Category Archives: Palestinian Labor

American and Palestinian Unionists Build International Solidarity To Win ‘Freedom’ for Palestine (In These Times)

In These Times
WEDNESDAY, APR 6, 2016, 3:12 PM

American and Palestinian Unionists Build International Solidarity To Win ‘Freedom’ for Palestine

BY JEFF SCHUHRKE

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In an address on Middle East policy last month, Bernie Sanders —the first Jewish American to win a presidential primary—did something virtually unheard of in contemporary U.S. politics when he called for an end to “what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory” by Israel.

The only candidate to skip the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, Sanders instead delivered a speech from Utah in which he acknowledged that “today there is a whole lot of suffering among Palestinians” due to the occupation.

“For a presidential candidate to break from the mold, like it seems maybe Sanders is doing, and to talk about the fact that the occupation needs to end, is something that’s exciting to Palestinians,” says Manawel Abdel-Al, a member of the general secretariat of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

“We hope this isn’t just election talk,” he adds. “People were very excited about Barack Obama as well and we didn’t get much progress. But we’re hopeful.”

Abdel-Al—who lives in occupied East Jerusalem—is visiting Chicago this week at the invitation of the United Electrical Workers (UE), the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, and Jewish Voice for Peace to enlist the support of the U.S. labor movement in the Palestinian liberation struggle. He addressed standing-room-only audiences of rank-and-file unionists at last weekend’s Labor Notes conference and again on Tuesday night at the local UE Hall.

A machine repair technician by trade, Abdel-Al has been a union activist for three decades. He tells In These Times that throughout their history, Palestinian trade unions have always waged a “two-part” battle. “We represent workers in the class struggle for socioeconomic rights, but also in the national, political struggle for freedom and independence,” he says, noting that the Palestinian labor movement has managed to endure despite a century of repression and upheaval under British, Jordanian, and Israeli control.

Abdel-Al’s PGFTU represents 14 private sector unions in the West Bank and Gaza. In the West Bank, Abdel-Al says the PGFTU negotiates collective bargaining agreements with employers and successfully convinced the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) to pass a minimum wage law in 2012. The union federation is now calling for the P.A. to implement social welfare policies by next year.

Meanwhile, over 25,000 public schoolteachers (not affiliated with PGFTU) staged a one-month strike earlier this year to call for the P.A. to honor a promised pay raise that had been “left on the backburner for three years,” Abdel-Al says. The strike ended last month after President Mahmoud Abbas intervened and promised back pay and a 10 percent wage increase.

Abdel-Al’s PGFTU is not recognized by the Israeli government, leaving unprotected the approximately 92,000 West Bank Palestinians who regularly cross into and out of Israel and Israeli settlements for work. Abdel-Al explains that while many of these workers have legal permits to be employed in Israel, many others are unauthorized workers—hired under-the-table by Israeli employers—and face extreme exploitation. “When they’re injured on the job, they’re simply taken to the closest border checkpoint and left there. The employer disappears.”

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Abdel-Al at Chicago’s Haymarket monument. (Jeff Schuhrke)

Regardless of their legal status, Abdel-Al says that all Palestinian workers in Israel, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, face discrimination, arbitrary dismissal, low pay, and a host of other issues on the job.  “All we want is freedom from oppression,” he says, asking U.S. unionists to do whatever they can to help their fellow workers in Palestine.

Heeding this call, last August, UE became the first national U.S. labor union to endorse Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)—a global, nonviolent movement to protest Israeli human rights violations inspired by the successful efforts of civil society groups to pressure South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

While the activist network Labor for Palestine has been pushing U.S. unions to get behind BDS for the past decade, serious strides have only been made in the two years since Israel’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza, which killed 1,462 civilians. In December 2014, BDS was endorsed by University of California graduate student workers with UAW Local 2865—a vote that was controversially nullified by the UAW’s International Executive Board earlier this year. Following Local 2865 and UE’s lead, the Connecticut AFL-CIO also passed a resolution in favor of BDS late last year.

BDS is gaining traction within the international labor movement as well, with support from unions in South Africa, the UK, Norway, Brazil, and elsewhere. Last April, it was endorsed by Canada’s Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), which represents 325,000 public and private sector workers in Quebec.

“I think BDS is a powerful tool to educate people on what is happening in Palestine,” Nathalie Guay, coordinator of CSN’s international relations, tells In These Times. Guay, who helped connect the PGFTU and UE, hopes that more North American unions will not only endorse BDS, but also send their members on delegations to Palestine to learn about the situation first-hand. “Every single person who goes there comes back as an activist for Palestine. We need more of that.”

Noting the growing international influence of unions from the global south, including Brazil’s pro-BDS Central Única dos Trabalhadores, Guay predicts the international labor movement will continue to increase its support for Palestine in the years to come. “I think there will be some evolution,” she says.

This evolution is already evident in the International Trade Union Confederation—a global organization composed of the world’s major labor federations—which has issued increasingly critical statements of Israel since the 2014 assault on Gaza.

“We believe statements are not enough and hope the ITUC will change its policies in a more definitive way to help end the occupation,” Abdel-Al says. “But no matter how small, this is a positive change.”

Abdel-Al took time out of his busy schedule this week to visit the Haymarket memorial—a tribute to martyred Chicago unionists who were hanged in 1887 as a result of their activism in support of the 8-hour workday. “This is the birthplace of the worldwide labor movement. Around the world, we celebrate labor on May 1st because of what happened in Chicago.”

