

Neither Weingarten nor Ben-Ami responded to requests for comment about the AFT/J-Street visit to “Israel and the West Bank.”

But we can gain much insight into the delegation and its pernicious politics from this ten-minute video released by AFT to coincide with Weingarten’s appearance at the J Street conference.

Bearing Witness: AFT Leaders Mission to Israel and the West Bank

It opens with Weingarten standing against the backdrop of occupied East Jerusalem and waxing poetic about looking out over “four thousand years of history.”

She enthuses about Israel’s “Declaration of Independence” as a document that embodies Israel’s supposed egalitarian, open and democratic spirit. (This is the same document that historian Ilan Pappe describes in the current issue of The Link as “window dressing aimed at safeguarding Israel’s future international image and status” from the reality of ethnic cleansing and apartheid.)

With uplifting music playing throughout, the video reproduces almost every conceivable trope of what Palestinians condemn as normalization.

There is a relentless insistence on “dialogue” and heart-warming singing groups and schools bringing Arab and Jewish children together. There is constant chatter about “both sides,” obscuring the enormous power imbalance between a nuclear-armed, US-backed military occupation engaged in industrial-scale colonization, and a nearly defenseless, impoverished, occupied and disposessed people.

The American delegates are presented as caring innocents who just want to make a difference.

J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami (far right) with AFT president Randi Weingarten and Illinois Federation of Teachers president Dan Montgomery (fifth and sixth from right, respectively) with other members of the AFT delegation and Dalia Rabin (center) at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv. (via Facebook)

PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, defines normalization as: “cultural activities, projects, events and products involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other … that are based on the false premise of symmetry/parity between the oppressors and the oppressed or that assume that both colonizers and colonized are equally responsible for the ‘conflict.’”

Such activities, PACBI states, “are intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible forms of normalization that ought to be boycotted.”

PACBI is not opposed to all contact between Israelis and Palestinians, but says context and politics are critical.

It welcomes “co-resistance” activities in which “the Israeli party in the project recognizes the comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law” corresponding to the rights set out in the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions: an end to occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and full respect of the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Obscuring reality

But even when the AFT video documents delegates being shown some of the most brutal aspects of the occupation, it is overlaid with an anesthetizing, normalizing fog.

The delegates are seen on a tour of Hebron, led not by Palestinians who live there but by an Israeli Jew from the group Breaking the Silence. They witness the emptiness of Shuhada Street, once the bustling heart of the Old City, but forbidden to Palestinians by the occupation army.

One AFT delegate says the situation in Hebron is “symbolic of the distrust on both sides.” But what former UN Special Rapporteur and international jurist John Dugard has documented in Hebron is an Israeli-imposed regime he explicitly likens to the apartheid that existed in his native South Africa.

The forcible closure of much of Hebron to Palestinians is the direct act of a brutal colonial occupation, done solely for the benefit of a few fanatical settlers.

This episode, like the rest of the video, deceptively presents occupier and occupied as equally vulnerable and equally responsible.

Erasing Gaza massacre

The only exception is when Israelis are shown as the victims of Palestinians.

“We went to a community right along the Gaza Strip,” Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery explains.

He talks about how “when fighting broke out in Gaza,” Israelis living in the area got fifteen-second warnings of rocket strikes. “And you’re frantically trying to find out where your small kids are,” he adds.

As he speaks, the video lingers on Israeli elementary school children. It then shows how many “safe places” – bomb shelters – they have.

This Israeli-centric view regularly instilled in participants of hasbara, or propaganda, tours completely ignores the 900,000 children – half the total population imprisoned in the Gaza Strip under Israeli siege – who have no shelters.

There is no mention of the UN schools repeatedly bombed during Israel’s attack, as they served as makeshift shelters, killing children and their families.

Montgomery does not fret about the more than 500 children killed – many wiped out with their entire families – and more than 3,300 injured, during Israel’s 51-day bombardment of Gaza last summer.

Neither is there any mention of Israel’s relentless ceasefire violations and attacks on Gaza, before and after the summer massacre.

Palestinians in Gaza are invisible, not a subject of concern for AFT or for J Street.

Weingarten made no mention of them in her speech, except, like the video, as a threat to Israelis.

Palestinians: visible but absent

The AFT delegates, however, do remind us repeatedly that they met and spoke to Palestinians in many places in the West Bank – an assertion meant to deliver an impression of even-handedness.

But in the film all the analysis and framing is given by Israeli and American Jews. No Palestinian is seen or heard providing analysis or bearing witness to Israeli crimes.

At one point, J Street director Jeremy Ben-Ami is seen lecturing to the group. In the background is a slide showing relative population figures of Arabs and Jews – the “demographic threat” supposedly posed by Palestinian births is a particular obsession of liberal Zionists.

Palestinians only appear as a smiling, harmless backdrop, eagerly welcoming their American guests and grateful for tokenistic and depoliticized training programsprovided by AFT in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority.

Scholars Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock have termed AFT’s US-funded teacher training programs in the Middle East “labor imperialism” that serves “US government foreign policy interests in maintaining and extending American control and influence over the region.”

At the same time, the video suggests AFT is encouraging normalization between Palestinian and Israeli teachers’ groups.

Selective amnesia

Towards the end of the video, there is a sanitized segment on how the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine – is commemorated at Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand School, one of a tiny number of mixed Jewish-Palestinian schools.

Jewish and Palestinian students and teachers briefly speak about how difficult it is. A Palestinian teacher talks about how she teaches the history from “both sides.”

A Palestinian girl says that Nakba Day “reminds us that we need to move on and not just stick to the past and all the bad things that happened.”

The message is clear: forget about the past, and forget about its present – the unfulfilled rights of millions of Palestinian refugees.

But forgetting is only a prescription for Palestinians, never for Jews.

After the visit to Palestine, Weingarten and the rest of the AFT delegation went to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland – and this is featured in the video.

The lesson of Auschwitz, Weingarten explains, is “Never forget. You can’t combat hate and prejudice if you forget.”

Using the Holocaust

The inclusion of Auschwitz in a video on the situation in Palestine seems calculated to send the not so subtle message that whatever is happening to Palestinians is dwarfed morally and in scale by the Holocaust.

In her address to J Street, Weingarten made the connection clear, using the Holocaust – or Shoah – as a rhetorical device to justify Zionism and whitewash and elevate the Israeli state to a sacred principle and manifest destiny.

She intersperses this passage with “dayenu” – a word taken from the Passover ritual meaning roughly “it would have sufficed for us”:

For our ancestors, if we had said: There will be a Jewish state – for the 6 million who died in the Shoah, there is now a homeland where more than six million Jews live – they would have said, “Dayenu.” A state with a powerful military. Dayenu. A vigorous economy. Dayenu. A proud democracy. Dayenu.

Here, Weingarten really lays out her cards. Her interactions with and ostensible concern for Palestinians are nothing but a liberal cover for Jewish nationalism. In the end she represents the Israeli army as the answer to the Holocaust – a classic Netanyahu talking point.

In addition to Weingarten, Montgomery and Ben-Ami, the delegation included Ted Kirsch, president of AFT Pennsylvania; Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco; Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers; Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of Congregation Simchat Beit Torah in New York; Louis Malfaro, an AFT vice-president and an officer of Texas AFT; Ruby Newbold, an AFT vice-president and vice-president of AFT Michigan and Patricia Keefer, AFT’s director of international affairs.

AFT’s sordid history

A little history is useful to put the AFT’s support for Israel and for the anti-Palestinian rights agenda of J Street in perspective.

The union had a long and sordid history of zealous participation in McCarthyist purges, expelling members and affiliates accused of communism.

During the decades of the Cold War, AFT functioned as an arm of US imperialism and foreign policy, particularly in Latin America.

The union’s leaders, foremost among them Albert Shanker, its president from 1974 to 1997, formed close alliances with the CIA and other US government agencies. Their mission was to stem the influence of communism by creating politically amenable US-sponsored international labor organizations. In the process they helped divide and destroy the trade union movements in many countries.

AFT was central to a nexus of organizations doing such work, including the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), the US-financed organization sponsored by the AFL-CIO labor federation. AIFLD notoriously worked closely with the CIA and the US embassy to destabilize Chile and instigate Pinochet’s 1973 coup.

A pamphlet on the AFT’s relationship with the CIA by George N. Schmidt, a long-time Chicago Teachers Union activist and publisher of Substance News, includes a letter from David Selden, who preceeded Shanker as president of AFT.

This quotation from Selden suggests that much of the international activity undertaken by Shanker and like-minded associates was motivated by a desire to advance Israel’s interests:

The whole AIFLD, CIA, AFT, AFL-CIO and Social Democrats USA web of relationships is complicated by the Israel problem. American Jews are understandably concerned for the future of Israel, and rightly or wrongly they consider the policy of the Soviet Union to be anti-Israel, at least in its effect. This in turn leads many Israeli supporters to condone activities of the interlocking defense-intelligence labor establishment which they otherwise would indignantly denounce. It is hard to take a balanced view of such an emotional problem.

Democracy’s Champion, a book published by the AFT’s Albert Shanker Institute to honor Shanker’s legacy, confirms that his Zionism was a strong motivation throughout his life and leadership, turning the union into a perfect tool for both Israel and US imperialism.

Soon after he took office, for instance, Shanker appointed AFT staffer Eugenia Kemble to join AFL-CIO delegations to the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO). One of Kemble’s “main tasks,” according to Democracy’s Champion, “was to help defeat the anti-Israel resolutions that arose quite regularly at ILO conferences.” Kemble received the “Israel State Medal” for her efforts.

During the 1970s, the AFT regularly adopted resolutions pledging staunch support for Israel. A 1974 resolution railed against the UN for voting to allow Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat to address the General Assembly.

“Not even the terrorists’ most ardent supporters seriously envision the wolf turning into a lamb,” the resolution states, before asserting, “We stand firm with the State of Israel and her heroic people, Jews, Arabs and Christians alike.”

Similarly, a 1976 resolution called Israel “our only remaining sister democracy in the Middle East” and “a cornerstone of America’s defense against the spread of totalitarian movements and military dictatorship into the Mediterranean and the Middle East.”

Supporting Israeli and American wars

Shanker’s successors continued his legacy of serving US imperialism. AFT supported and helped the Bush administration justify the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

In 2006, the AFT adopted a resolution fully supporting that year’s invasion of Lebanon, during which Israel killed more than 1,200 civilians and deliberately destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.

It was not without opposition, however. “The delegates narrowly passed this resolution after heated debate,” wrote AFT San Francisco Local 2121 member and past president Allan Fisher in a letter published by the The Boston Globe.

According to Fisher, “half the delegates on the convention floor vigorously opposed this resolution because it does not call for a ceasefire and makes no criticism whatsoever of Israel’s unjust and brutal behavior.”

Michael Letwin, co-convener of the solidarity group Labor for Palestine, says that despite the complicity of union leaderships like the AFT’s, rank-and-file labor is playing a growing role in the Palestinians’ struggle to regain all their rights.

“That is why BDS is championed by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and numerous other trade unionists around the world, including dockworkers on the US West Coast who refuse to handle Israeli Zim line cargo, and UAW 2865 at the University of California,” Letwin told The Electronic Intifada.

“Weingarten and other US labor leaders must end their longstanding complicity with apartheid Israel, and support a free Palestine, from the river to the sea, with equal rights for all,” he added.


The support for Israel may be rooted in the AFT’s history but it is also symptomatic of the approach Weingarten takes to politics and power today when it comes to the union’s core mission.

Weingarten and her leadership team have faced persistent challenges from segments of the membership for being “too willing to partner with the corporate elite allied to the Obama administration’s attempt to ‘reform’ public education.”

She was criticized for cozying up to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel – appearing with him on a June 2012 Clinton Global Initiative panel supporting privatization – at a time when the city’s teachers were preparing to strike.

The strike by the AFT-affiliated Chicago Teachers Union the following September was seen as a model and inspiration for educators across the US facing neoliberal “reform” and privatization agendas.

Chicago has long been ground zero for the assault on public education, especially stealth privatization through the creation of charter schools. In 2013, Emanuel announced the closure of dozens of schools, overwhelmingly in long-neglected African American neighborhoods.

Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, was tipped as a possible challenger to Emanuel for mayor, but declined to run for health reasons.

Still, for many, her grassroots leadership offers a marked contrast to Weingarten’s approach.

While Chicago teachers fought for and won major concessions on the picket lines, Weingarten was there with them.

But she has been accused of being late to come to their side and then downplaying their victory. Her members may ask why she has so much time to promote Israel through hasbara tours and so little time for teachers on the frontlines.

Israel and the politics of boycott (Al Jazeera)

Al Jazeera

Israel and the politics of boycott

Zionism and Israel will continue to support any boycott that seeks to institutionalise racism and racial separatism.


Israel's expertise in separation fences and walls was put to productive use with the massive "Apartheid Wall" it built on Palestinian lands [EPA]
Israel’s expertise in separation fences and walls was put to productive use with the massive “Apartheid Wall” it built on Palestinian lands [EPA]


Joseph Massad

Joseph Massad is Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University.

