Monday, 18 April 2011
Palestinians tell British union: Don’t sever ties with the Histadrut
Britain’s giant public sector union UNISON has just issued its long-awaited report on its delegation’s visit to Israel and Palestine.
The visit had been scheduled to take place a year ago, finally happened at the end of 2010, and the report has become available only now.
It is a long and detailed report reflecting the organization’s views of the conflict, but the really interesting bit — the surprising bit — was what happened when the UNISON team asked Palestinian trade unionists and Israeli leftists whether the union should sever its ties with the Histadrut.
The union had been instructed by its governing bodies to look into this very question.
It was, in some ways, the central question, the one that really mattered above all.
And the advice the union got from everyone it talked to was: don’t sever your ties with the Histadrut.
What the report says is so extraordinary that it needs to be quoted at length — and this passage should be shown to any union anywhere in the world that is thinking about cutting off ties with Israel’s trade unions.
Here is what they say:
All the organisations we met during the delegation including the PGFTU, the new Israeli trade unions and Israeli NGOs are or have been critical of the Histadrut in the past for various reasons.
However, they all stressed that the Histadrut was a legitimate trade union and with over 700,000 members was clearly the dominant trade union in terms of members and collective bargaining coverage. Even the new Israeli unions accepted that the Histadrut had been responsible for Israel’s strong labour and employment protection legislation. They also recognised that the Histadrut remained influential, although less so than in the past, with the Israeli government.
Neither did any of them call on UNISON to sever its relations with the Histadrut, in fact the opposite. 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.
Kav laOved, Koach laOvdim and WAC/Ma’an all felt that international trade union influence on the Histadrut was essential in moving it towards more progressive policies in relation to migrant workers and discrimination against Palestinian Israeli workers.
There is much in the report that we wouldn’t agree with – including criticism of things we and others have written and said – but the bottom line is that when Palestinian trade unionists are asked, they turn out to be supporters of engagement with the Histadrut and urge unions everywhere to keep up their ties with the Israeli union federation.