He wants U.S. labor activists to remember that occupied Palestinians are also oppressed workers. “Any activism, any support for us would be in accordance with a slogan that is well known by the working class everywhere—workers of the world, unite! Through solidarity and willpower, workers can make changes and bring about the achievement of rights for persecuted and oppressed people everywhere.”

Jeff Schuhrke is a Summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.

Similar to the West Bank, Gaza’s workers protest to demand fair pay (Mondoweiss)

Mondoweiss

Similar to the West Bank, Gaza’s workers protest to demand fair pay

Israel/Palestine

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“I go early to my work every day, and do my best to efficiently do my duty and serve my people. But instead of being honored by receiving my salary, I am left to demonstrate and shout in order to get my right of a salary,” Matter said.

He is one of tens of thousands of workers in Gaza who are offered only a small part of their salaries every fifty days or so. This has created a harsh reality for them and their families in a climate of deteriorating living conditions in the coastal enclave.

“We are blackmailed in political splits, and left prone to extortion so that our leaders can achieve their narrow political interests,” he added.

Gaza’s underpaid health, sanitation and public education workers declared a partial strike in an attempt to attract the attention of the unity government. They are calling on Rami Hamdallah, the appointed Prime Minister, to fulfill his earlier promises to settle the issue of Gaza’s workers, who had been financially neglected by the Palestinian Authority.

All demonstrations held by the workers have been directed toward the headquarters of the unity government, based in northern Gaza City. Dozens of unpaid workers took to the streets in the protests, chanting slogans to demand equity and transparency. They demanded their right to work insurance, which they argue should remain preserved regardless of political instability instead of being used as a tool within the government’s internal issues.

Mohammed Siam, head of the workers’ syndicate, holds the government in Ramallah fully accountable, since it refuses to recognize the workers’ rights to be paid from the PA budget. “It is totally unacceptable for the government to go on with this policy of denial toward Gaza’s employees. It is ultimately their right to receive their funds in a regular pattern,” Siam said.

In Gaza, there are about 45,000 workers functioning as the breadwinners for more than 250,000 people, according to the syndicate.

Teachers in the West Bank held a high-profile month-long strike of their own strike to demand full payments from the government. One excuse that the government in Ramallah gives for its failure to pay teachers is that the Palestinian Authority needs to adjust its budget in order to combat the impact from the massive Israeli attacks waged on Gaza and to expedite reconstruction efforts there.

This excuse was particularly shocking for people in Gaza, whose expectations of the government were severely defeated after the last war, in 2014. Many people in Gaza accuse the government of neglecting Gaza. But the workers’ syndicate goes further: “The government and President Mahmoud Abbas conspire against Gaza and its people. They not only abstain from helping us, but they incur more troubles when they fail to pay the workers,” Siam added.

The syndicate said that the government now owes the workers millions of dollars.

The unity government has only paid Gaza’s workers once since its formation in June of 2014. The government paid each of 24,000 workers $1,200 in October of 2014. However, payment was withheld from the remaining workers – those who were employed by the Interior Ministry rather than the unity government – despite that the State of Qatar has donated funds in order to pay them.

Reem Saher, a worker and active participant in the protests, considers the government to be responsible for her terrible circumstances. Saher, a mother of four, is often forced to rely on debts in order to meet her family’s needs. “I abandon most of my expenses,” she said. “Most of the time, we live from hand to mouth.”

Saher is not interested in government talks about Palestinian reconciliation if they will not bring an end to the workers’ crisis. “Our rights should be seen as a red line, if they still have a living conscience,” she said.

The intractable issue bears many repercussions because it began in 2007, when Hamas employed thousands of new workers to replace those who were refusing to work under the new government. At the time, these workers were urged by the PA not to work if they wanted to receive their usual salaries. Due to disagreements over the Syrian crisis, Hamas then severed ties with Iran, which had previously been a main ally of the Islamic organization. The Palestinian government’s financial resources and revenue were exhausted as a result.

About Isra Saleh El-Namy

Isra Saleh El-Namy is a journalist in Gaza.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/03/similar-to-the-west-bank-gazas-workers-protest-to-demand-fair-pay/?utm_source=Mondoweiss+List&utm_campaign=911bafd273-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b86bace129-911bafd273-398519677#sthash.rteqyC5Q.dpuf

The New Unions are officially recognised as trade union confederation (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign)

Saturday, March 26, the Palestine New Federation of Trade Unions (New Unions) have celebrated their official recognition as trade union federation by the Palestinian authorities and at the same time have held their annual congress, voting for a new union council and executive committee. The New Unions unite today  26 trade unions in all of the 10 West Bank districts and represent around 10 000 workers from all sectors.

The event was packed and representatives from a large spectrum of political and social forces addressed the New Unions with their messages of support. Everybody stressed the hope that the New Unions will bring new force to the class struggle in Palestine and strengthen the national struggle for self-determination.

Muhammad Jawabreh, a long standing unionist and one of the co-founders of the New Unions, gave the opening remarks of the congress and declared the birth of this new progressive trade union, which works to achieve the right to a free life with dignity for all workers and keeps committed to the legacy of the Palestinian national and class struggle for justice, democracy and freedom.

New Unions2Nasser Qatami, deputy minister of labour, congratulated the New Union for the official recognition as a trade union confederation and expressed the readiness of the ministry to cooperate and facilitate the work of the union in order for them to achieve the goals they have been established for. Bassam al Salhi, secretary general of the Palestinian People’s Party, encouraged all to support the New Unions and to strengthen their role in defending the interest of the workers and improving their conditions. He underlined that there is no contradiction between a diversity of unions and confederations and unity in the class struggle. Omar Shahadeh, conveyed greetings of secretary general of the PFLP Ahmad Saadat and his deputy Ahmad Fuad. He underlined their full support to the New Unions and the establishment of the new confederation  will form a concrete step towards bringing the trade union movement in Palestine back on the right track  and to reinforce the international solidarity with the palestinian people and working class.