“Boycott” is a term as old as political Zionism. As is commonly known, it came into circulation in 1880, starting out as an Irish peasant action to prevent peasant evictions from the land by landlords and their agents – in that inaugural case an agent named Charles Boycott. This is not to say that this was the first time such a tactic had been used. Indeed, half a century earlier, in 1830, in the United States, the National Negro Convention supported a boycott of slave-produced goods, a movement which had started among White Quakers at the end of the 18th century and which would spread among White and Black abolitionists during the 19th century until the American Civil War.

These auspicious beginnings of the boycott to restore the land and freedom of peasants and slaves would inspire movements in the 20th century that would range from anti-colonial tactics (as in the Indian boycott of British goods beginning in 1919 to end the British occupation of India) to anti-colonial-settler tactics (including the Arab League boycott of the Jewish settler-colony since the mid-1940s and the anti-South African Apartheid boycott beginning in the 1960s) to anti-racist tactics (including the anti-Nazi Jewish boycott of 1933 to end Nazi racial separatism and the Montgomery Bus Boycott by African Americans in the mid-1950s to end American white colonial settler apartheid in Alabama and the rest of the American South).

Boycotting the Palestinians

There is however a different history of the uses of the boycott. In contrast with its uses to force the end of race, class and colonial injustice, boycott would also be deployed as a tactic to bring about colonial and racial injustice. Zionism would be a pioneer in this regard. Upon the formalisation of Zionist settler colonialism in the 1897 First Zionist Congress, Jewish colonists were incensed that earlier Russian Jewish agricultural colonists who had settled in Palestine since the 1880s would employ Palestinian labour in their colonies, on account of its availability and cheapness. It was in this context that Zionism would develop its racially separatist notion of “Hebrew labour”, insisting and later imposing its regulations on all Jewish colonists in Palestine, namely that Jewish labour should be used exclusively in the Jewish settler-colony.

Realising the difficulty of imposing its racialisation project on Palestine, a country which Zionism did not control yet, the movement developed the idea of the first racially separatist planned community for the exclusive use of Ashkenazi Jews, namely the Kibbutz, which would develop in the first decade of the 20th century. Lest one mistake the idea of the Kibbutz as a commitment to socialism, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion, who came up with the exclusive “Hebrew labour” idea to boycott the Palestinians, set the record straight: The Kibbutz was set up to “guarantee [separatist] Jewish labour” and not as an application of socialist theory.

As a racially separatist Jewish economy and colony established on the lands of the Palestinians continued to be the primary goal of Zionism, the principle of boycott of Palestinian labour and products would become more aggressive as time passed. Like its parent Zionist movement before it, which used the tactic of boycott to effect racial separation and discrimination rather than end it, the Zionist labour Federation, the Histadrut, would begin in 1927 to use the time-honoured act of picketing. Picketing is traditionally used by workers and unions to end practices involving the exploitation and unfair treatment of workers. In the case of the Jewish colonists, they used picketing to bring about discrimination against Palestinian workers and to deny them employment in their own country. The Zionist picketing campaign sought to boycott Jewish businesses which continued to employ Palestinian labour as well as the goods the Palestinians produced. This was not only confined to the agricultural Jewish colonies in the Palestinian countryside, but also included urban settings where Jewish businesses employed Palestinians in the area of construction.

The Zionist campaign would continue until 1936 when the Great Palestinian Revolt would erupt threatening both the Zionist settler colonial project and the British occupation safeguarding it. In these nine years of picketing, not only did the workers among the Jewish colonists join the picket lines, but so did the professionals and the middle class of Jewish colonial society, including actors, teachers, librarians, as well as Histadrut officials. In addition to the major picketing campaign of the citrus groves of Kfar Saba in the 1920s, the Histadrut would organise “mobile-pickets” where picketers would travel from one construction site to the next in the cities, including Tel Aviv, where Palestinian workers were employed in the building of the first racially separate Jewish city.

If labour picketers around the world would harass scabs who were coopted by exploitative employers at the expense of union workers, colonial Jewish picketers in Palestine would harass Palestinian workers who were violating the racially separatist project of Zionism. Picketers would attack and beat up Palestinian workers and steal their tools and destroy their work. The picketers would also destroy the produce of the Jewish colonies that employed Palestinian peasants and workers. This was hardly an exception but harked back to Zionist colonial practices in the first decade of the 20th century when the racist principle of “Hebrew labour” was first put into action. When Jewish colonists found out in 1908 that the saplings in a forest that was founded in memory of Zionism’s founder Theodor Herzl in Ben Shemen near Lydda were planted by Palestinians, they came and uprooted them and then replanted them again, thus preserving the Jewish character of the forest.

Breaking the anti-Nazi boycott

Unlike the Zionists who were pioneers in their use of boycotts to effect racial separatism, the Nazis would be latecomers to the tactic. The Nazis would begin to boycott Jewish businesses in Germany starting in April 1933 in response to the American Jewish call for a boycott of Nazi Germany, which had started a month earlier in March 1933. In view of the racist Nazi regime’s targeting of Jews, American Jews and other European Jews started a campaign in March 1933 to boycott Nazi Germany until it ended its racist campaign and political targeting of German Jews.

Whereas American Jews, including Zionists, began to lobby US politicians and organisations to join the boycott, the Zionist leadership in Palestine and Germany saw the matter differently. It was in this context that the Zionists signed the notorious Transfer (Ha’avara) Agreement with Nazi Germany, whereby Jews leaving Germany to Palestine would be compensated for their lost property, which they were not allowed to transfer outside the country, through the transfer of German goods to the Jewish colonies in Palestine.

The official parties to the agreement included the Zionist Federation of Germany, the Nazi government, and the Anglo-Palestine Bank (which was founded in 1899 as the financial arm of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) under the name “The Jewish Colonial Trust”, and renamed in 1950 as “Bank Leumi”). Bank Leumi is today the largest bank in Israel. The Ha’avara Agreement, which was signed in 1933, not only broke the boycott against Nazi Germany, but also entailed the selling of German goods by the Zionists to Britain. Sixty percent of all capital invested in the Jewish colonies of Palestine between 1933 and 1939 came from German Jewish money through the Transfer Agreement. This infuriated not only American and European Jews who were promoting the boycott, which the WZO was breaking, but also the right-wing revisionists within the Zionist movement itself who assassinated the major Zionist envoy to the Nazis, Chaim Arlosoroff, in 1933 upon his return from Nazi Germany where he had been negotiating the Agreement.

Not only would Zionism break the boycott, but its local German branch would also be the only German Jewish organisation that would support the Nazi Nuremberg laws that were issued in 1935 to separate German Jews from German “Aryans” racially. The Zionists, like the Nazis, agreed that German “Aryans” and German Jews were separate races and people. Here Zionist thinking becomes clear on the question of boycotts. Wherein Zionists were using boycotts to bring about racial and colonial separatism in Palestine to privilege colonising Jews and separate them from Palestinian Arabs, they opposed the Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany which sought to end Nazi racial separatism in the country targeting Jews. For Zionism, what mattered most was its commitment to racial separatism, whether in Germany or Palestine, and it supported only those boycotts that would bring it about. Indeed, as the Nazis in the 1930s sought to deport Jews and render Germany Judenrein (the Nazis proposed Madagascar as a destination for German Jews), the Zionists were proposing Palestine as the destination for German Jews, whose deportation they ultimately supported and were using the boycott and picketing campaigns to render the Jewish State-to-be in Palestine Araberrein.

 Inside Story: On the road to Israeli apartheid?

The Palestinians countered Zionist separatism with boycotts of their own, targeting the Zionist colonies and their products during the British Mandate years. The Arab League of States would issue its own boycott of Zionist and Israeli goods that would go into effect in 1945. Like the American Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany in 1933 which sought to end Nazi racial separatism, the Palestinian boycott of the 1930s and the ongoing Arab League boycott were imposed precisely to end Jewish colonial and racial separatism and discrimination against the Palestinians.

Supporting French settler-colonialism

From 1948 until 1967, the Israelis would become the major ally of France, which was the chief colonial-settler European enforcer of racial apartheid on another Arab people, namely Algerians. Not only would France become Israel’s major arms supplier and ally during this period, the fact that the two countries shared the status of being the only two European settler-colonies on Arab lands was paramount in its calculations.

When the Algerian revolt started in November 1954, the French decided to increase their arms sales to the Israelis. French Generals explained the intensification of their military alliance with Israel as part of the fight against the Algerian revolutionaries, as well as against the anti-imperialist Arab leader Gamal Abdel Nasser who supported the Algerian Revolution. The alliance and friendship between the two colonising states was so strong that Israel would also carry out military manoeuvers with the French on occupied Algerian territory and would enlist Algerian Jews (who were granted French citizenship in 1870 by France to separate them from their compatriot Algerian Muslims and grant them the privileges of White French colonists) to spy on the Algerian National movement that was seeking to end French colonialism and racism.

A few months after the end of his 13-month stint as Governor General of French Algeria, the French colonial politician and later terrorist, Jacques Soustelle, helped to create and presided over the pro-Israel lobbying group Alliance France-Israel in November 1956. This followed Israel’s collusion with France to invade Egypt that year and destroy the regime of Abdel Nasser. In 1958, Soustelle would enjoin not only Israel but the world Jewish communities to support French colonial apartheid in Algeria: “We believe that given the influence which not only Israel but above all the Jewish communities throughout the world exert on international opinion, this alliance would produce happy results for us.” Soustelle’s anti-Semitism and Nazi-like views concerning the alleged power of the world Jewish communities did not bother Israel one bit. Indeed, Soustelle would join the terrorist group Organisation de l’armee secrete (OAS) in 1960 to fight against Algerian independence, which was by then increasingly becoming the accepted vision in French government circles for the future of Algeria.

The military alliance with Israel did not only provide arms and impart military training to the Israelis, but also made it possible for the French themselves to learn a few Israeli tricks, including “convoy bombing”, which the French would use in Algeria. This was not all. French officers would be dispatched to Israel to learn new techniques in psychological warfare from the Jewish colonists. French General Maurice Challe, Commander-in-Chief of the French forces in Algeria (1958-1960), insisted in an interview with Sylvia Crosbie that the Israelis were “consummate artists” at dealing with the Palestinian natives. Challe went further and hoped to use the Kibbutz as a model for his pacification program in Algeria, but the triumph of the Algerian Revolution would prevent his plan from being executed.

Israeli study missions in Algeria were also welcomed as the Israelis were keen to learn from the French the use of helicopters to fight the Algerian guerrillas. Challe, like other generals who were friends of Israel, would participate in the failed coup of April 1961 against the French government in Algeria and would be tried by a military tribunal. Testimonies by at least one participant in the failed coup stated that the coup leaders were expecting support from a number of settler colonial powers: “Portugal, South Africa, South America, and perhaps Israel.”

“For Zionism, what mattered most was its commitment to racial separatism, whether in Germany or Palestine, and it supported only those boycotts that would bring it about.”

Israel’s alliance with colonial France would sour when the French opted to end their war against the Algerian people and acceded to their independence. Not happy with its isolation as the only remaining European settler colony in the Arab world, Israel rushed to support the right-wing French terrorists who opposed their government and began to fight against Algerian independence. Aside from conscripting a number of Algerian Jews, who had joined the terrorist OAS, into Israel’s spy network, the Israelis provided logistical support to the French terrorists. This included support for Jacques Soustelle himself, who was supported by Ben Gurion and was financed by rich right-wing pro-Israeli American Jews who opposed de Gaulle and Algerian independence. Algerian Jewish commandos organised themselves in Oran against Algerian Muslims and sought partition of the colony along racial lines. They were said to be inspired in their quest by Israeli government policy. Thus, just like its support of Nazi racial separatism and refusal to join the Jewish anti-Nazi boycott, Zionism and Israel opted to support French colonial racism and separatism, and indeed to fight actively against its final dissolution in Algeria, rather than join the international condemnation of French colonial policies.

Breaking the boycott against apartheid

But the story of Zionism and boycotts would not end there. Zionism would stay true to its principles of supporting boycotts that promote racial apartheid and denouncing boycotts that oppose racial apartheid to the present. When the United Nations imposed mandatory sanctions against the racist settler-colony of Rhodesia in 1966, Israel supported the sanctions at the UN but in reality never abided by them. Israel would provide arms and helicopters to be used in counterinsurgency by the Rhodesian government against the anti-racist independence movement seeking to overthrow the regime (a tactic, as we saw, which it learned from French colonial forces in Algeria and which it was now imparting to Rhodesian white supremacist colonists). Indeed the Israelis, breaking the international boycott, would provide the racist Rhodesians in the 1970s with a 500-mile separation fence along the border with Mozambique and Zambia. The fall of the Rhodesian settler colony in 1980 and the rise of Zimbabwe did not bode well for the future of Israel.

When the African National Congress (ANC) and progressive allies, who would also be joined by the United Nations, began to call for and effect different forms of boycott against apartheid South Africa beginning in the early1960s, Israel would be a central breaker of the boycott, becoming the apartheid state’s major political and economic partner. Indeed Israel’s strategic alliance with South Africa would be built in the late 1960s as the boycott campaign against the apartheid regime became more vociferous.

