Once again the unelected leader of PGFTU has been allowed to sabotage solidarity action in other countries. Saeed is the trade union version of Mahmoud Abbas, always willing to dance to Israel's tune. The question is how long Palestinian trade unionists are prepared to allow a quisling to head their union and allow him to get away with undermining solidarity work.
I've written on Saeed's actions before but this time they have had a decisive effect in undermining the patient work of activists within Britain's second largest union UNISON.
Following the decision of the 2010 UNISON Conference to suspend relations with Israel’s racist ‘trade union’ Histadrut a delegation was sent to Israel and Palestine from 27th November to 3rd December 2010. What prompted this was Histadrut’s support for the murderous attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and its previous support for Operation Cast Lead, the genocidal attack on Gaza.
The delegation met members of Histadrut and its two public service affiliates. It also met the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions and other mixed unions and workers’ organisations within Israel. On the basis of talks between the delegation and Shaher Saeed, Secretary General of PGFTU, the delegation has recommended a resumption of relations with Histadrut in order to put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.
Although the report does not describe UNISON’s discussion with PGFTU there is little doubt that Shaher Saeed did not support a boycott of Histadrut for the simple reason that he never has supported a boycott. When fellow union members have pressurised him he has made statements to that effect, but gone back on them as soon as convenient.
This time Saeed has effectively undone the work of pro-Palestinian activists in UNISON by supporting the maintenance of relations with Histadrut. Although it is understandable that PGFTU has such relations, given the position it is in, there is no reason (apart from Histadrut threats) for it to oppose trade unions in other countries from implementing a boycott. When this arose earlier this year, PGFTU had to issue a ‘clarification’ of what Saeed had previously said. This time no amount of clarification will undo the damage that Saeed has done. As long as Palestinians are content to allow Saeed to operate as Secretary-General of PGFTU, although he has not been elected, then they will bear the consequence of having this stooge at their head.
The UNISON Report is quite clear.
‘The PGFTU in particular said that UNISON should maintain links with the Histadrut so that we could specifically put pressure on them to take a more vocal public stance against the occupation and the settlements.’There is no doubt that this is what they were told and there is little point in quibbling about it. The points to make is that Shaher Saeed is no different from Mahmoud Abbas and the quislings running the Palestinian Authority whose security forces are specially trained by the USA with the purpose of repressing and torturing their own people.
Histadrut in the Report state that:
· They did not take a stance on wider political issues;
· They feel international relations with other trade unions should only be based on trade union related matters;
· They are unwilling to alienate members of theirs who do not support negotiations with the Palestinians; and,
· They fear international pressure on Histadrut would be used against them by the right wing in Israel.
Of course this is disingenous. Histadrut’s ex-building company Solel Boneh (all its enterprises were sold off in the 1980s and 1990s) helped build the settlements. It takes very political positions – support for Israel’s attack on other countries for example. It is true that they are unwilling to ‘alienate’ their own members who for the most part are even more racist and backward.
The Report proposes ‘critical engagement’. This seems very reminiscent of the ‘constructive engagement’ that Chester Crocker proposed and Thatcher and Reagan accepted for dealings with the Apartheid regime. It was founded on the belief that the Apartheid authorities would willingly dismantle the structures of racism. It was however not engagement, but Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment which persuaded white South Africans that their time was up.
A recent development has been a conference held in Ramallah on 30th April which founded the Palestinian Trade Union Coalition for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The statement they issued is here.
This makes it clear that the Palestinian trade union movement syupports a full boycott of Israel. It put relations with Histadrut in that context and called on international trades unions to sever all links.
It is accident that UNISON Executive have taken this opportunity not to rock the boat internationally. Motion 89 from the National Executive therefore advocates the same ‘critical engagement’ that Thatcher and Reagan pursued with South Africa (it was called ‘constructive engagement’ but the meaning is the same). It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Racists don’t understand reasoned argument. The only thing that persuades them is pressure and force. Motion 89 can be read here.