Thomas from the Norwegian ‘Workers Mate’ association addressed the congress reiterating their support for the New Unions and promised the Workers Mate will continue support the struggle of the Palestinian people through boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, including building efforts to boycott the Israeli trade union confederation Histadrut, which historically and up to today has played a key role in supporting and facilitating Israeli policies of discrimination and ethnic cleansing of the PAlestinian people and occupation and colonisation of their land.

Adnan Dagher, a veteran unionist, reminded the congress of the long history of the Palestinian labour movement. He expressed confidence that the New Unions may recover the leading role of the workers struggle and trade unionism within the national movement and may revive the class struggle within Palestine.

Muhammad Bleidi, the secretary general of the New Unions, in his closing remarks thanked everybody that has contributed to the establishment of the New Unions, all those that over the years have dedicated their time and struggle and energies in the long process. Muhammad Bleidi outlined the past and current work of the union to defend workers rights within the factories, at the Israeli workers gates and in the court systems. He reminded everybody of the mission of the union to defend and achieve labour and national rights for the Palestinian working class and its principles of unity, class consciousness and democracy and autonomy.

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At the end of the congress, the Palestine New Federation of Trade Unions elected their new Council comprised of 31 members and the new executive committee comprised of 17 members (four women). Muhammad Bleidi has been reconfirmed in the vote for the secretary general of the union.

Labor for Palestine at Labor Notes: April 2-3 in Chicago

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Dear fellow trade unionist,

Labor for Palestine invites you to join us for the events below at Labor Notes in Chicago (descriptions from conference program) to build labor solidarity with the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, examples of which include LFP campaigns, ILWU Local 10 members’ refusal to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo, and historic resolutions from UAW 2865UE, and CT AFL-CIO.

BDS demands an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

Please click here to RSVP your attendance, express interest, and share the Facebook event page.
 
Whether or not you can attend, please also click here to donate to Labor for Palestine, which has been at the forefront of U.S. labor BDS since 2004 (see materials below).
 
Thank you!

Labor for Palestine Conveners:
*Suzanne Adely, Global Workers Solidarity Network; Former Staff, Global Organizing Institute, UAW
*Michael Letwin, Former President, ALAA/UAW L. 2325
*Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; ILWU L. 10 (retired)
*Jaime Veve, TWU L. 100 (retired)

 
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Sat., April 2, 4:15-6pm 
LABOR STRUGGLES IN PALESTINE
Room: O’HARE A 
‘The global International Trade Union Confederation has long criticized Israel for abuse of Palestinian workers and denial of union rights, saying: “It is impossible for workers to enjoy their rights in a country where governmental institutions have fundamentally failed to hold those who are responsible for systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law accountable.” Under extreme circumstances, workers are building a movement in Palestine and in Israel. WAC-MAAN is an independent union based in Israel that organizes Israeli and Palestinian workers. Manawel Abdel-Al, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions; Yoav Tamir, WAC-MAAN; Facilitator: Leah Fried, United Electrical Workers.’
 
Sun., April 3, 10:45-12:30pm
BUILDING SOLIDARITY WITH PALESTINE 
Room: SEATAC
‘Discuss the call by Palestinian civil society, including unions, for the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a nonviolent strategy similar to the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa. Manawel Abdel-Al, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU); Nathalie Guay, Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), Quebec.’

Manawel Abdel-Al from Palestine in Chicago; Narratives of Resistance (USPCN)

Manawel Abdel-Al from Palestine in Chicago; Narratives of Resistance

The Struggle for Land and Labor – Workers’ Rights in Palestine Join Manawel Abdel-Al of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)–directly from Occupied Palestine–as he shares the struggles […]

Join Manawel Abdel-Al of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)–directly from Occupied Palestine–as he shares the struggles of Palestinian workers and discusses the call by Palestinian civil society, including labor unions, for the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a strategy to win full equality, to bring an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands, and to uphold Palestinian national rights, including the Right to Return and the right of self-determination.

WHERE: United Electrical Workers, 37 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago

WHEN: Tuesday, April 5th, 2016, at 6 PM

Our host, the United Electrical Workers (UE), is proud to be the first national U.S. union to endorse BDS!

The International Trade Union Confederation, a global confederation of labor unions, has long criticized Israel for extreme abuse of Palestinian workers and denial of trade union rights, saying: “It is impossible for workers to enjoy their rights in a country where governmental institutions have fundamentally failed to hold those who are responsible for systematic violations of human rights and humanitarian law accountable. Respect for the rule of law is essential when it comes to the protection of the rights of workers.”

Co-Sponsors:
Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN)
Jewish Voice for Peace – Chicago
United Electrical Workers
United States Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)

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u of c poetry

How Israel makes money from blockading Gaza (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

How Israel makes money from blockading Gaza

Gaza Workers
A Palestinian farmer harvests strawberries from a field in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, on 10 December 2015.

Mohammed AsadAPA images

Palestinians whose livelihoods are forcibly enmeshed in Israel’s economic system are often used as human shields against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The frequent accusation made by critics is that boycotts of Israeli businesses, especially settlement businesses, will hurt the very Palestinians that BDS activists say they support.

At times, settlement advocates even deploy Palestinian spokespersons to speak positively about the higher wages they receive working for settlement businesses.