Here again, Zionism was true to its principles. One of its founding fathers, Chaim Weizmann, was a close friend of none other than the Afrikaner leader Jan Smuts, one of the central founders of modern South Africa. Smuts was such a big supporter of the Jewish settler colony that Jewish colonists named a Kibbutz after him: Ramat Yohanan.  It was both ideological proximity and structural positionality that led to the alliance between the two settler colonies. In November 1962, The UN General Assembly resolution 1761 was passed and called for a voluntary boycott, requesting member states to break off diplomatic relations with South Africa, to cease trading with South Africa (arms exports in particular), and to deny passage to South African ships and aircraft. In August 1963, the United Nations Security Council established a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa. Finally in November 1977, the Security Council adopted a mandatory arms embargo. Under increasing domestic and international pressure, the Carter administration finally voted in favour of the embargo.

As international consensus was mounting against the apartheid state, Israel would strengthen its alliance with it, not only in military, including nuclear cooperation, but also in providing it with training, arms and equipment to put down the ongoing anti-apartheid demonstrations and uprisings. Support for the apartheid state would come from Israel’s quintessential racist and separatist institution, the Ashkenazi-Jewish Kibbutz. For example, Kibbutz Beit Alfa would provide the apartheid security forces of South Africa with anti-riot weapons to put down the demonstrations. One of Beit Alfa’s main industries is indeed riot control equipment, including water cannons, which it would provide to the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s in a “secret pact”. Kibbutz Beit Alfa, it should be mentioned, was established by the Jewish National Fund partly on lands purchased from absentee landlords and partly on confiscated lands belonging to Palestinian villages.

Israeli settlers take part of Palestinian city

Israel would also provide South Africa, as in the case of Rhodesia, with hundreds of miles of mined electric fences to protect the racist state’s borders from ANC guerrilla infiltration. It would also build a thousand-mile fence on the Namibia-Angola border to protect South Africa’s occupation of Namibia. Its expertise in separation fences and walls would be put to productive use with the massive “Apartheid Wall” that Israel would build on Palestinian lands beginning in 1994 and continuing into the 21st century. Israel’s breaking the boycott against the apartheid regime would continue until the latter’s demise in 1994. With the fall of colonial Algeria, Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel remained alone as the last European settler-colony across Asia and Africa.

The Palestinian Authority and boycott

Since the beginning of the so-called “peace process”, all diplomatic solutions which Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have signed on to are engineered to preserve Israel’s racially separatist project of a “Jewish state” and of racial partition. Indeed, not only does Israel and US president Barack Obama insist on preserving Israel as a separatist and racist Jewish state as a precondition to all peace talks, but also on Israeli policies of racial separation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which continue unabated with the construction of Jews-only settlements and Jews-only highways on stolen Palestinian lands.

In Israel itself, Israel’s state-appointed rabbis have been incensed that Israeli laws do not fully ensure racial separatism. In light of Safad’s chief Rabbi’s call urging Israeli Jews not to sell or rent houses or apartments to non-Jews, dozens of Israel’s municipal rabbis signed onto his rabbinical ruling in December 2010. The Rabbis issued a letter to announce their call to “urge neighbours of anyone renting or selling property to Arabs to caution that person. After delivering the warning, the neighbour is then encouraged to issue notices to the general public and inform the community… The neighbours and acquaintances [of a Jew who sells or rents to an Arab] must distance themselves from the Jew, refrain from doing business with him, deny him the right to read from the Torah, and similarly [ostracise] him until he goes back on this harmful deed”.

Unlike the Palestinian anti-colonial resistance which sought to boycott colonial goods in the British Mandate years, and unlike the Arab League which mandated an Arab boycott of Israel, the PA has a different view of economic relations with Israel. Like the World Zionist Organization and the German Zionists who saw the fight against anti-Semitism as self-defeating and saw collaboration with anti-Semitism as crucial to the success of Zionism, the Oslo Palestinian leadership has followed a similar strategy of collaboration with Zionism and of prohibiting resistance to it.

Calls for boycotts by Palestinians are constantly assailed by PA operatives, who only recently, in 2010, and under public pressure heeded a minimalist call to boycott the Jewish colonial settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In December 2012, unelected PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, an erstwhile opponent of a boycott of Israel, issued a call to West Bank Palestinians to boycott all Israeli goods for the first time ever in retaliation for the Israeli government decision to sequester PA tax revenues, an action that bankrupted PA coffers. His government, however, never provided any mechanisms or logistical support for such a boycott nor has there been any official follow-up. In fact, when Fayyad announced the boycott of settlement goods in May 2010 as a publicity stunt, it was accompanied with assurances from unelected PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the PA was not boycotting Israel at all and would continue trade cooperationwith it.

“Israel’s attempt to rebrand itself as a just and egalitarian society comes up against its actual and stark racist reality.”

BDS, Obama, and pinkwashing

Today, it is the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its international solidarity network that is the champion of a boycott of the racist Israeli settler colony. Like its noble predecessors, from African American boycotts in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Indian boycott of British goods, the Jewish anti-Nazi boycott, and the international boycott of Rhodesia and South Africa, the BDS movement insists that its call for a boycott should be heeded until Israel sheds all its racist laws and policies and becomes a non-racist state.

Israel has expectedly mobilised much of its political power to defeat the BDS initiative and has solicited the help of its formidable ally, Barack Obama, who has publicly expressed hostility to the BDS movement and shamelessly threatened the Palestinian people with dire consequences were they to dare to dismantle Israel’s racist institutions. Israel’s campaigns have included what some have called “pinkwashing”, portraying itself as a democratic country that safeguards the rights of homosexuals unlike its allegedly oppressive Arab neighbours. In this regard, it is important to mention Zionism’s prehistory of “pinkwashing”.

The first European Jew that the Zionist movement assassinated in Palestine was the Dutch Jewish poet and novelist Jacob Israel de Haan. De Haan, whom the Zionists assassinated in 1924, was not only a fighter against Zionist racism and oppression of the Palestinians, but was also known in Zionist circles to engage in homosexual activities, and that he had a special fondness for young Palestinian men (he wrote a poem about the theme). His assassin, Avraham Tehoni of the official Zionist army, the Haganah, was given the orders to assassinate him by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who would become Israel’s second president (1952-1963). The Zionists tried to pin de Haan’s murder on the Palestinians who were allegedly motivated to kill him on account of his homosexual activity with Palestinian boys.  While Zionist propaganda failed, and de Haan’s Jewish murderer would confess decades later publicly to his assassination, some evidence suggests that de Haan’s homosexual activities might have been an important factor on the mind of Zionist decision-makers when they ordered his assassination, though his assassin denied that this was a motive.

Israel’s attempt to rebrand itself as a just and egalitarian society comes up against its actual and stark racist reality. Its opposition to the Palestinian BDS movement is often framed as an opposition to all boycotts as a form of struggle. But as the historical record shows, this is not a time-honoured Zionist position. As they have done throughout their history, Zionism and Israel will continue to support any boycott that seeks to institutionalise racism and racial separatism and will denounce any boycott that seeks to end racism and racial separatism. Their campaign and that of Obama against BDS should be understood in this context of their commitment to apartheid as a principle of organising human life.

Joseph Massad teaches Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of The Persistence of the Palestinian Question published by Routledge. 

Source: Al Jazeera

The international labour movement in, against and beyond, the globalized and informatized cage of capitalism and bureaucracy (Interface)

