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Friday, July 27, 2007

labor unions in the U.S. fight for apartheid!

a recent story in the forward reports that leaders of american labor unions are stepping up to support israeli apartheid by undermining opposition to it by british unions.

many union leaders have signed on to a letter by the jewish labor committee bashing* the growing movement for anti-apartheid divestment, boycotts and sanctions by the british labor unions. these signatories unfortunately include ron gettelfinger, the head of my old union, the UAW. it also includes major unions like the AFL-CIO, right-wing unions like the IBEW and the teamsters, and some allegedly progressive unions like UNITE-HERE. notably absent are the SEIU and the left-wing unions such as UE, who tend not to join the frenzied mob when israel gets challenged.

my old local, by the way, UAW local 2322 in western mass, overwhelmingly - in fact, unanimously, if i recall correctly - approved a resolution to support divestment back in 2003. unfortunately, in the UAW the wishes of the rank-and-file bear little resemblance to what's expressed by the leadership.

this wrongheaded approach by U.S. unions contrasts with their positions during the apartheid era in south africa, where unions worldwide took a stand against apartheid. it also contrasts with union attitudes in the rest of the world, even the english-speaking world. in britain, a number of unions have passed resolutions calling for private sanctions against israel, or for encouraging their branches to consider sanctions. in canada, a major public-sector union in ontario, CUPE, voted unanimously for sanctions.


and of course, south african trade unions, whose membership has directly experienced apartheid and remembers the solidarity of international unions, is far in the lead in opposing israeli apartheid. as willie madisha, president of COSATU, south africa's congress of trade unions, says:

As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. ... workers and democrats of the world ... heeded our call when we struggled against apartheid. Boycotts, disinvestments, and sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa hastened our march to democracy. Why should it be different for Palestinians?

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* otherwise normal people often go crazy when israeli racism is challenged. at some point i may tell the instructive story of the hysterical reaction to the umass divestment campaign, including by many people who are considered respectable and who consider themselves progressive.

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