A new report released by UK-based Corporate Watch brings the voices of the Palestinian farmers and agricultural workers to the debate over how the BDS movement can best resist Israeli exploitation of their land and labor.

Corporate Watch’s report, titled, “Apartheid in the Fields: From Occupied Palestine to UK Supermarkets,” focuses on two of the most vulnerable segments of Palestinian society: residents of the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley.

Farming under siege

Anyone entering Gaza through the Erez checkpoint on the northern boundary with present-day Israel, traverses a long, fenced corridor running through the so-called “buffer zone” enforced by the Israeli military.

This poorly defined area ranges from 300 to 500 meters along the inside perimeter of Gaza.

Since 2008, the report states, more than 50 Palestinians have been killed in this zone. Four Palestinian civilians have been killed and more than 60 injured so far this year.

According to the UN monitoring group OCHA, this zone also takes up 17 percent of Gaza’s total area, making up to one third of its farmland unsafe for cultivation. Areas that once held olive and citrus trees have now been bulldozed by Israeli forces.

Corporate Watch says that even though Palestinians are routinely shot at from distances greater than 300 meters, farmers whose land lies near the border have no choice but to cultivate these areas despite the danger.

Economic warfare

In addition to the lethal violence routinely inflicted on Gaza, Israeli authorities enforce what they have called“economic warfare” – a de facto boycott of almost all agriculture originating in Gaza.

Virtually no produce from the enclave is allowed into Israeli or West Bank markets, traditionally Gaza’s biggest customers.

From the time Israel imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2007 up until November 2014, a monthly average of 13.5 trucks left Gaza carrying exports – just one percent of the monthly average of goods shipped out just prior to the closure.

By contrast, already this year more than 22,000 trucks have entered Gaza, many carrying Israeli produce considered unsuitable for international export.

Dumping it on the captive market in Gaza further undermines local farmers.

The trickle of exports that Israel permits from Gaza go primarily to European markets, but this is only allowed through Israeli export companies that profit from the situation by taking commissions and selling Gaza products for far higher prices than they pay the producers.

“The Israelis export Palestinian produce and export it with an Israeli label,” Taghrid Jooma of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees told Corporate Watch. “For example, they export roses from Gaza for nickels and dimes and sell them for a lot of money.”

Muhammad Zwaid of Gaza’s only export company, Palestine Crops, told Corporate Watch that part of the problem is that Palestine lacks its own bar code and so any produce exported through Israel carries an Israeli one.

“We have our own stickers,” said Zwaid, “but [Israeli export company] Arava has asked for them to be smaller and often Arava stickers are put on top of ours. Our produce is taken inside Israel by the Israeli company and then taken to a packing station where it is repackaged.”

Supporting BDS

Corporate Watch reports that while many of the farmers they interviewed support BDS, they also want the opportunity to export their produce and make a living.

This presents a quandary because a boycott of Israeli export companies like Arava will include Palestinian products as well.

Even so, the farmers interviewed maintained their support for BDS as a long-term strategy that outweighs the limited benefits of current export levels.

“What we need is people to stand with us against the occupation,” said one farmer from al-Zaytoun. “By supporting BDS you support the farmers, both directly and indirectly and this is a good thing for people here in Gaza.”

“Farmers all over the Gaza Strip were particularly keen on getting the right to label their produce as Palestinian, ideally with its own country code, even if they have to export through Israel,” the report states. “Country of origin labels for Gaza goods is something the solidarity movement could lobby for.”

Mohsen Abu Ramadan, from the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network, suggested to Corporate Watch that one strategy could be to engage farming unions around the world to urge them to endorse BDS in solidarity with Palestinian farmers.

Bulldozing the Jordan Valley

While Israel’s siege and deadly assaults have rightly focused international attention on Gaza, Israel’s actions in the Jordan Valley have generated far less outrage.

Yet well before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current extreme right-wing government made clear its opposition to a viable Palestinian state, he had pledged to never give up control of this agriculturally rich region under any two-state configuration.

Occupation authorities refuse virtually all Palestinian requests to build or improve infrastructure in the region. Residents face severe restrictions on access to electricity and water as well as other basic infrastructure.

Demolitions of Palestinian homes have increased in recent months, and in February, Israel carried out thelargest demolition in a decade.

Routine violations

In the Jordan Valley, settlement agriculture often relies on Palestinian labor – including child labor – to do hazardous jobs for a fraction of what would be paid to Israeli citizens.

Though entitled to the Israeli minimum wage according to a high court ruling, many workers are routinely paid as little as half that.

Palestinians Zaid and Rashid are employed in Beqa’ot, a settlement built on land seized from Palestinians. They receive wages of $20 per day, about a quarter of which goes for daily transport.

They receive no paid holidays despite the fact that the Israeli government advises that workers are entitled to 14 days paid holiday and must receive a written contract and payslips from their employer.

Although they are members of a Palestinian trade union, their settler employers do not recognize any collective bargaining rights.

Workers are moreover frequently pressured into signing documents in Hebrew — which they cannot read — stating that they are being treated according to law. Workers fear being fired if they do not sign.

While Palestinians working in settlements are also required to obtain work permits from the military occupation authorities, several of those interviewed for the report had no such permits, leading to suspicions that employers may be attempting to further circumvent Israeli labor laws by using undocumented workers.

Both Zaid and Rashid told Corporate Watch they back the call for a boycott of Israeli agricultural companies.

“We support the boycott even if we lose our work,” Zaid said. “We might lose our jobs but we will get back our land. We will be able to work without being treated as slaves.”