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Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 35 The international labour movement in, against and beyond, the globalized and informatized cage of capitalism and bureaucracy1 Peter Waterman Abstract Six questions and answers address the present crisis of the hegemonic, Europebased and Western-centric international trade union organisations, the impact of globalisation, neo-liberalisation, informalisation and informatisation on labour internationalism, the experiences and possibilities of informal/alternative kinds of labour internationalism, and the significance of labour solidarity with Palestine. Much scepticism is expressed concerning the capacities and possibilities of the traditional trade union internationals. But this is also the case with the union presence within the World Social Forum. Attention is drawn to certain alternative international(ist) labour movement initiatives, mostly marked by networking forms. And the challenges facing a new labour internationalism are considered with respect to the Palestinian case. Keywords: union, Eurocentrism, restructuring, globalisation, internationalism, World Social Forum, shopfloor, informatisation, networking, solidarity 1 This piece began as a response to a number of personal questions posed by Indian feminist and labour specialist Amrita Chhachhi. She had been editing a special issue of the journal of the International Institute of Social Studies, Development and Change on labour internationally (Chhachhi 2014). When I could not meet the D&C requirements, I decided to expand it for this special issue of Interface. Although Amrita can now hardly be considered responsible for it, I do appreciate her original stimulus. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 36 Weber’s Iron Cage There will be an evolution of an iron cage, which will be a technically ordered, rigid, dehumanized society…The iron cage is the one set of rules and laws that we are all subjected and must adhere to. Bureaucracy puts us in an iron cage, which limits individual human freedom and potential instead of a “technological utopia” that should set us free. It is the way of the institution, where we do not have a choice anymore. Once capitalism came about, it was like a machine that you were being pulled into without an alternative option; currently, whether we agree or disagree, if you want to survive you need to have a job and you need to make money2 . Widening the Cracks Within Capitalism In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labor by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit. […]We are victims and yet we are not. We seek to improve our living standards as workers, and also to go beyond that, to live differently. In one respect we are, in effect, people who have to sell their labor power in order to survive. But in another, each one of us has dreams, behaviors and projects that don’t fit into the capitalist definition of labor. […] The difficulty … lies in envisioning the relation between those two types of movements [wage labour and living differently]. How can that relation avoid reproducing the old sectarianism? How can it be a fruitful relation without denying the fundamental differences between the two perspectives?3 1. To what extent has the international trade union movement responded to the challenges of neo-liberal globalization? The largest union international, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) held its Third Congress, Berlin, May 2014. But the Congress website suggested that the ITUC was still living in or looking back toward the ‘kinder, gentler’ West European capitalism of the mid-20th Century.4 The Congress slogan was ‘Building Workers’ Power’, symbolized by a male worker in a hard hat. Women, the ‘Informal Sector’ and the Indigenous did not appear on the agenda but only in non-plenary sessions. Although a Draft Statement declared that ‘The 20th century model of capitalism has failed, and the ‘Washington Consensus’ must be buried forever’5, its three main themes were: 2 3 4 5 Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 37 Union Growth Realizing Rights Sustainable Jobs This might be compared with the World Social Forum’s Another World is Possible! the Spanish campaign for Real Democracy Now! with Occupy’s We Are the 99%! the Latin American indigenous movements’ identification of a Crisis of Civilisation6 and the simple but potent slogan Capitalism is not in Crisis, Capitalism is the Crisis!7 It seems to me that ITUC’s slogan and symbol are hardly going to mobilise or reach out beyond the unionized – if even these.8 The ITUC’s Congress issues suggested, rather, those of what the Dutch unions have long called themselves – ‘an interest-representing organization’. The ITUC is based in Western Europe, is profoundly Eurocentric, and a fundamentally defensive organization. It has long forgotten any history of labour’s ‘street-fighting days’. It clearly does not believe in the strategy attributed to Clausewitz that the best means of defence is attack. And it cannot publicly confront the fact that the unionized part of the world’s wage labour force is only between seven and 15 percent.9 Then there is its fear – indeed suppression – of dialogue. When a unique public challenge was made to it by the South African national union centre,10 it didn’t 6 7 It’s a movie, it’s free and it’s on Utube here. 8 The ITUC has been producing international surveys on major labour questions. I am no specialist opinion surveys but it does occur to me that the latest one was intended to confirm rather than challenge the actions and opinions of those who commissioned it. There is here, for example, no question about whether those surveyed know anything about the ITUC, including where it is sited, who its leaders might be, the name of their national ITUC affiliate, or what ITUC policies might be. The survey results, moreover, do not even indicate what percentage of interviewees were union members and whether their attitudes might differ from those of nonmembers! An expert analysis of these surveys would be welcome. 9 I have for some years been using the higher figure, but the lower one has been recently confirmed publicly by the General Secretary of the South African COSATU, and in a personal exchange with a veteran international union leader. 10 Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 38 even bother to publicly respond. At its 2014 Congress it provided plenary time to such representatives of ‘the Great and the Good’ as Guy Ryder, the ex-ITUC(!) Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Helen Clark of the United Nations Development Programme, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Foreign Minister (!) and Gordon Brown, ex-Prime Minister of the UK (representative of yet another inter-state organization).11 Why does it exhibit such a clientelist orientation? Where here were the representatives of ‘global civil society’, of the dramatic global social movements that are receiving not only public attention globally but very considerable public approval? Such concerns may have appeared in Congress workshops, the latter paying at least some attention to domestic workers, to the ‘informal economy’, to climate change, migrant workers, violence against women, the retired, and of the unions ‘partnering’ (upwards again?) for ‘development’. All these elements, plus the audio-visual, electronic and TV-presentation elements in a ‘paperless congress’, suggest the ITUC has been pushed by the current crisis and pulled by the newest global social movements to move from obeisance to the international financial institutions towards some kind of critique of neo-liberalism (though not of capitalism).12 But why, if this congress represented 176 million workers, in some 161 Countries, and if the ITUC is, as Gordon Brown stated, the largest democratic movement in the world, did it witness such limited resonance in either Germany or internationally, in either the dominant or alternative inter/national labour media? I asked Google to alert me to anything on the ITUC Congress. Over about a week from June 24, I got four alerts, mostly from the ITUC press department itself, with one or two from Deutsche Welle, the international radio/TV service of the German state. Such reports from national union media that I myself found were mostly about their own participation or the speeches of their representatives. So on the basis of the evidence at time of writing, one has to conclude that the ITUC is the largest invisible democratic organization in the world. Compare dominant and/or alternative media response to Amnesty International campaigns or Greenpeace actions! 11 This is a marginal improvement over the Second ITUC Congress in Vancouver, 2010, where plenary invitees included Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund. And this whilst a massive anti-globalisation demonstration was occurring (and being violently repressed) elsewhere in Canada! 12 For forceful critique of capitalism at the ITUC Congress, we have to again turn to the South African COSATU. The problem here, however, is that this alternative orientation not only clearly failed to impact on the congress but to itself reach the media. Whilst the COSATU President’s (overly diplomatic?) address to the congress was at least reported on the COSATU website, Its more radical, substantial and detailed positions on congress issues could, at time of writing, only be found on UnionBook, here (note its attachments). For a conceptualization of the position of the ITUC in a schema of union responses to neo-liberalism, consider that of Gall, Wilkinson and Hurd (2011:9-10): 1) Agreement and Support; 2) Qualification and Conditional Support; 3) Social Democratic Opposition; 4) Socialist Resistance. Whilst it would seem reasonable to put the ITUC somewhere between positions 2 and 3, I am not sure whether a spectrum is sufficient to allow for alternatives to capitalism that do not even use the word ‘socialism’. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 39 The ITUC is, however, the major union international, having merged earlier social democratic and catholic ones (here un-capitalized since their original ideological inspirations have long faded) and absorbing not only the main national union centres of the post-communist world but also major militant centres in the global South, such as those of Brazil, South Africa and South Korea.13 But the ITUC, its allied internationals and its members have been severely damaged by a capitalist tsunami that has been not only neo-liberal and globalized but also informatized (though this informatization was hardly recognized by its 2014 congress). Much of what the ITUC and family do is on the North-Rest Axis (the Global South, the ex-Communist East), operates in a North-Rest direction and is conflated with Northern state-funded ‘development cooperation’ (consider here again the ITUC Congress workshop on this topic).14 The ITUC in any case assumes that the Rest is ‘developing’ or ‘emerging’, that what it needs is what the West has got or values, and that this is what the Rest desires. In 2013 I attended two international solidarity events of the Dutch trade unions, both cheerfully marked by this ‘Solidarity of Substitution’ (standing in for the victim) syndrome.15 I do recognise this as an aspect of solidarity, but I certainly reject the reduction of solidarity to something so ethically close to 19th century middleclass Christian charity, and inevitably structured on patron-client lines. (More on this later). Capitalism, red in tooth and claw, within and outside industry, in the media and culture, off and online, has to be understood as revolutionary (if you prefer, counter-revolutionary) in carrying out a one-sided and till-now virtually unlimited war in which the traditional working class has been dispersed, restructured, outsourced, and in which its traditional forms (the Union, the Party, the Cooperative, the Newspaper, the Culture) have been reduced in size, and/or their position within the economy the polity, and in their socio-cultural impact. I have proposed the following parable. 13 This is not to ignore exceptions, such as those of the impressively strike- and protest-prone Chinese and South African working classes. But the former are still outside the ITUC, and the ITUC-affiliated South African COSATU was, at time of writing, under an innovatory left challenge from its major industrial affiliate, the Nation Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (Marshall 2014). The possible implications of both phenomena for a post-ITUC labour internationalism have yet to be considered. And we should not forget signs of new union crossborder strike action within Europe (Nowak and Gallas 2014). 14 For what solidarity activities European ITUC affiliates are carrying out on a primarily WestWest axis see the insightful but sobering account of Bieler and Erne (2014). 15 I was a participant at the launch of a Dutch union-funded (actually Dutch state development cooperation funded) film entitled ‘Working Class Heroes’. One of these heroes, present at the launch, and awarded a Dutch Union Rights award, was a prominent and charismatic Indonesian union leader, Said Iqbal. In 2014, Iqbal identified himself – and his union(s) – with the (losing) Presidential candidate – a man with a background in the Suharto military dictatorship! Also present at the launch was the Dutch Labour Party Minister of both development cooperation and foreign trade. Enough said. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 40 The Capitalists and the Unions meet in the traditional World Labour Cup. The Unions arrive, all kitted up, from shirts to boots. But they find, to their horror, that the customary green pitch has been replaced by a shiny white skating rink. They protest loudly but the Capitalists say, ‘This is New Football, it’s faster, it’s more profitable, so get your skates on or go away’. The Unions complain to the Referee but he hoists his shoulders and says, ‘What can I do? If I make it an issue, they’ll simply move the match somewhere else’. The analogy is, of course, incomplete: the capitalists are playing not on an ice rink but in cyberspace. And the unions are still primarily orientated to the industrial/office worker identified with grounded workplaces, local living spaces, national polities. The problem is that the basic form of labour self-articulation, the union, was developed in and against a capitalism that was industrial, national, statebuilding, centralizing (and, of course, patriarchal, racist, imperial and militaristic). Its colonies and dependencies were expected to ‘develop’ along this path. Or, conversely, after 1917, to follow the State-Communist path to such.16 A contradictory and volatile combination of these two paths can be found in China, the new Workshop of the World. The inter/national ‘trade union as we know it’ (let’s call it the TUWKI), is a pyramidal institution, assumes the archetypical proletarian – male, industrial, waged, condemned to life-time (un- or under-) employment, living in a working-class community, surrounded by a working-class culture. The pyramidal organization is a nominally representative-democratic one, just as are, supposedly, worker’s parties, parliaments and the liberal-democratic state. The assumption was that with the growth, spread and deepening of capitalism the worker’s numbers, needs and values would permeate society and the state. This aspiration was given its best – but always partial – representation in the capitalist welfare state (Wahl 2011). With the gradual undermining of Welfare Capitalism (and the dramatic destruction of its Communist would-be equivalent), and with the diverse ‘global justice and solidarity movements’ mostly taking networked and cyberspatial form, the inter/national TUWKI resembles more a monument to the past of emancipatory social movements than a model of a future one.17 16 There were other international labour movement traditions that were crushed between these two millstones, such as the anarcho-syndicalist, the council communist and other democratic socialist ones. I am reminded of these by two recent books. One is that of Dan Gallin (2014), one-time Secretary of the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF), who belonged to and reminds us of a particular democratic socialist tradition. The other is edited by Immanuel Ness (2014), which deals with such traditions in both their historical and contemporary manifestations – North and South, East and West. Such tendencies are – in so far as they surpass their own ‘labourist’ assumptions – making their own contribution to the re-invention of the union movement. 17 Detailed data and convincing additional reasons for the profound crisis of the international labour movement are provided by Marcel van der Linden (2015). Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 41 Finally, at global level, the inter/national unions – North, South, East and West – are incorporated and self-subordinated to the structure, ideology and programmes of the ILO – condemned by a leading former official, Guy Standing, as ‘An Agency for Globalization’ (Standing 2008). Since the ILO’s foundation – with enthusiastic union support – after the First World War and Russian Revolution, this famously ‘tripartite’ organization has been one in which governments and employers (State and Capital in political-economic terms) have 75 percent of the power, Labour 25 percent. ‘Labour’ here means only trade unions recognized by ‘their’ governments, which also actually pay for their unions’ presence at ILO conferences! This structure reproduces the SocialLiberal theory of capital and labour as competing interests, requiring a neutral state to preside over them. From here also comes the ideal of ‘free tripartite collective bargaining’, a model worshipped, or at least accepted, by most unions, North, South, East and West. The contemporary inter/national trade unions can still mount defensive action and organize effective solidarity campaigns (for their affiliates). With their millions of members they cannot be dismissed. But, given the Iron Cage that surrounds their thinking and action, one has to conclude that within this church there is no salvation – or at least no emancipation. The best one can hope for is that the TUWKI will eventually learn from the newest wave of emancipatory social movements. However the Berlin Congress website reveals but a marginal recognition of even the growing number of women workers (headscarved rather than hardhatted?), of the mass of labourers in the petty-commodity sector, of the wave of precarization threatening labour even in its West European fortress, and that capitalism is destroying the environment on which human existence – and therefore inevitably trade unions and collective bargaining – depends. 2. Given the restructuring of work/labour, informalization, migration etc. is there any real basis for international labour solidarity? Well, first we need to recognize the extent, forms and limits of past labour internationalisms.18 We also have to recognize the different times and places in, with or from which, internationalisms were expressed or experienced. I pluralize ‘internationalisms’ in order to avoid homogenization. Even in their iconic forms and moments they had their specificities and limitations. One of these lies in the very concept of internationalism (or, if you prefer, internationalism). There is ambiguity here even in the Communist Manifesto, which at one point asserts that workers have no country, and at another that they will first have to take power nationally.19 Etymologically, as well as 18 Considerable help here is provided by the work of David Featherstone (2012), reviewed here. Featherstone is all the more important for those working on labour internationalism because of his consideration of multiple kinds of such solidarity, of both historical and contemporary cases, and because of his sensitivity to socio-geographic space and distance. 19 Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 42 historically, labour internationalism has been a relationship between workers identified by nationality, interpellated (hailed or addressed) by nationalists and identified with various types of nationalism (e.g. American patriotism, left populism in Latin America, ‘great nation chauvinism’ in Communist – and evidently – post-Communist, Russia and China). With the development of centralized states, imperialism and inter-state or interbloc wars, workers and unions often opted for a state-national or bloc (Western, Eastern, Southern) identity rather than an international class one. We also need to distinguish worker, union, and party/ideological (Labour, Socialist, Communist, Anarchist) internationalisms. Everyone refers to the failure of the call for a general strike against World War One, when, with exceptions, workers identified themselves – at least initially – rather as national subjects/citizens than as an international class. But even the path-breaking 19th to early-20th century international campaign for the eight-hour day, 40-hour week, intimately linked with the establishment of Mayday as International Workers’ Day, was never universalized. In other cases it has been reversed. And I observed and photographed an enormous Mexico City Mayday demonstration, some 15 years ago, in which space was provided for the Zapatistas (who are of course Mexican), but in which there was no single sign of or reference to lo internacional! So the period of a globalized, neo-liberalized, informatized capitalism creates new problems and new challenges. It certainly questions any such simple appeal as that of the Communist Manifesto, assuming that workers are the privileged internationalist subjects; or any assumption that the ITUC, its associated unions and members provide the parameters for, or essence of, labour internationalism. The challenges are beginning to be met, I would argue, by internationalist labour solidarity initiatives at the base, on the periphery and outside the TUWKI. (More under Point 4 below). But we should here note that they customarily take network form, are more active in cyberspace than in offices or conferences, that they are open to dialogue (both internally and externally), that they are often informed by the emancipatory principles and practices of the newest wave of global solidarity and justice movements. Finally, and obviously, they do not accept the Iron Cage of Capitalism and Bureaucracy as the parameters of their thought and action. Consider the slogans I quoted above. Weber’s Iron Cage was, after all, his conceptual one. Traditional national, industrial, colonial, militarist capitalism was actually a mass/mess of contradictions, of which the early labour movement was to various extents conscious of and exploited. The newest global solidarity movements are commonly aware both of the traditional contradictions and of the new ones. As well as of the new terrains of struggle, such as the cyberspatial. And they are customarily aware that the emancipatory struggle is both worldwide (privileging no world area) and ‘intersectional’20 – meaning interpenetrated by and 20 See Wikipedia on intersectionality. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 43 interdependent on other alienated beings (including, in Latin American indigenous thinking, the earth itself). 