17 August 2009



The international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel has won several important victories in recent months. At this summer's trade union conferences in Britain, BDS activists have made significant progress.

While the campaign has been building momentum in unions globally since the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS, Israel's winter invasion of Gaza has spurned several trade unions and union federations in Britain and Ireland to pass motions more explicitly in favor of BDS. Several are calling for BDS for the first time.

Tom Hickey, a member of the University and College Union's (UCU) national executive committee, said, "The question of the moral rightness or wrongness [of BDS against Israel] has effectively already been decided."

Although the Trade Union Congress (the British union federation) has not yet passed a BDS motion, affiliated unions have begun taking up the Palestinian call themselves. So far this summer, the public sector union PCS, the UCU and the Fire Brigades Union have all passed strong motions explicitly calling for a general policy of boycott of Israeli goods, divestment from Israeli companies and government sanctions against the state.

Unions such as public sector union UNISON, the National Union of Teachers, USDAW and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have this summer passed softer motions calling for elements of BDS. These are usually calls for a boycott of settlement goods, or for the government to suspend arms sales to Israel. The CWU and others have condemned the infamous 13 January 2008 statement of the Israeli trade union federation in support of Israel's invasion of Gaza, which read: "The Histadrut recognizes the urgent need for the State of Israel to operate against the command and control centers of the organizational terror network ..."

In April, the independent Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) for the first time voted to endorse a report recommending "boycott and disinvest from Israeli companies" and a "call for sanctions against Israel" at their annual delegates' congress.

This decision was not arrived at overnight. STUC Assistant Secretary Mary Senior said, "it was very important we carefully considered the issue." A motion passed at the 2007 congress called on the leadership to "explore the merits of the calls" for BDS. In February-March of this year, Senior participated in an official STUC delegation to Palestine. It was this visit that formed the basis of the report recommending BDS.

The delegation met with Israeli and Palestinian officials, trade unionists and civil society groups in the occupied West Bank and in Israel. Almost all of the representatives were asked their opinion on BDS.

The report criticized the Israeli trade union federation, stating "At no time did Histadrut acknowledge that the West Bank is occupied" -- an occupation that delegation members witnessed first hand.

The report ultimately concluded "there was strong support for BDS amongst Palestinian trade unions and civic society."

Senior believes this report was vital, and that if the vote had been held two years earlier, it might not have passed. "It was important to have ... the consultation and the delegation. That helped to bring all of our affiliates on board," she said.
Not So Fast.......enter thug David Miliband:
Miliband said he would dispatch Ivan Lewis to dissuade union leaders from the boycott. Lewis is the new foreign office minister for the Middle East, and is also a member and former vice-chair of the lobbying group, Labor Friends of Israel.
Sorry David, the UNIONS are not buying it:
Union activists have been less than impressed. UCU's Blackwell stated that the British government "should do more to enforce human rights and to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law." The STUC replied the following day with its own statement, rejecting Miliband's remarks: "The UK Government is out of step with the views of workers on this matter." STUC's Senior added that the organization was "very surprised he would say that."

Martial Kurtz, Campaigns and Events Officer of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said, "We are not all that worried about Lewis or Miliband going around trying to stop this ... BDS is well on its way and their response smacks of desperation." source