Label games

Corporate Watch profiles the five main Israeli export companies: Arava, Mehadrin, Hadiklaim, Edom and the now defunct Carmel Agrexco.

A common practice by these companies is mislabeling goods as “Produce of Israel” even when they are grown and packed in West Bank settlements that are illegal under international law.

Corporate Watch also documents the varying degrees of success that BDS activists have had in targeting these companies.

Since 2009, following pressure from activists, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued guidelines stating it is an “offense” to mislabel settlement goods as “Produce of Israel.”

Similar guidelines approved by the European Union late last year outraged Israeli politicians, despite the fact that the same practice has been United States policy since the mid-1990s.

Despite the guidelines, however, UK stores continue to stock Israeli products with misleading labels.

As recently as 2013, Corporate Watch found labels from the Israeli settlement of Tomer for the Morrisons store brand of Medjoul dates.

In another example, the Aldi chain was caught selling grapefruits from Carmel Agrexco labeled as products of Cyprus.

Beyond settlement boycotts

Of the supermarket chains targeted by BDS campaigns, only one, The Co-operative, has pledged to “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements.”

This means that not only would the Co-op not stock settlement produce, but that it would not buy produce grown in present-day Israel from companies that also have settlement operations.

This made it the first major European chain to take such a step.

Corporate Watch points out that while not directly supporting the settlement economy, those Israeli companies without settlement operations still pay taxes to the Israeli government, which supports its ongoing occupation, colonization and oppression of Palestinians.

It notes that the Co-op took a much stronger stance regarding apartheid-era South Africa, when it boycotted all South African products.

In accordance with the 2005 BDS call from Palestinian civil society, Corporate Watch advocates a full boycott of all Israeli goods.

West Bank teachers’ strike fuels a deep crisis for Palestinian Authority (Socialist Worker U.K.)

Socialist Worker (U.K.)

West Bank teachers’ strike fuels a deep crisis for Palestinian Authority

by Nick Clark


PA president Mahmoud Abbas

PA president Mahmoud Abbas (Pic: United Nations)


A month-long teachers’ strike in the West Bank has exposed growing dissatisfaction among Palestinians with the governing Palestinian Authority (PA).

Around 35,000 teachers had been on indefinite strike since the middle of February when they agreed to suspend the action for one week last Sunday.

Strikers want the PA to give them a pay increase originally promised in 2013.

But the strike has taken on a wider significance after growing larger and becoming more militant.

Leaders of the teachers’ union resigned last month after strikers rejected a deal cut with the PA to end the strike.

The strikers elected their own representatives, criticising the union leaders for being too close to the PA.

They have staged mass protests including a 20,000-strong demonstration outside the PA’s cabinet headquarters in the city of Ramallah.

The protests defied roadblocks set up by PA forces. Some strikers have been arrested by PA forces in night-time raids.

Strikers are also demanding that women teachers get the same benefits as men.

The strike’s slogan, dignity for the teachers, has come to embody resistance to the poverty which many Palestinians suffer.

The PA has pointed to the Israeli occupation and a fall in international aid as reasons for not paying the increase.

But the PA has implemented economic reforms that benefit Israeli and Western businesses and the Palestinian ruling class, but leave the majority of Palestinians impoverished.

And its leaders try to contain or suppress resistance to the Israeli occupation in the hope that Israel will let them establish a Palestinian state.

Figures revealed earlier this year show that the PA spends as much on its security forces as it does on health and education combined.

It has used these security forces to suppress the strike.

Now the PA faces a growing crisis as it has failed to contain recent resistance. Teachers suspended their strike after PA president Mahmoud Abbas agreed to some of their demands.

But the strike could resume if teachers are not given their full pay increase—deepening the PA’s crisis.

UAW 2865 Letter of Solidarity with Teachers in Palestine

Tikkun2
March 14, 2016

UAW 2865 Letter of Solidarity with Teachers in Palestine

Whereas we believe that all teachers deserve a living wage and merit pay increases, as well as to have a democratic union whose leadership is elected by its members, and

Whereas teachers’ labor has been historically undervalued and current global trends around the privatization of education have only further devalued this labor, and whereas the UAW 2865 is committed to the defense of quality public education in the United States but also all over the world, and

Whereas the BDS Caucus of UAW 2865 affirms and stands in solidarity with the rights and wellbeing of Palestinian workers, including Palestinian teachers, and

Whereas thousands of Palestinian teachers have entered their 4th week of a heroic and exemplary strike initiated on February 10th 2016, with the demands of a) Granting an occupational allowance of 2.5%; b) Granting a 5% increase of wages, which should be implemented retroactively from 1/1/2014 until 31/12/2015; c) Enabling teachers to progress on the salary scale as is the case for other categories of governmental workers; d) Paying a cost of living allowance for 2014 and 2015; and e) the Organization of free and democratic elections in the Palestinian Teachers’ Union and accountable leadership that represents rank-and file interests, and

Whereas the striking teachers, which provide primary and secondary instruction to 700,000 students in the West Bank, have managed to organize an overwhelming support of students, principals, parents and other fellow workers for their strike and demands, and

Whereas the crucial frontline educational work of these primary and secondary teachers in grossly undervalued, given that their demands for a living wage go ignored while other unions representing university teachers, engineers, and doctors have all won pay increases, and

Whereas the Palestinian Authority is interrupting and obstructing the right to strike in multiple ways and has begun to attack the striking teachers as “anti-government agents,” thereby intensifying repression for Palestinian teachers who already are denied basic rights and freedom because of Israeli occupation, and

Whereas Palestinian labor unions, including teachers, have initiated calls for international labor solidarity against Israel’s historic and ongoing colonial dispossession and occupation of all Palestinians, most recently witnessed during the July 2014 massacre in Gaza;

Let it be resolved that, we, UAW Local 2865, the UC Student-Workers Union representing 14,000 teaching assistants, readers and tutors of 9 campuses of the University of California in the United States, stand in full solidarity with the striking teachers until their demands are met, and demand the Palestinian Authority to respect labor rights and accept all the demands of the union.