3. What has been the experience of networking on work/labour issues in the World Social Forum – has it led to any concrete international action? The dominant Brazilian union centre, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUTB) played a major role and was a major presence in the early editions of the WSF, most of which took place in Brazil. It later fell out publicly with the WSF and not for any left (as distinct from institutional) reasons I am aware of. The ITUC has had an increasing presence, and sometimes a giant ‘World of Labour’ tent, has provided its family with a focal point. But this was also, of course, a platform, and I am aware of no significant effort by the ITUC, or the allied Global Unions, to dialogue with ‘other’ labour movements present (of rural labour, of women). There may have been others but the only ‘crossmovement dialogue’ I recall was sponsored by feminists, not by labour. An alternative labour initiative, with the impressively (or was it deliberately?) low-profile name ‘Labour and Globalization’, was sponsored by a pro-WSF Italian union officer and a leading left socialist. It certainly attracted some of ‘labour’s others’, but it acted always as ‘His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’, in the sense of accepting the parameters of the traditional unions, and issuing no alternative programme, charter, or even a discussion document. This effort ran out of steam around 2011, reportedly due to lack or loss of Italian union interest. But we should not consider the unions or other labour people solely responsible here. The WSF, whilst hosting numerous significant social movements, and representing a significant challenge to the global hegemons, has, I think, been heavily marked by 1) the epoch and discourse of ‘global civil society’, 2) been subject to ongización (ngo-ization, for which see Alvarez 1999),21 and 3) been inevitably coloured by the 70-80 percent of participants with a university background. For many of these (as well as the new social movements of the later-20th century) ‘work’ was not, as such, an issue (although jobs increasingly are!), and the labour movement has been considered more a part of the problem than of the solution. We can’t write off the WSF, any more than the traditional trade unions – or for that matter national parliaments. But I am convinced that a global movement for the emancipation of labour will have to start elsewhere. A 2014 Cambridge conference on labour protest worldwide22 reinforced my feeling that if ‘power’ comes from the top and the centre, ‘empowerment’ comes from the base and the periphery: the base of the unions, the periphery of the class, and at least the 21 See here also Wikipedia on NGOization. 22 “‘Bread, Freedom and Social Justice’: Organised Workers and Mass Mobilizations in the Arab World, Europe and Latin America”, 25028. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 44 semi-periphery of capitalism (Southern Europe, East Asia, Brazil, South Africa). The appropriate slogan here might have to be ‘In the unions, with the unions, without the unions and – where necessary – against the unions’. 4. How effective are alternative cross-border/transnational worker initiatives in countering the power of global capital? There was a 1980s wave, in which I was involved and wrote about, known as the ‘New Labour Internationalism’ (NLI) or ‘Shopfloor Internationalism’, itself a result of the labour and social movement radicalism of the 1970s. This was largely based on inter/national and local labour resource centres (LRCs), mostly acting as support groups, providing information and research services, many experimenting with what I called ‘international labour communication by computer’ (ILCC). Operating at the lowest levels of unionism, creating international linkages between workers on the shopfloor, this was rather independent and highly innovatory. With the rise and rise of neo-liberal globalization, however, the NLI was trapped by its orientation to the workplace and the union form. It failed to recognize that any new labour internationalism had to go beyond the ‘factory gates and the union office’ (Haworth and Ramsay 1984). Some of its leading activists entered the unions they had previously criticised, others faded away, yet others continued their efforts to create autonomous LRCs for a new kind of labour internationalism. The devastating impact of an informatized, neo-liberalized capitalist globalization has, however, given rise to a new wave of both action and reflection. International women worker campaigning may have best survived the neo-liberal tsunami (because of the women activists and feminist ideas). There is a significant new rural labour international, Via Campesina (Braga Vieira 2010, Bringel and Braga Vieira 2014), which organizes labourers as well as small farmers, and which could be considered a ‘networked organization’. There is a well-established network of mostly-female street traders, Streetnet. This links not the relevant NGOs in general but ‘membership-based organizations’ in particular. It adapted its constitution from that of an international trade union. Streetnet is autonomous of inter/national unions whilst often collaborating with such. Note that both Via Campesina (VC) and Streetnet were initiatives of the South or are actually initiated and/or inspired thereby.23 23 Being autonomous from the traditional inter/national unions, and being a membership-based organization, is no necessary guarantee of an autonomous discourse or strategy. Reading the following from WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), cosigned by StreetNet and numerous related bodies, I am reminded of the words of feminist Audre Lourde, that ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’: A majority of workers worldwide work in the informal economy, and most new jobs are informal jobs. It is assumed that informal work is unlikely to completely disappear, and that many informal economic activities will remain informal or semi-formal in the foreseeable future. There is no single, easy, one-step way to formalize informal employment. Rather, it should be understood as a gradual, ongoing process of Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 45 Numerous new labour solidarity initiatives have responded to the dispersion, restructuring and differentiation of working classes or categories, addressing themselves to particular regional or national formations (such as the China solidarity centres in Hong Kong), to the precarized, to the informatized, the petty-production sector, fisherpeople, sex workers, and migrants. One might think of migrant workers as the very embodiment of a globalized labour force and therefore as privileged bearers of a new labour internationalism. But whilst there are numerous networks of such, based on country of origin or country of work, and whilst there are various international NGO or church bodies addressing such workers, they seem to have remained resistant to the global models offered by VC or Streetnet. One simply cannot read off consciousness, organization and action from political-economic or socio-geographic position. Then there are initiatives on the fringe of the formal inter/national union structures but largely oriented toward such. The union inter/nationals have so far proven generally incapable of doing more than using – instrumentalising – the Internet (faster! cheaper! wider-reaching!), as a one-way, one-to-many broadcaster. They have not understood informatization as implying a revolution in work, kinds of workers, the self-empowerment thereof, and for moving toward a constructive, horizontal dialogue and dialectic of equals. This role has been taken on by projects such as the humungous information/solidarity project, LabourStart/UnionBook, by Union Solidarity International (USI)24 and the Global Labour Institute (GLI). These also happen to be heavily, if not solely, UK based. So is one ‘industry specific one’, Teacher Solidarity.25 But the China Labour Bulletin, Hong Kong, is one of several such sophisticated operations there. Then in Australia we can find a Southern Initiative on Globalization and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR) in Perth, and an Australia-Asia Worker Links (AAWL) in Victoria. And one should not forget the open and internationalist socialist sites such as ‘Links International Journal of Socialist incrementally incorporating informal workers and economic units into the formal economy through strengthening them and extending their rights, protection and benefits. (WIEGO 2014) The whole ambitious and detailed document surely invites de- and re-construction. To start with, those in the informal economy are not a ‘majority’ – 50% plus? – but more like 85% – surely ‘an overwhelming majority’? To continue, this is not ‘the informal economy’ (ILO socialliberal discourse): it is the ‘petty-capitalist’, ‘petty-entrepreneurial’ or ‘real economy’ (according to various political-economic discourses). Finally, the declaration represents, surely, a backward-looking utopianism: during an on-going global capitalist economic crisis, and a war on labour in the capitalist ‘formal economy’, the aim of WIEGO and friends is that of getting (back) into it. And this with the assistance of the ILO, denounced by Guy Standing (2008) in terms already quoted. 24 See here. This page introduces us to an ‘Organising Network’, whilst, dramatically, reminding us that social networking is not neutral, that every technology bears an ideology, and arguing that it is introducing a new kind of international social networking site for unions. Bearing in mind my early concept of ‘International Labour Communication by Computer’, I am wondering whether we are now moving to a new stage – ILCC 2.0. 25 ‘Teacher Solidarity’. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 46 Renewal’ in Australia, ‘Debate’ in South Africa, ‘The Bullet’ in Canada, or ‘LeftEast’ (wherever, apart from Cyberia, it might be sited).26 Other projects increasingly come even to my inevitably limited attention. One is ‘Forum Worlds of Labour – China and Germany’, which is intended to create ‘personal encounter and debate’ at the shopfloor level. This could be understand as a revival of the shopfloor internationalism of the 1980s, linking as it does both German and China/Hongkong publications and networks largely of that era.27 In Austria there is a new body for the ‘Active Unemployed’, which is proposing an international network of such.28 Then I note a left metalworkers’ union site in Brazil that has an international solidarity page in English, no less!29 And also expressing solidarity in the South-North direction. Whilst many of the labour-specific sites above are heavily oriented toward and sometimes dependent on inter/national union support – moral or material – their position on the union periphery and their cyberspace awareness and activity means they can obviously do things that the traditionally earth-bound unions cannot. And they show, to varying degrees, an awareness of or sensitivity toward the increasingly networked nature of the latest global social movements. This was, I think, demonstrated by a couple of events that took advantage of the ITUC Congress in Berlin. One was of the Global Labour University which, despite its German social-democratic base and intimate links with the ILO, nonetheless addresses the 21st century world.30 A step beyond a union-fixation was taken by a NetworkedLabour conference, Amsterdam, 2013. It brought together 20-30 autonomous left specialists/activists on the globalization/informatization of work, of products, of workers, and then on the possibilities of emancipatory networking amongst such. One year later, however, it was yet to publish a promised report. My feeling is that it lacked significant reference to the history of ILCC, and the presence of those with practical contemporary experience of such. It is nonetheless an initiative which bears following.31 It seems to me to be being challenged (in direct relevance to workers and the labour movement) by a New York event, DigitalLabour.32 26 LeftEast, This is its e-dress. It seems not to have an earthbound ad-dress. 27 See here, so far only in German. 28 aktive-arbeitslose. 29 30 Which is not to exaggerate its radicality, given its focus on labour policies rather than labour politics (in the sense of collective labour self-empowerment). See here its pre-event paper outlines, which at least permit those not present to make their own sense of sometimes conflicting orientations. 31 See here, however, the NetworkedLabour-related work of Senalp and Senalp (forthcoming) and Senalp (2014a, b). And note the hope to hold a following Networked Labour Seminar, May 2015. 32 Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 47 As for the general impact of such efforts? I think we have to recognize this remains modest. It also remains to be critically researched. For example the site of the CLB in Hongkong declares, In addition to promoting workers’ initiatives and our own project work in China, CLB informs workers in China of important developments in the international trade movement. We select stories of worker solidarity and courage that will inspire China’s workers and show them what real trade unions do. Our English-language website conversely gives international readers a comprehensive introduction to and analysis of the workers’ movement in China. [My emphasis.] This seems to reproduce the asymmetrical and Westocentric union internationalism previously criticised. Here the paradise to be gained is one the West is losing! Fortunately, other Hong Kong-based sites go beyond this. I have here in mind, for example, the long-established Asia Monitor Resource Centre33 but there are others. Taking the longest-established and largest-scale cyberspace operation, LabourStart, this provides a remarkable multilingual source of news, and a space in which surfers can declare solidarity with numerous – with endless – online campaigns. Here the dangers arise of ritualization and information overload. Of course, those who use LabourStart can themselves select the countries or respond to issues that most concern them. But insofar as solidarity (overwhelmingly West-Rest) requires of surfers only a click, it raises the danger of ‘clicktivism’. And then the LabourStart-linked UnionBook, whilst a many-tomany site (with the rather restrained presence of LabourStart’s founder-owner, and whilst one I have long used as my own blogsite), comes over so far as a notice-board – or as a sandbox where we surfers can play, with minimal dialogue and with no visible cumulative effect or learning process.34 LabourStart ran one of its in-place conferences immediately following the ITUC Congress in Berlin. Whilst an evaluation of the event (co-authored by LabourStart’s initiator/owner) was predictably uncritical35 another report was rather more informative.36 The GLI is an interesting case in so far as it is union supported, has demonstrated some autonomy from the TUWKI complex, runs an annual international school, has a slowly increasing number of affiliates (including 33 34 This statement has to be qualified following Israel’s third war on Gaza, July-August 2014, when UBook creator, Eric Lee, suspended me without warning for an ‘offensive’ and ‘libelous’ posting, then destroyed the evidence thereof and, finally, (after I had circulated widely an-online protest) de-suspended me! Clearly this raises more issues than those between two Jews, one who would consider himself Zionist Internationalist, the other a Radical-Democratic one. See further the reaction from UBook user, Orsan Senalp and a wrap-up on UBook by myself. 35 36 Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 48 Russia, but not yet the Global South). At one of its annual summer schools, 2013, GLI founder, Dan Gallin, produced a blistering critique of international unionism, all the more telling in that it came from the former General Secretary of one of the Global Union Federations. He also proposed a re-politicising of the international union movement.37 The GLI has also published, with or for the International Transportworkers Federation (ITF), a path-breaking multilingual handbook on Organizing Precarious Transport Workers.38 Striking about this attractive brochure is: its awareness of the multiple forms of precarity; that precarity is a universal worker problem; that different kinds of precarious workers have different needs and demands; that they may (or may not) have effective non-union forms of self-organization; and, finally, that we cannot assume unions confronted by precarization are ‘fit for purpose’. It urges a positive but critical attitude to NGOs working with the precarious. And it warns against the dangers of external (foreign ‘development cooperation’?) funding. A more unusual case would be the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN), which managed to finally get an ILO Convention (No.189) on ‘Decent Work for Domestic Workers’ in 2011. The campaign for this brought together unions of and NGOs for domestic workers from various world regions, the International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF), various national union centres, a Manchester-based research-action centre (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing, or WIEGO), and others. Also of interest is that this campaign made use of the ‘Decent Work’ slogan of the ILOITUC – a campaign of which I have been critical, not only because of its origin in an interstate organization rather than the labour movement, but because of its reiteration of traditional liberal capitalist notions about, well, what work and decency are (it would allow production of junk food, nuclear weapons and ecologically-destructive extractive industries, as long as working conditions and union rights were ‘decent’).39 These can only be static shots of how a new kind of labour internationalism is developing, and they are obviously snapshots only from my camera – or ‘subject position’ as feminists might say. If I have seen and am here recognizing these projects, then there must be dozens of other such occurring in other places, other spaces, in other languages, in other alphabets. 37 One version of this can be found here. 38 39 For a movement and a theoretical critique or and alternative to ‘Decent Work’, see Dinerstein 2014. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 49 5. You have argued for moving beyond trade union internationalism, which remains trapped in the ‘iron cage’, and see new forms of labour self-articulation going beyond ‘the capitalist canon’, leading to the emergence of a new labour movement internationalism. I hope I have given some answers to this question above. So I will here concentrate on the literature that goes beyond the Cage and the Canon.40 Some of this literature is reviewed in pieces I have written on the ‘new global labour studies’. There was a certain shrinkage of international labour studies in the 1990s, possibly when many leftists lost faith in the proletariat as a socialist vanguard and the incrementalist left in it as a modernizing one! Recently there has been an equally considerable revival of such studies. And not only by these 20th century tendencies. I have indeed been taking issue with such new ‘global labour studies’ as I consider to be trapped, like the inter/national trade unions, within the Cage. I don’t want to repeat the arguments in two recent review articles (Waterman 2012, 2013a).41 Nor do I want to be too picky about what is or is not emancipatory (in the sense of seeking the surpassing of the alienation of labour by and for capital/state/empire/patriarchy/war). But we do seem to be witnessing a new wave of critical and creative monographs, conferences and compilations that are undermining (or firing at?) the Canon.42 Here I would like to note a substantial new textbook entitled, simply enough, Globalization and Work (Williams et. al. 2013). Here are some of its chapter titles: Consumption, Work and Identity; Multinationals; International Labour Standards; Globalization, Labour and Social Movements; Management in Global Factories; Migrant Labour; Transnational Mobility; Gender and Intersectional Inequalities; Labour Conflict. In so far as this work ends up suggesting a Australinavian utopia (pp. 247-8), I consider that it here returns 40 It is late, but hopefully not too late. to here introduce the ‘Capitalist Canon’ and the alternatives to such. Although earlier proposed by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, here is an accessible discussion of such (Serrano and Xhafa 2011). 41 The second of these (Waterman 2013a) provides a base from which much of the argument of this paper is drawn. 42 Which is not to say that these compilations universally surpass the capitalist – or for that matter vulgar Marxist – canon. They each require or even invite critical review. In particular, I think, they need to be tested on their ICT-Awareness – the extent to which they recognize this latest capitalist technological revolution, creating new kinds of work, of workers, of forms of labour self-articulation and of ‘disputed terrain’. See Chhachhi 2014, the already-mentioned Ness (2014), Clua-Losada and Horn (2014), WorkingUSA (2014) and Gall, Wilkinson and Hurd (2011), Panitch and Albo (2015). As for 2014 conferences, consider these: Forms of Labour in Europe and China, the Case of Foxconn, Organised Workers and Mass Mobilizations in the Arab World, Europe and Latin America, Social Movements In Global Perspectives: Past – Present – Future as well as the site of RC44, the labour movements group within the International Sociological Association. Critical accounts of all of these would be welcome. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 50 itself to the Golden Age of the Iron Cage. So I guess it is more the book’s varied subject matters – and its extensive discussion of the relevant literature – that it seems to me a provocation to debate, discussion and dialogue on labour (and the newest global social movements!) in the New World Capitalist Disorder.43 A dramatic piece coming out of the prolonged wave of social protest in Greece calls for ‘the regeneration of a social-labour movement from the base for emancipation’.44 This seems to echo a project I launched that has otherwise had little impact. That was – maybe still is? – the Global Labour Charter Project I initially launched around 2005. It was, on the one hand, provoked by the socialliberal ‘Decent Work’ campaign of the ILO-ITUC and, on the other hand, encouraged by emancipatory declarations coming out of the newest global social movement and thinking.45 And, as I was completing this piece, I received this Italian call for a Europe-wide ‘social strike’ to take place November 14, 2014.46 It is an attempt to combine all social discontents and struggles – including those concerning education and gender: It is clear to all…that Europe is the minimum space of confrontation, the transnational level is decisive for conflicts that want to be incisive. And it is clear that without the creation of a space of permanent relationship and innovation between struggles and movements, breaking the impasse and subverting the present is unimaginable. A social strike, a strike that should be general and generalized, precarious and metropolitan, wants to be a first step, undoubtedly partial but fundamental, of this experiment. A way to begin to reverse this toxic narrative that replaces merit with equality, fierce competition with common happiness. 