UNISON: don't break ties with the Histradrut

Submitted by Matthew on 20 April, 2011 - 12:20

One litmus test of whether one is engaged in reasonable criticism of Israel or simple anti-Semitism is whether you think anyone in the Jewish state is a legitimate partner for discussions.

If you think everyone in Israel is somehow complicit in the occupation, that every Zionist is a racist, and so on, you will not want to have anything to do with Israeli peace organisations or the left.

In the trade union movement, this is expressed through the question of relations with the Histadrut, Israel's national trade union centre.

Most unions in most countries have no problem with the Histadrut. In fact, at its congress last year the International Trade Union Confederation representing some 176 million organised workers elected Histadrut leader Ofer Eini as one of its vice presidents.

But in some unions, there are those who call for a severing of relations with the Histadrut. One of those unions has been Unison.

At its National Delegate Conference in 2009, a resolution was passed calling for “a review of our relationship with the Israeli trade union centre and our sister Israeli unions”. In early 2010, a Unison delegation was scheduled to visit the region to follow up on this. The trip was delayed until the end of November and only now, in April 2011, has the union published the report of that trip.

It's a long report, full of information about the various Israeli and Palestinian workers' groups, highly critical of Israel and so on, but the bottom line is that the delegation recommends that Unison keep up its relationship with the Histadrut.

And that's because despite their very best efforts, the Unison delegates could find no one, Israeli or Palestinian, who supported the severing of relations.

In fact, it was the Palestinians who were most adamant on this point.

Here is what the Unison report says in full:

“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.”

Every union in the UK and elsewhere that has contemplated severing its ties with the Israeli trade unions should be compelled to read that passage.

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