Finally, we recognize that demands of dignity through social justice reforms can only be achieved so long as all Palestinians attain universal freedom including an end to occupation, dispossession and life as second-class citizens

In Solidarity,

UAW 2865 Joint Council

(UAW 2865 Solidarity with Teachers in Palestine)

Palestine: A new Union is born (PFNTU)

cropped-ny-nu-logoView in PDF format: new-unions-recognized-as-general-trade-union

Palestine: A new Union is born.

The New Unions are officially recognized as trade union confederation

Saturday, March 19, the Palestine New Federation of Trade Unions (New Unions) celebrated their official recognition as trade union federation by the Palestinian Authorities, and at the same time held their annual congress, voting for a new union council and executive committee. There are a number of requirements in Palestine to be met to be recognized as a nationwide union. The Union must cover several geographic areas and branches, and include a sufficient number of local unions. New Unions has been working for several years to be registered. Today the confederation is uniting 26 local unions in all of the 10 West Bank districts and represent around 10 000 workers from all sectors. The founding congress event was packed with a large number of representatives from the members of the New Unions, and representatives from a large spectrum of political and social forces addressed the New Unions with their messages of support. There were between 200-250 people present, of them about 25% were women, and many were youth. The Palestine Committee of Norway, the Trade Union Section/Workmates, participated with seven guests, representing also three big Norwegian Trade Unions. After hard work, a lot of toil and many obstacles, the New Unions finally reached an important goal. The recognition gives them a completely different voice and greater influence in the trade union discussions now taking place in Palestine, where the struggle for Palestine’s social legislation, the Social Security Act, is one of the central issues. Everybody stressed the hope that the New Unions will bring new force to the class struggle in Palestine and strengthen the national struggle for self-determination. A short background The origins of New Unions dates back to the land workers’ Union, the General Union of Workers Associations in the Food Industries and Agriculture, in Tulkarem. This is a union with a long tradition, from back in the 50’s. In 1990, an agreement was signed between the different political parties, stating that the various labor movements should unite in Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) under PLO frames. The management of this unified trade union movement was put together with a representation divided between the political parties, according to strength. This coordination did not go so well, partly because it did not take into account the democratic life of the various unions’. The Land Workers Union in Tulkarem was appointed a new leadership from the party Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). It was PGFTU who was selecting the leaders, without considering the leadership which the Land Workers Union had elected themselves. The strategy of PGFTU’s was to appoint leaders from any political party in the PLO that managed to handle the union and have control. This undemocratic method did not fall well with agricultural workers. Union activists with desire for a democratic and member-controlled grass root organization had enough of this political dictation. Therefore they summoned a meeting in Tulkarem in 2006, where they established the first union in New Unions. The Palestinian labor movement has a long and proud history. From its inception in the early 1920s, and until the Nakba I1948 it grew in strength. Palestinian unions fought both for the rights of Palestinian workers and against the Zionist discrimination. During the great rebellion in 1936, “the longest strike in history”, and during the different phases in the later occupation, the Palestinian trade union movement played a leading and vital role in the popular resistance against the occupiers. New Union considers itself as bearers of this tradition, and they raise the critically important question whether it is possible to rebuild struggling unions. The need for a union that is independent of the political parties in Palestine is certainly true. Today’s unions and workers need highly skilled, dedicated and determined trade unionists, with both a trade unionist and a national agenda. They need unions working against the occupation, not partyappointed bureaucrats who are dependent on the government. Reason for celebrating New Unions has so far succeeded. If we look at what they have achieved, in strikes, in reaching out to the working people in Palestine, we admire and congratulate the union workers with their new status as recognized player in Palestinian trade union struggle. The founding Congress was therefore held with fanfare and great atmosphere. Muhammad Jawabreh, a long standing unionist and one of the co-founders of the New Unions, gave the opening remarks of the congress and declared the birth of this new progressive trade union, which works to achieve the right to a free life with dignity for all workers and keeps committed to the legacy of the Palestinian national and class struggle for justice, democracy and freedom Nasser Qatami, deputy of the Ministry of Labour, congratulated the New Union for the official recognition as a trade union confederation. He wished them success and expressed the readiness of the Ministry to cooperate in all areas of trade union work, and facilitate the work of the union in order to achieve the goals they have been established. He emphasized the importance of trade union pluralism in order to support the national and social project and support the Palestinian people. Bassam al-Salhi, secretary-general of the Palestinian People’s Party, PPP, emphasized the development and support of the union work to strengthen its role in defending of the interests of workers and to improve their living conditions and the achievement of social justice. He underlined that there is no contradiction between a diversity of unions and confederations and unity in the class struggle. Omar Shehadeh, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, conveying the greetings of Secretary General Ahmad Saadat and his deputy, Abu Ahmed Fouad. He underlined their full support to the New Unions and the establishment of the new confederation. This will form a concrete step towards bringing the trade union movement in Palestine back on the right track and to reinforce the international solidarity with the Palestinian people and working class. Shehadeh emphasized the importance of the Palestinian uprising and its goal, and that the struggle will continue till the end of occupation and settlements. Thomas Grønn from the Palestine Committee of Norway and the Trade Union Solidarity activists in Norwegian ‘Workmates’ addressed the congress reiterating their support for the New Unions. He promised and emphasized that the Workmates will continue to support the struggle of the Palestinian people and their resistance to the occupation and the settlements, through boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. This includes efforts to build a boycott campaign in Norwegian Trade union movement of the Israeli trade union confederation Histadrut. This organization has historically and up to today played a key role in supporting and facilitating Israeli policies of discrimination and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people and occupation and colonization of their land. Adnan Dagher, a veteran unionist, reminded the congress of the long history of the Palestinian labour movement and the role played by the trade union movement in the national and social field. He called the members of NU to learn and recover union work to achieve the rights of the workers. He expressed confidence that the New Unions may recover the leading role of the workers struggle and trade unionism within the national movement and may revive the class struggle within Palestine. Finally, Mohammad Bladi, the President of the Constituent Committee of the NU thanked the audience and the participants and everybody who has contributed to the establishment of the New Unions, and who provided support to NU until this conference, all those that over the years have dedicated their time and struggle and energies in the long process. He outlined the past and current work of the union to defend workers’ rights within the factories, at the Israeli workers crossings and in the court systems. Bladi, in his closing remarks, talked about the stages of the establishment by adopting the workers’ issues, how the official unions have abandoned them, which pushed for the need to build a new trade union organization. He stated the program of the new union, as depending on the working class, volunteerism, democracy and independence, which would enable the workers to struggle in order to stop the violation of their dignity and disregard their rights, and stop unwarranted fees for those who are working in Israel. New Unions will be set to retrieve the member fees collected by Histadrut and shared between the Histadrut and a number of Palestinian trade unions. Bladi emphasized that they want unions that can struggle in order to apply the labor law, the minimum wage, the reduction of fatal work injuries, the creation of a labor court and a Social Security Act which is fair and just. He reminded everybody of the mission of the union and to always keep in mind: Defend and achieve labour and national rights for the Palestinian working class and its principles of unity, class consciousness, democracy and autonomy. After the opening, a large number of its members held their annual Congress, and there was serious discussions about the statutes and rules of procedure for the union, which was approved unanimously. At the end of the congress, the Palestine New Federation of Trade Unions elected their new Council comprised of 31 members and the new executive committee comprised of 17 members, of them four women. Muhammad Bladi was reconfirmed in the vote for the Secretary General of the union. New Unions, new life, new challenges. After the founding conference the life goes on, but at a higher level. Their status has changed, the tasks are the same, but their needs are growing. New Unions express their thanks to the trade unions and Workmates for their support in an email dated March 12th: “Dear comrades Your presence to witness the establishment of our conference is a great honor for us, and we know very well that you are going to do all your best for promotion of NU nationally and internationally. We also appreciate that you will increase and strengthen your support to continue the boycott of the Histadrut and all other Israeli products through the BDS Campaign. The new situation will be completely different from previous stages where NU will be represented officially the institutions Palestinian Authority. And we will continue our recruitment of new members. Coming up there will be a meeting with a group of Palestinian trade unionists to introduce NU for them. But you know that the next stage is a very serious for us, especially that all what has been achieved based on a voluntary work without providing any support, only pushed forwards with the possibilities that we have. So we look forward to start new relationships in order to provide the necessary support to build NU institutions and provide places for headquarters in other governorates in the West Bank, where there is only the headquarter of Tulkarem at present. So we need at this current stage to provide support for the logistics, such as offices, furniture and computers for the headquarters and part time jobs for some of trade unionists presence and the completion of the capacity building project where we are now in the second level. With best wishes Mohammad Bladi NU” The oppression of the occupation is depressing at present, with detainments, arrests, confrontations, shootings, blockades, checkpoints and destruction and house demolishings, and it is growing worse. In this situation we find it very positive, indeed, that there are people who want to fight for and build a future, with hope and belief in the Palestinian working people. They both need and deserve our solidarity and support. If you want to support New Unions – contact us! If you want to meet them in Palestine to get to know them – contact us! Norway March 13th 2016 In solidarity, Workmates International Harald Haukaa Fjørtoft