43 Another global labour study came to my attention as I was completing this piece. This is Atzeni (2014). It is a compilation of some brilliant papers, many original and thoughtprovoking. But it is, indeed, concentrated on ‘contemporary themes and theoretical issues’. So it does not take us much further in the direction of strategy. Nor does it address the question of internationalism. It is accessible here. The WorkingUSA (2014) compilation, introduced by Kim Scipes, although primarily focused on the Northincludes a number of novel and sometimes fascinating case studies. For yet another journal special issue on ‘Globalization and International Labor Solidarity’ (Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies 2014) see here. And yet another relevant contribution, the piece by North American labour movement and socialist veteran, Sam Gindin (2014), with its list of things to know about organising against capitalism in the USA. Whilst his critique of traditional unionist thinking and most of his alternative understandings are well taken, however, his prioritization of national over – or at least before – international solidarity means a blind eye to the manner in which these are inevitably interdependent, more than ever in a world he recognizes as globalized, neoliberalised and financialised. Perhaps if he recognized informatization as contemporary capitalism’s fourth leg, he would also see that the beast has many bellies and that this requires any emancipatory labour strategy to be simultaneously international and national – not to speak of local and regional. 44 See here. 45 See here. 46 See here. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 51 I commented on this to the effect that whilst I thought a couple of months too short for this to be widely effective, it carried dramatically further the idea of ‘social movement unionism’ I launched in the later 1980s. 6. What does the 2014 Israel-Gaza war reveal about labour internationalism within or beyond your ‘iron cage’ and ‘capitalist canon’? This is an on-going and extremely fraught issue, so what I have to say are only some first thoughts. I do, however, think that it is the kind of issue for international labour solidarity that has been historically represented by World Wars One and Two, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, AntiColonialism, Vietnam, the Cold War (NATO and West/East nuclear ‘exterminism’), Czechoslovakia 1968, Chile 1973, Poland’s Solidarnosc and Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Note that many of these went beyond the limits of any ‘trade unions as such’ discourse. Now, I have identified with Palestine solidarity and/or the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, particularly in so far as this has involved unions and the wider labour movement. More so since the 2014 Israeli outrage in Gaza that scandalized even liberal Zionists abroad and former IDF intelligence unit soldiers in Israel.47 Given the Balkanisation/Ghettoization of Palestine, I have come to consider any UN-type ‘two-state’ solution as dead in the water (or should one here say ‘desert’ – including those caused by long-standing and continuing Israeli destruction of Palestine’s ecology?). If we are not to continue towards Israel’s ‘Final Solution of the Arab Problem’, then I see a one-state solution as the only democratic one. It may be distant (so is a post-capitalist world!) yet it provides a horizon toward which we must move. At the same time I have been having difficulty in seeing the different reactions to the Israel/Palestine issue in the international labour movement in other than 20th Century terms. Whilst not identical, the issue itself has clear echoes of that against apartheid South Africa (not to speak of earlier cases of imperial racism, humiliation, militarism, expansionism, repression and massacre). There are even clearer echoes of the South African case in the international labour movement. The Eurocentric trade union internationals of that era (and various of their equally Eurocentric affiliates) were complicit with the white racist unions of South Africa, until they were forced by the rising Anti-Apartheid Movement, national and international, to boycott the latter and recognize the Black South African trade unions (Webster 1984, Southall 1995). And the Palestinian, civil society- and union-endorsed, BDS movement is at least 47 This, as well as other reactions can be found amongst multiple postings on Union Book blog here. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 52 implicitly inspired by the successful South African campaign.48 I identify various union responses to the latest invasion of Gaza, briefly: The Labour Zionist. Though not confined to one person, this position is exemplified by the earlier-mentioned Eric Lee (Footnote 29), whose position reminds me of that of Western Communists as Stalinist Russia stagnated and declined. He has been busy with triumphalist celebration of Israel’s wars, as well as the successes of the Zionist Histadrut within the TUWKIs in general and the ITUC in particular. He has, however, increasingly shifted, if uncertainly, to sobering reflections on the success of the BDS/Palestine-solidarity movement, though this is not to the point of recognizing any Israeli responsibility. Two proIsraeli sites he has either created or been connected with, TULIP (Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine) and TUFI (Trade Union Friends of Israel) appear to have run out of steam late 2013. Eric (with whom I fruitfully dialogued on ILCC in the 1990s) has also increasingly withdrawn his pro-Israeli/Histadrut news, views and personal attachments from LabourStart and UnionBook, concentrating them on his own blogsite (from which he has also removed his LabourStart/UnionBook affiliations). Unlike many Western Communists (myself amongst them after the Soviet invasion of Communist Czechoslovakia) he has not yet had his ‘1968 Moment’ – that of abandoning a fundamentalist state-nationalism and an inevitably ‘particularistic internationalism’, in favour of the dialogical/dialectical internationalism that his remarkable and pioneering online creations make possible.49 The ITUC/ETC. By this formulation I mean the ITUC itself, the Global Unions (GUs) intimately associated with it, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD, the European Trade Union Confederation and similar bodies for other regions,50 and such national trade union affiliates as identify themselves uncritically with the ITUC, as well as such NGOs as might have been sponsored by, or that consider themselves allies of, the ITUC. The ITUC declared that it was ‘horrified by the appalling death toll of civilians in Gaza’, and called for ceasefire, a return to the 1967 borders, negotiations and a two-state solution. This identifies it closely with the UN position, to which the ITUC refers and defers. It, somewhat pathetically, organized an international campaign for union peace postcards to be sent to the UN! The International 48 There is an important point of distinction between the labour campaign for BDS in South Africa and Palestine. This is precisely the existence of a mass Black working class and autonomous democratic trade unions in the former, the limited size of an Arab working class in Israel, and the party-political domination of the undemocratic Palestinian unions. This implies a greater challenge to the international labour BDS campaign, particularly the need to surpass a narrow labourism. (More on this below). 49 Though he continues, after first suspending my account and then restoring it – to tolerate my own anti-Zionist and pro-BDS postings on Union Book. 50 An exception must be made for its regional organization for the Americas, CSA/TUCA, which came out with a clear condemnation of Israel, particularly the ‘brutal escalation’ of its assault. As with previous such deviations from the Brussels line, however, this is unlikely to be reproduced – far less responded to – by the Kremlin/Vatican of TUWKIism. Indeed, I could only find it on the CSA site, in Spanish, not on the TUCA site, in English! Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 53 Transportworkers Federation, which condemned the Israeli bombings of Gaza has at least, however, created a humanitarian fund for Gaza. The ITUC has the Histadrut as a member and, at its 2012 Congress actually elected its leader, Ofer Eini, to a leading position within the organisation. Such Histadrut affiliations probably exist for all or most of the GUs.51 The ITUC/ETC thus appears to be in the position the old ICFTU occupied on South Africa before the South African and international Anti-Apartheid Movement forced it to abandon the racist unions and identify with the Black/anti-racist ones. However, there are and may be growing differences within this camp. The Irish TUC, which is an ITUC affiliate, identified itself with the BDS movement already in 2007.52 And a 2014 congress of the British TUC, whilst not coming out explicitly for BDS, nonetheless took a stand distinctly more radical than that of the ITUC (whose position it nonetheless endorses). The TUC also identified itself with Amnesty and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK.53 Some of the international labour support bodies, independent from but oriented toward what I have called TUWKI, came out for support to Palestine and/or BDS. At least one preserved ‘radio silence’ (actually internet silence), considering the matter a ‘political’ or ‘inter-state’ issue rather than a ‘labour’ or ‘social’ one. Such a position reproduces the hegemonic Western liberal discourse (the infamous Canon) that compartmentalizes the social terrain and does not recognize that an anti-political position is also a political position, at least if we take ‘the political’ to cover all exercises of power and expressions of powerlessness. Unsurprisingly, this silence on Israel/Palestine is also reproduced by that US state-funded shill, the Solidarity Centre of the American AFL-CIO.54 Palestine Solidarity and/or BDS campaigns. This campaign, launched from Palestine and endorsed by all Palestinian trade unions and the South African COSATU, is, as already suggested, either explicitly or implicitly inspired by the historical Anti-Apartheid Movement. As Israeli outrages have continued, this campaign has had increasing success. It has a considerable variety of expressions, from the passing of resolutions by national trade union centres and individual unions, to demonstrations and then actual labour boycott actions, such as those of South African dockers and those on the West Coast of the 51 This account is impressionistic, given that neither Wikipedia, the ITUC nor Histadrut websites yield the complete information necessary. Some was gleaned from a booklet on the Global Labour Movement (a misnomer given that it is limited to the ITUC, GUs and some ITUC friendly/acceptable NGOs), published 2013 by LabourStart. A systematic and critical research effort is necessary also here. 52 See here 53 This all causing considerable misgivings to Labour Zionist, Eric Lee. 54 July 2014, it reported that Palestinian unions were ‘under fire’, without reference to what kind of fire this was and where it was coming from, and giving this item no more importance than a half dozen other more routine collective bargaining matters. Oh, and a shill, in the US, is a person or body who/which publicly supports or publicizes someone or some body without revealing his identification with or dependence on the latter. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 54 US/Canada.55 I won’t give this position more attention here because it finds explicit and detailed expression in its own media (see Footnote 45). However a question still needs to be raised about the failure or limitations, so far, of any campaign to get the ITUC/ETC to boycott Histadrut. I suspect that, with the exception of COSATU, those to the left of the ITUC confine any criticisms they might have of it to the corridors of powerlessness, and this for diplomatic reasons somewhat out of consonance with even Gorbachov’s late-20th century notion/aspiration of perestroika and glasnost (restructuring and transparency). Back to the Iron Cage. I said at the beginning of this section that the Palestine labour solidarity campaign seemed to me a typically 20th century one, meaning that it all falls within the solidarity repertoires of the epoch of a nationalindustrial-colonial capitalism. Consider the parallel between the Right/Left, Nationalist/Internationalist typology, presented above, and that I critiqued in Footnote 10. The problem is revealed if we look at the position of the (Neolithic) Communist World Federation of Trade Unions, which has declared total solidarity with the Palestinian unions, attacked Israel and world imperialism, and condemned the ITUC position on the conflict as ‘a hideous joke’.56 What WFTU here offers is in terms of Virtue v. Vice – a Manichean Opposition. Alternatively we could place this position on a Spectrum, leading from the Labour-Zionist one to that of ‘Class and Mass’, of ‘Anti-Imperialism’, and ‘Revolution’. Indeed, various autonomous leftist solidarity bodies have been reproducing, uncritically, this knee-jerk WFTU reaction. In so far, however, as we now recognize ‘revolution’ as a problem rather than a solution (look at what happened to the Chinese one!), do we not also need to see solidarity with Palestinian workers and people in dialectical rather than mechanical (yes/no, good/bad, occupation/liberation) terms? I have earlier proposed that we do need to see ‘international solidarity’ in more complex ways. I have also suggested we need to consider its axes, its directions, its external reach and local depth. I use the acronym ISCRAR: Identity, Substitution, Complementarity, Reciprocity, Affinity and Restitution.57 None of these alone ‘represents’ solidarity; each of them alone can contradict both itself and a holistic notion of solidarity. Solidarity with Palestine falls largely within the category of a Substitution Solidarity – standing in for a suffering or needful community. But if this is understood as a sufficient understanding of solidarity, it may be, or can easily become a patron-client relation. And in so far as it is unidirectional, in this case from the West to the Rest, it can imply, like trade union ‘development cooperation’, the export or imposition of Our understanding and values on the Other. If, alternatively, a Substitution Solidarity is motivated by feelings of guilt or obligation, it can lead to ‘selfsubordination to the victim’. This was a syndrome common to the ‘FirstWorld/Third-World’ solidarity movements of the last century. 55 See here. 56 See here 57 Waterman (1998, 2010), Vos (1976). Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 55 It seems to me that attempts to understand and surpass these limitations, in the case of solidarity with Palestine (if not of labour solidarity with Palestine) are beginning to be made. David Landy (2014/Forthcoming) has Hamas and other problematic/conflicting Palestinian forces in mind when he argues that a notion of solidarity which seeks to avoid its necessary tensions, leads to a suppression of our political imaginations and activities, rather than to their expansion. This may be the greatest casualty of the doctrine of noninvolvement [in the internal relations of the Palestinian movements] – that we may find that in undertaking such blinkered political work we are not engaged in action that is meaningful either for Palestinians, ourselves or our mutual world. In a theoretical consideration of various identities and differences in relation to global [?] social transformation, which takes on both Marxism and feminism, Sriram Anath (this issue) says that the BDS call provides an interesting platform to understand that it is in the lived politics of solidarity-based struggle that one is able to determine where greater attention to difference is needed, where commonality of interests lies, and how to engage with the contradictions arising from different forms of solidarity for a transformative political movement…[I]t would be interesting to see how the variegated coalitions/alliances and movements that have spawned from the BDS call engage with these numerous issues surrounding political solidarity. Such reflections surely take us outside the Cage and beyond the Canon. There are implications here for those concerned with a project of global social transformation, also in relation to labour and what I call the new global solidarity. This is clearly not the rose garden that we (were) promised in the last century. These roses have prickles. We need to work in this garden, together with our Others, armed less with industrial era steam shovels than with Gramsci’s ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. Our major challenge in creating a new kind of labour internationalism is surely that of doing what Holloway, in my initial quote, says of holding together international struggles within the wage-labour relationship with those that seek to surpass it. And doing this without suppressing the necessity of moving from the first to the second. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 56 References and resources Alvarez, Sonia. 1999. ‘Advocating Feminism: The Latin American Feminist NGO “Boom”’, in International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 1. No. 2. Atzeni, Maurizio. 2014. ‘Workers and Labour in a Globalised Capitalism: Contemporary Themes and Theoretical Issues’. Bieler, Andreas and Roland Erne. 2014. ‘Transnational solidarity? The European Working Class in the Eurozone Crisis’ in Leo Panitch and Greg Albo (eds). ‘Transforming Classes’, Socialist Register 2015. Braga Vieira, Flávia. 2010. Dos proletários unidos à globalizăçao da esperança: Um estudo sobre internacionalismos e a Via Campesina. (From Proletarians United to the Globalisation of Hope: A Study of Internationalisms and of Via Campesina). Rio de Janeiro: Alameda. Bringel, Breno and Flávia Braga Vieira. 2014. ‘Educational Processes, Transnational Exchanges and the Reconfiguration of Internationalism in Brazil’s MST and La Via Campesina’. (Unpublished draft). Chhachhi, Amrita (ed). 2014. ‘Forum Debate 2014: Revisiting the Labour Question’, Development and Change. dech.2014.45.issue-5/issuetoc. Clua-Losada, Monica and Laura Horn (eds). 2014. ‘Analysing Labour and the Crisis: Challenges, Responses and New Avenues’, Global Labour Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2. Dinerstein, Ana. 2014. ‘The Dream of Dignified Work: On Good and Bad Utopias’ in Development and Change, Vol. 45, No. 5, pp. 1037-58. Featherstone, David. 2012. Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism. London: Zed. Gall, Gregor, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd (eds). 2011. The International Handbook of Labour Unions: Responses to Neo-Liberalism. London: Elgar. Fernandes, Sabrina. 2014. ‘Brazil on Strike: Class Struggle in the Wake of the World Cup’. The Bullet. Gall, Gregor, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd (eds). 2011. The International Handbook of Labour Unions: Responses to Neo-Liberalism. London: Elgar. Gallin, Dan. 2014. Solidarity: Selected Essays. Labour Start. Gindin, Sam. 2014. ‘Unmaking Global Capitalism’, https://www.jacobinmag. com/2014/06/unmaking-global-capitalism/. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 57 Marshall, Judith. 2014. ‘Building a United Front Against Neoliberalism: South African Metalworkers Change Course’. http://www.socialistproject. ca/bullet/944.php. Haworth, Nigel and Harvie Ramsay. 1984. ‘Grasping the Nettle: Problems with the Theory of International Trade Union Solidarity’, in Waterman, Peter (ed), For a New Labour Internationalism. The Hague: ILERI Foundation. Pp.60-87. Ness, Immanuel (ed). 2014. New Forms of Workers Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism. Oakland: MR Press. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies. 2014. ‘Globalization and International Labor Solidarity’ Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies. Vol. 4, No. 1. Nowak, Jörg and Alexander Gallas. 2014. ‘Mass Strikes Against Austerity in Western Europe – A Strategic Assessment’, Global Labour Journal, Vol. 5, No. 3. Panitch, Leo and Greg Albo (eds). 2015. ‘Transforming Classes’, Socialist Register 2015. Senalp, Orsan. 2014. Making of the Global Working Class. Senalp, Orsan and M.G. Senalp (Forthcoming) ‘Transnational Networks of Radical Labour Research’. In Kees van der Pijl (ed), The International Political Economy of Production. London: Edward Elgar. Serrano, Melissa and Edlira Xhafa. 2011. ‘The Quest for Alternatives Beyond (Neoliberal) Capitalism’. Global Labour University Working Paper 14. Geneva: International Labour Organisation. Southall, Roger. 1995. Imperialism or Solidarity? International Labour and South African Trade Unions. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press. Standing, Guy. 2008. ‘The ILO: An Agency for Globalisation?’, Development and Change, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 355-84. Vos, Henk. 1976. Solidariteit: Elementen, Complicaties, Perspectieven. Baarn: Ambo. Wahl, Asbjorn. 2011. The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State. London: Pluto. Waterman, Peter. 1998. Globalisation, Social Movements and the New Internationalisms. London: Mansell. Or: 2010. London: Bloomsbury. E-book. Waterman, Peter. 2009. ‘Needed: A Global Labour Charter Movement’, Interface: A Journal for and about Social Movements. Vol1, No.2, 255-262. Waterman, Peter. 2012. ‘An Emancipatory Global Labour Studies is Necessary!’, Interface: a Journal for and about Social Movements. Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 317 -368. Waterman, Peter. 2013a. ‘International Union Power within the Rusting Cage of Capitalism and Bureaucracy: A Review Article’. Draft. Interface: a journal for and about social movements Interview Volume 6 (2): 35 – 58 (November 2014) Waterman, In, Against and Beyond 58 Waterman, Peter. 2013b. ‘Trade Unions at World Social Forum, Tunis, Call for a Global Union Forum (Federation of Workers of Quebec – FTQ)’. UnionBook, April 21. Webster, Eddie. 1984. ‘The International Metalworkers Federation in South Africa (1974-80)’, in Peter Waterman (ed), For a New Labour Internationalism. ILERI: The Hague. Pp. 213-30. WIEGO. 2014. WIEGO Network Platform: Transitioning from the Informal to the Formal Economy in the Interests of Workers in the Informal Economy. Manchester: WIEGO. Williams, Steve et. al. 2013. Globalisation and Work. Cambridge: Polity. WorkingUSA. 2014. ‘Special Theme: Global Labour Solidarity’, WorkingUSA, June 2014, Vol. 17, No. 2. About the author Peter Waterman (London, 1936) worked twice for international Communist organisations before becoming an academic. He is now a pensioned (but unretiring) activist/writer on international unions and labour internationalism, global social emancipation movements, and culture/communications – particularly cyberspatial – in relation to such. He has just published his autobio (available online, CopyLeft and free), From Cold War Communism to the Global Emancipatory Movement: Itinerary of an Internationalist. He can be reached at peterwaterman1936 AT

