The year 2015 was a watershed for the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Numerous student governments and faith groups passed resolutions in favor of BDS, artists declined to hold performances in Israel, and direct foreign investment in Israel dropped by 46 percent. Support also built among labor unions last year.
More recently, University College London Union voted March 1 to support the BDS campaign, in what campus-based human rights campaigners hailed as a “tremendous victory.” The motion noted how “BDS tactics have been endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS), National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Unite the Union, and the University and Colleges Union (UCU), more than 25 UK student unions” and “many other NGOs, trade unions, student unions, political parties and grassroots networks across the world.”
Unions have the potential to play a key role in raising support among workers for Palestine liberation and BDS. While many national unions in the United States, as well as the AFL-CIO labor federation, have in recent years taken positions against BDS, union activists have been working to educate other members about BDS and build support for pro-Palestine actions and resolutions. Here are five reasons why labor should join the fight for BDS.
1. An injury to one is an injury to all
Discriminatory labor laws—reminiscent of the Jim Crow South—mean that at least half of corporations in Israeli settlements pay Palestinian workers less than the minimum wage, and child labor is rampant. Palestinians are denied the same benefits (including vacation and sick time) as Israeli citizens, are frequently subjected to dangerous working conditions, and have no right to sue over violations. For Palestinians seeking work inside Israel, work permits are issued and denied arbitrarily. BDS campaigns support Palestinian workers by boycotting and divesting from corporations that profit off unequal and inhumane treatment of Palestinians.
2. Palestinian unions have called on other unions to support BDS
The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions has called on unions around the world to support the BDS campaign. In 2015, following the Israeli attack on Gaza, the GFTU wrote: “We salute and appreciate the many Trade Unions and Federations in the world who heed the call of BDS and would like to reiterate our call on all comrades and activists for freedom and justice in unions and federations all over the world to boycott Israel because of its racist, settler-colonial regime. We believe that boycotting Israeli occupation and its institutions is the most effective act of solidarity with our people’s struggle for freedom, justice, and equality, and for holding Israel accountable for its repeated crimes.”
3. Union boycotts have played key roles in liberation movements
Unions around the world have a long history of supporting human rights campaigns. Dockworker unions in the U.S. and other countries refused to handle cargo from Nazi Germany and fascist Italy in the 1930s and the military dictatorship in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s, and opposed the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many U.S. unions participated in boycotts against apartheid South Africa, including refusal to buy South African goods and pressuring and divesting from corporations that did business there.
4. More and more unions are supporting BDS
Unions in many countries, including South Africa, Ireland, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S., have voted to support BDS. In Sweden, South Africa and the U.S., dockworker unions have participated in efforts to block Israeli goods from unloading. The South African Municipal Workers Union has promoted an “Israeli Apartheid Free Zone” to ensure their municipalities have no commercial, academic, cultural, sporting or other linkages with the Israeli regime. In the U.S., the national United Electrical Workers union has voted to support BDS, as has the Connecticut state AFL-CIO. In California, UAW Local 2865, which represents 12,000 teaching assistants, readers and tutors at the University of California held a vote to decide on BDS, which was approved by 65 percent of the members. The International UAW subsequently overturned that vote, citing its previous position against BDS. Local 2865 is appealing that decision and support has poured in from other unions and individuals.
5. Supporting BDS means supporting justice and peace for Palestinian workers
In 1948, over 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes and became refugees as they fled massacres and ethnic cleansing by Israeli armies and militias. For nearly 70 years, Israel has committed countless violations of Palestinian human rights including numerous massacres, the most recent of which were bombardments of Gaza in 2014 that killed and injured more than 10,000 Palestinians including thousands of children. By responding to the call of Palestinians for boycotts of Israeli goods and divesting from companies that do business in Israeli, you stand in solidarity with Palestinians resisting Israeli apartheid and contribute to a just peace in the Middle East.