Palestinian teachers’ strike marks major rift between public and PA (Ma’an News Agency)

Ma’an News Agency

Palestinian teachers’ strike marks major rift between public and PA
MARCH 11, 2016 9:54 A.M. (UPDATED: MARCH 13, 2016 11:40 A.M.)
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By: Emily Mulder

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Now entering its fourth week, a strike launched by Palestinian teachers has morphed into a major crisis for the Palestinian Authority as frustrations towards the political body continue to mount.

The number of Palestinian teachers on strike has risen to at least 35,000, leaving over one million Palestinian students in the occupied West Bank out of school.

Teachers have slammed the PA’s failure to deliver on promises made following a 2013 strike, and head of the PLO teachers’ union Ahmad Suhweil submitted his resignation by popular demand as teachers called for new representation in negotiations.

The PA has said it is legally bound to negotiate solely with the union, and criticisms initially made by teachers in February have since mushroomed in reaction to the PA’s harsh response to strikers, with some informally calling for Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s resignation.

While Hamdallah said this week that “people have the right to express their opinion” as part of the democratic process, the PM threatened administrative and legal procedures against teachers if they did not resume work, and PA security forces have prevented teachers from demonstrating.

Rights organizations have denounced the PA and security forces for their efforts to prevent strikers from protesting, as well as for its detention of teachers.