The loyalty oath and Israel’s Zionist “left” (Electronic Intifada)

The loyalty oath and Israel’s Zionist “left”

8 November 2010

Activists in Israel rally against the proposed loyalty oath in Tel Aviv, October 2010. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)

On 10 October 2010, the Israeli government proposed a bill obligating non-Jewish naturalized citizens to swear loyalty to a “Jewish and democratic state.” The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) deplores this attempt to demand recognition of Israel as a Jewish state — a state whose existence is premised on the removal of the indigenous people of Palestine.

In response to this bill, members of the Zionist “Left” in Israel issued a “declaration of independence from fascism.” Announced at a rally in Tel Aviv, the Middle East’s most ethnically cleansed city (indigenous population: four percent), the declaration asserts that the proposed law “violates [Israel’s] basic commitment to the principles of equality, civil liberty and sincere aspiration for peace — principles upon which the State of Israel was founded.”

The Zionist “Left” is distancing itself from this policy, but the proposed oath is entirely consistent with Israel’s racist foundations and continued ethnic cleansing — all of which the Zionist “Left” has played a central role in perpetrating and whitewashing.

In the 1930s, as the Zionist state was forming, the Histadrut and other Labor Zionist institutions campaigned to dispossess Arab peasants and workers, while helping crush the resulting 1936 Arab rebellion.

In 1947-48, under the leadership of David Ben Gurion, Labor Zionism — the dominant force in the Zionist “Left” — also directed the Nakba (catastrophe), which established the “Jewish state” by terrorizing and expelling at least eighty percent of the indigenous Palestinian population.

In the following decades, “Left” Zionism imposed domestic apartheid, made apartheid South Africa Israel’s closest ally and led or supported every Israeli war of domination — most recently in Lebanon and Gaza. Under Labor governments, Israeli settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank exploded in number (see “Briefing: Labor Zionism and the Histadrut,” International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-Labor and Labor for Palestine (US), 13 April 2010).

Today, “Left” Zionists, no less than their right-wing counterparts, view Palestinians as a “demographic threat” to Jewish supremacy. Like the “Right,” they insist that Palestinians ratify their own unequal status by recognizing 1948 Palestine (“Israel”) as a “Jewish state.” Ironically, this Zionist racism, violence and apartheid serve to deliver a segregation of Jews that parallels traditional European anti-Semitism.

The problem, then, is not alleged betrayal of Israeli “principles” at the hands of right-wing “extremists,” but Zionism itself — both “Left” and “Right.” For Israeli Jews who reject Israel’s racist foundations, we stand with you.

We ask others not only to join us in opposing the loyalty oath, but to reject the Zionist principles upon which it rests. Concretely, that means supporting Palestinian demands for an end to military occupation, implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land and equal rights for all throughout Palestine.

Jesse Benjamin, an associate professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University, is aUS and an Israeli citizen. He is a member of IJAN.

David Comedi is an activist, physicist and coordinator of IJAN in Argentina.Â

Toby Kramer is a member of IJAN in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jewish Labor Committee Attempts to Shut Down Boston Conference on Zionism (New England Committee to Defend Palestine)

Jewish Labor Committee Attempts to Shut Down Boston Conference on Zionism

New England Committee to Defend Palestine

March 16, 2008

Zionists walked into a well-known center for left activists in Boston this week and managed, with a single complaint, to take away an already agreed-upon meeting space for an April conference on Palestine organized by the New England Committee to Defend Palestine. Around March 9, the local branch of a national group called the Jewish Labor Committee told the director of Encuentro 5 and the landlord of the building that houses Encuentro that the New England Committee to Defend Palestine is a “hate group” and demanded that it not be allowed to hold the conference in Encuentro’s meeting space. On March 14, the director of Encuentro informed the conference organizers that he would have to accede to pressure from the Jewish Labor Committee and UNITE-HERE (the Union of Needle trades, Industrial and Textile Employees and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union). UNITE-HERE is connected to a trust that owns the multi-story brick industrial building in Boston’s Chinatown. Encuentro’s space is on the 5th floor of this building and is held without a lease, making it vulnerable to landlord threats.

Beneath the facts of the case lie a number of ironies:
* Attacks like this are exactly the subject of the disputed conference. The purpose of the conference, whose title is “Zionism and the Repression of Anti-Colonial Movements,” is to expose attacks on activists as they have been carried out historically by zionist forces. Activists scheduled to speak have been involved in the Native American struggle against European genocide on the North American continent, the Black liberation struggle in the US from slavery onward, the struggle against US imperialism in Central America, the movement against apartheid in South Africa, the struggle against US imperialism and genocide in Iraq, and the struggle against US-Israeli genocide in Palestine.
* Encuentro bills itself as “a space for progressive movement building” in Boston ( ). Massachusetts Global Action — the organization that runs Encuentro–argued the need for a “tactical retreat” and offered us $400 and help finding another venue if we would consent to leave. We told them that this would undermine the meaning of our conference, their own work, and the movement as a whole. Our suggestion to Encuentro was to take this matter to the activist community — to the people who use the space — to tell them what was taking place and invite them to help organize a struggle to defend the integrity of our collective work.

Zionist organizations like the JLC have more material and political power than perhaps at any time in the past. But this power is increasingly hollow, since it must increasingly assert itself by shutting down a discussion about that power–a discussion that is growing and moving into the mainstream. The JLC did not succeed by persuading Encuentro 5, but by threatening them through the building’s owners. These are clearly threats that they have the power to carry out–a fact that proves what critics of zionism are saying.

But this also demonstrates that while they have more material power than ever before, they have less ideological support than ever before. The legitimacy of the zionist project–the passive consent given to US support for “Israel”–is collapsing. That collapse must come before the serious fight over material power–a fight that is coming.

We are disappointed that Encuentro 5 and Mass Global Action decided that it was not strategic for them to challenge this abuse of power now. We know that the repercussions might well have been severe, and recognize that this would affect a great deal of effort and work that has gone into building their organization. We offer the following as a challenge–not so much to them, but to the movement as a whole, since finally the question is not about any of our specific, struggling organizations:

Can we build a movement against imperialism, or against social injustice in the United States, if the limits of our discussion can be set by organizations like the JLC–organizations that are committed to ensuring that billions of dollars in US military and economic support are given yearly to one of the most militarized colonial states in the world?

There is widespread discontent with zionist power. This discontent will not turn itself into a meaningful response until it becomes organized around specific battles. This can only take place if at some point people are willing say “it stops here.”
* “Progressives” are not progressive. The “progressives” are the Jewish Labor Committee, which calls itself “the Jewish voice in the labor movement.” The JLC did not come in from the outside but actually has an office in Encuentro’s own space. The Jewish Labor Committee’s web site ( ) shows its president, Stuart Applebaum, standing proudly with war criminal Shimon Peres in February in Jerusalem. The JLC has put out a statement condemning the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against “Israel.” The JLC statement asserts that Israelis, who have brutally occupied Palestine for 60 years, carrying out a program of genocide ever since, should not be seen as “victimizers.”

The progressives are UNITE-HERE, the brave union for oppressed garment and hotel workers, which acted in this fiasco as a landlord bully threatening to kick out tenants for political speech.

The progressives are leftists who support resistance in Palestine, but not resistance that uses measures of a kind used by its enemy — namely, armed struggle. The leadership of the resistance in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan today is Islamic. Progressives in the US support secular political movements, so they don’t support the people who are actually carrying out the resistance in these countries which the US and “Israel” are busy devastating. Support for resistance by oppressed people should be given without qualification.

* The criminal has accused his victim of the crime. The real hate groups are those who support genocide in Palestine. The Boston Jewish Labor Committee’s accusation that the conference organizers are a “hate group” comes right out of the manual of the Anti-Defamation League which has gone to great pains to define political speech and action as good or bad in terms favorable to the zionist project. The ADL is a “progressive” organization — it seems to be for the right thing, except when it comes to criticism of “Israel.” Criticism of “Israel” is anti-Semitism — that’s hate speech, that’s against the law. The ADL was part of a recent attack on a mosque being built in Boston. It was exposed for lobbying Congress against a bill that condemns the Armenian genocide. During the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, it spied on organizations in the U.S. that supported the struggle against white supremacist apartheid in South Africa. This do-good “no place for hate” organization is actually a front group for a racist foreign power.

The limits of political speech on the left are now being defined by the very organizations who say they’re working for the good. There is no open debate. The idea is to simply prevent political speech. Why is support for a nasty racist state in occupied Palestine driving so much of US and international politics? And the question goes beyond Palestine, since these same organizations have the power to set limits on the discussion of “social justice” and racism here inside the US. This includes a history of demonizing black nationalists like Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and the Black Panthers as “anti-Semites.” In many cases people’s careers have been ruined and their reputations smeared by forces who never came out in the open. Joseph Massad, Tony Martin, Ward Churchill, and most recently Catherine Wilkerson, are examples. Ward Churchill will be among the speakers at the conference.

The New England Committee to Defend Palestine assures all those who have been invited to and registered for the April 12 and 13 conference that we have secured another venue and will be announcing it soon. We couldn’t have provided a better example of zionist interference in anti-imperialist activism than the one that just happened here. We have great speakers coming from many different movements. We hope that supporters of the struggle in Palestine, and all those who recognize the need to build a truly independent opposition to oppression inside the US, will join us for this event.

U.S. Unions Bankroll Israeli Aggression (Socialist Action)

Socialist Action /August 2002

U.S. Unions Bankroll Israeli Aggression



Labor voices are being raised against the AFL-CIO’s collaboration with the U.S. government’s backing of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Unionists are petitioning the labor federation’s officers, stating that they “deplore the fact that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney recently associated U.S. labor’s name with support for the Israeli invasion of the West Bank, which has resulted in the widespread death and destruction of the Palestinian people and property.”

The petitioners charge that “all the world knows the murderous assault on the Palestinians with the most modern tanks, helicopters, and missiles is financed by our taxes.”

But what the world and even most U.S. unionists may not know is that U.S. union dues monies and union pension funds are being used to buy Israeli government bonds, also helping to finance what the petitioners accurately term Israel’s “horrific aggression.”

Michael Letwin, the president of UAW 2325, which represents legal aid lawyers, says, “It’s bad enough that our tax dollars are going to fund Israel, but our union dues-that’s intolerable.”

Yes, it’s intolerable, and the money is considerable. The Jewish weekly Forward on March 22 quoted the National Committee for Labor Israel’s director as estimating that “the American labor community holds $5 billion in Israel bonds.”

And judging by the mutual praise regularly exchanged by U.S. union officials, the Jewish Labor Committee, Israeli politicians and the Israel Bonds National Labor Division fund raisers, there can be no doubt that U.S. unions will continue to buy Israeli bonds in significant amounts.

For example, in November, the Israeli bonds sellers will hold a tribute dinner for Terence O’Sullivan, president of the 800,000-strong Laborers Union, according to the Israel Bonds National Labor Division’s web site.

A later tribute is being organized for the A. Philip Randolph Institute, headed by Norman Hill, also a member of the Israeli Bonds Labor Advisory Board, which is co-chaired by Barbara Easterling, Secretary-Treasurer of the Communication Workers Union.

In 1999, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka called on unionists “to invest in the [Israeli] bonds that are such a tangible link between our movement and the continuing struggle to nurture and protect the State of Israel.”

A year earlier, AFL-CIO head John J. Sweeney accepted the Israeli Bonds 50th Anniversary Labor Achievement Award.

But those American trade unionists that are slapped on the back by the Israeli bond sales staff shouldn’t think that the bond sellers are all that selective with their praise and awards. In1975, the Israeli Ambassador inducted the notorious Teamster official Jackie Presser into the “Prime Minister’s Club, a group made up of people who personally (or in Presser’s case, through his union) bought more than $25,000 worth of bonds” (Steven Brill, “The Teamsters”).

By 1977, Brill reported, the Teamsters “had bought $26,000,000 worth [of Israeli bonds] out of total American union purchases of $100,000,000.”

The Forward reported that recent honorees and speakers at a March Jewish Labor Committee dinner included Richard Trumka; Michael Monroe, general president of the Painters Union; Morton Bahr, head of the Communications Workers Union; Dennis Hughes, president of the AFL-CIO, New York State; and Mike Sacco, president of the Seafarers Union, who, when introduced, “removed the napkin tucked into his collar and waved it in the air.”

What the bond money buys

In a May 30 report, the International Labor Organization (ILO) charged that Israeli aggression has resulted in a “socio-economic meltdown,” devastating to Palestinian workers.

An ILO statement on its report said, “‘The escalation of violence and the military occupation of the territories have caused great physical damage to the infrastructure and agricultural land ‘ Preliminary figures put the cost of reconstruction of public and private buildings and infrastructure in the West Bank alone at some USD 432 million.

“Real growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Palestinian areas declined by 12 per cent in 2001 and real Gross National Income (GNI), the sum of GDP and of factor income earned abroad (wages of Palestinian earned in Israel) dropped by 18.7 per cent, according to the report.

Further, “Preliminary ILO estimates suggest that ‘unemployment could have reached nearly 43 per cent in the occupied territories during the first quarter (January-March) of 2002.’

“‘The percentage of the population living in poverty (less than USD 2.1 per day) increased from 21 per cent in 1999 to 33 per cent in 2000 and 46 per cent in 2001. The figure could possibly reach 62 per cent in 2002,’ the report said.”

Union members shouldn’t think that Israeli government bonds bought with their dues monies and pension funds pay high interest rates. According to the Multinational Monitor report by Mokhiber, “The bonds pay interest rates below those of other available securities and well below what most investors would expect from loans to a foreign government, especially one as economically troubled as Israel….

“And unlike most bonds, State of Israel securities are not easily converted into cash. The institutional bonds cannot be traded on the open market, and can only be sold to pension funds, charities and other non-profit organizations [labor unions]. Israel bonds not only pay a poor return, they carry a high risk as well. Although Israel bonds, like other privately placed securities, are not given a credit rating, if they were they would almost certainly be considered a poor investment.”

1500 labor groups buy bonds

Given the poor financial returns from buying Israeli bonds, and putting aside the anti-Palestinian aims some union officials undoubtedly share with the Israeli and Zionist establishment, why have so many unions (1500 labor organizations, reported Lee O’Brien in “American Jewish Organizations and Israel,” and cited by Mokhiber) put their members’ dues monies into Israeli bonds?

It’s hard not to conclude that a large part of the answer has to do with the uncritical backing that high union officials have traditionally given to bipartisan foreign policies, including the Marshall Plan, the Vietnam War, and the current military intervention in Afghanistan.

It’s well documented that the highest echelons of the AFL-CIO have worked hand in hand with various U.S. administrations to oppose, subvert, and destroy democratic movements, especially in Latin America, targeted by the CIA (giving a new meaning to the term “company” men).

Even today, the AFL-CIO receives more than $15,000,000 a year from the government, which suggests to some critics that the U.S. labor federation might have had a role in the recent failed coup attempt in Venezuela.

In April, AFL-CIO chief Sweeney spoke at a Washington, D.C. gathering billed as a “Solidarity Rally for Israel. Sweeney said that “the American labor movement has a long and enduring relationship with the state of Israel, a relationship grounded in our solidarity with the Israeli Trade Union Federation, the Histadrut.”

Although he acknowledged that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fueled by poverty and despair,” he knowingly ignored the February Israeli bombing of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Nablus.

Nor did Sweeney choose to speak in defense of ordinary Palestinian workers employed in Israel who must register at official labor exchanges and then are subjected to huge deductions from their pay: “I worked for three years through the labor office and no one ever told us what benefits we were entitled to. They were taking over 25 percent of our wages and give us nothing in return” (“Attacking Labor,” by Marty Rosenbluth, Multinational Monitor, April 1988).

Nor did Sweeney denounce the Israeli’s forcing of Palestinian workers to return to the territories each night, bringing to mind the racist segregation of the former South Africa apartheid regime.

Sweeney told the Washington rally that he spoke on behalf of the union federation’s 13 million working members. But some union members would dispute Sweeney’s claim, including New York trade unionists who in May picketed the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council’s meeting with Israeli Consul general Alon Pinkus at the Sheraton Hotel.

The union pickets called for divestment from Israeli bonds, an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.

Reflections of A Daughter of the “’48 Generation” (Against the Current)