The strike and subsequent fallout marks one of the largest challenges to the PA in recent years, and is exposing longstanding internal rifts between the PA and the public.

‘We only want to live in dignity’ 

Ayed al-Azzeh, a resident of the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, has taught in Palestinian schools for 10 years and now teaches mathematics in the Bedouin community of Raween. He joined the strike when it kicked off in February.

Al-Azzeh told Ma’an that the primary goal of teachers on strike was to receive wages that didn’t force them into poverty.

“We are not looking for a life of luxury, we only want to live in dignity,” al-Azzeh said.

Al-Azzeh said teachers have shown mounting dissatisfaction with the structure of the teachers’ union itself, which he said has failed to address their demands with the PA.

Teachers have appointed leaders in each occupied West Bank district to act as new representatives, but PA officials have refused to negotiate with these representatives on legal grounds.

PA Minister of Education Sabri Saidam did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.

While official statements by PM Hamdallah and other PA leaders have extended gratitude towards teachers for their role in Palestinian society, al-Azzeh said the political body has neglected teachers’ demand for rights.

This perceived neglect has meanwhile been worsened by the use of Palestinian security forces to stifle the strike.

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Palestinian security forces stand in front of the Palestinian cabinet headquarters in Ramallah in anticipation of a teacher protest. (MaanImages)

PA security forces stop strikers

A Ramallah resident who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told Ma’an he believed PA leadership misstepped from day one.

“From the beginning, when over 4,000 teachers came on the first Monday of the strike to the prime minister’s’ office, he refused to talk to them. Why?” the resident asked. “Then you [Hamdallah] put security forces in the face of the teachers, how can you do this?”

When on Feb. 23, 20,000 were expected to turn out for a protest in the center of Ramallah city, outrage set in after strikers were met with armed members of the Palestinian security forces.

PA checkpoints were set up at the entrances to towns and cities across the occupied West Bank prior to demonstrations which forced teachers attempting to reach the protests in private vehicles to turn around or be held for questioning.

Palestinian rights organization Al-Haq told Ma’an they have been collecting affidavits from Palestinian teachers who have been detained or mistreated by PA forces, in addition to documenting closures preceding demonstrations.

Ibrahim Mohammed Azam Asafrah, who has taught history for some 18 years in the Hebron area, told Al-Haq he was taken from his home in the middle of the night by Palestinian security forces two days after he joined the strike.

Asafrah said the forces searched his home and confiscated his computer without a warrant before detaining him overnight in a nearby jail, where he was interrogated by a number of officers on his involvement in the strike.

Other testimonies gathered by Al-Haq reported similar accounts of detention, searches without warrant, and prevention of movement throughout the occupied West Bank.

Double-edged sword

When asked why it appeared that the PA has taken active steps to prevent teachers from organizing and carrying out the strike, al-Azzeh told Ma’an: “I think it’s fear. Teachers are like a marker for the public satisfaction with the performance of the government.”

“The worry for them [the PA] is the mounting anger and frustration with the performance of the PA. Since this current ‘uprising,’ the PA has been silent, and has not publicly said that Palestinians have a right to defend themselves against the Israeli occupation.”

He went on: “The government has detached itself from the people…and this intensifies the already existing feelings of frustrations among teachers.”

While criticism of the PA has risen since violence increased in the occupied Palestinian territory in October, such remarks have taken form only on social media or in the private sphere, and have yet to find footing in public discourse.

For Palestinians, criticizing the PA is holding a double-edged sword, and corruption within the governing body is self-enforced. For many — the PA is the largest employer in the occupied West Bank — such criticism means losing employment or facing economic repercussions, consequences most choose not to risk amid an economy crushed by the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Al-Azzeh told Ma’an he thinks mounting frustration with PA performance since violence increased six months ago has contributed to the snowballing growth of support for the teachers’ strike.

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An ‘opportunity’ to listen to the public 

When asked about rising public criticism of PA security forces in general, PA security spokesman Adnan Dmeiri told Ma’an late last month: “In every country in the world, people in that country love to say ‘F*** the police.’”

Dmeiri said above all, the main challenge facing the PA was the Israeli occupation, which hinders the PA and its security forces from carrying out their responsibilities as the governing body.

Al-Azzeh agreed that the decades-long Israeli military occupation and the creation of the PA in efforts to end the conflict is a major factor in determining the limited reach of the PA. Al-Azzeh also said this reasoning only goes so far, and is oft-used by the PA to sidestep accountability for mis-governance that takes place.

“They [PA] say: ‘We don’t have enough resources, we are under occupation.’ If living under occupation is a high price to pay, we should all pay that price equally, not only the teachers,” al-Azzeh told Ma’an, alluding to the large percentage of the PA budget allocated to the security sector.

Al-Azzeh also pointed to statements made by PA officials who he said were trying end the strike by “scaring people into thinking the teachers’ strike is a coup against the government,” spurred on by Hamas or rival Fatah leaders vouching to take over Mahmoud Abbas’ presidency.

Al-Azzeh sees the strike as an opportunity for the PA to put politics aside and to win back respect from the Palestinian public.

“If Hamdallah came out from his ministry office onto the balcony where we were protesting, and said ‘Okay, can anyone representing you come and give your demands, let’s sit and talk,’ this would break the tension.”

“They’ve neglected us. We want our dignity. Our dignity is not equal to 20 or 100 or 1,000 shekels. We just need to be addressed. To be told ‘we value you’ as having a significant role and responsibility in society, and ‘we want to listen to your demands,’ this would solve things.”