Labor for a ceasefire: U.S. union coalition hosts Palestinian trade unionists

WASHINGTON—In the spirit of working-class internationalism and the tradition of “an injury to one is an injury to all,” labor unions in the U.S. continue to fight for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Israel’s genocidal war on Palestine. They are working to pressure the Biden administration to change policies and end its diplomatic and military support for the Israeli government.

The National Labor Network for Ceasefire, representing over 200 local and national unions, held a town hall with trade union leaders from Palestine to build solidarity between workers from there and here. The meeting also served to educate rank-and-file workers in the U.S. about the dire situation facing not only the working class in Palestine, but all people within the occupied and bombarded territories.

“We are here today because of Israel’s brutal war on the Palestinian people,” declared Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), in opening the meeting. “Nearly everyone in walled-off Gaza has been displaced,” and workers in the West Bank are still dealing with settler violence and a lack of jobs and income, he said. “We must amplify the voices and demands of our sisters and brothers in Palestine.”

Speaking from a camp inside Gaza, Dr. Salama Abu Zaiter, the president of the General Union of Health Service Workers (GUHSW), told the unionists that they are dealing with the complete devastation of infrastructure inside the Gaza Strip – “the entire destruction of our healthcare system,” as he put it.

Before Israel invaded Gaza, the GUHSW was organizing for a hospital to be built inside Rafah. Now, Rafah remains a place where the majority of Palestinian refugees are trapped, living in squalor, lacking proper nutrition, water, and healthcare services. They face constant bombardments from Israeli warplanes, missiles, and drones.

“We call upon international trade unionists and all trade unionists in the U.S. to put pressure on your governments to force Israel to end the targeting of civilians,” he said, “and to force an embargo on shipments of weapons to the occupation forces.”

ADD YOUR NAME to the National Labor Network for Ceasefire petition: Tell your member of Congress and senators to join the call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza

Shuruq As’ad, a member of the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate (PJS), spoke of the harsh working conditions that her members face when reporting on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Since October 7th, at least 151 journalists have been killed and hundreds more injured. They suffer from a lack of proper internet, and most of their offices and equipment have been destroyed.

“We are losing around five journalists a week,” As’ad said. “Without local journalists and our union members, we couldn’t have known of all the massacres happening to us…. Israel has a complete blackout and suppression of the media.”

Furthermore, Israel has also banned Al Jazeera from broadcasting inside Israel due to “security threats.” Anti-war outlets inside Israel, such as the Hebrew Zo HaDerekh and Arabic Al-Ittihad, published by the Communist Party of Israel, have to operate clandestinely to ensure dissenting voices of Netanyahu’s fascist administration are heard.

“It took me three hours today to get to Jenin,” As’ad said. “It took me almost four hours to get back” due to the Israeli military checkpoints. “There are armed settlers constantly around us, and it’s very difficult to do our jobs.” She mentioned that the drive for her into Jenin should take only one hour, but the checkpoints, searches, and harassment – which she faces despite holding press credentials and proper paperwork – is an exhausting and stressful daily experience.

“This is an attack on not only the journalism scene in Palestine, but the journalists of the entire world,” she said. “This is an attack on all workers. And we need all of us workers to stand together, unite, and deliver the voices of the workers in Palestine. We need to end all diplomatic and economic support of the occupation forces.”

In November, the PJS issued a statement calling Western media corporations complicit and “facilitating genocide.” It was stated that Western news outlets are often mouthpieces repeating Israeli military propaganda rather than acting as sources of reliable truth about Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza.

Alaa Mayas, the Director of the General Union of Transport Workers (GUTW) and president of the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Ramallah, told the unionists that “Palestinian workers have always been developing our country, but now we have been set back 100 years” due to Israel’s relentless bombing campaign. “They are undermining and destroying everything that is part of our Palestinian identity,” he said.

The transportation sector in Palestine is all but leveled now. Rarely are any aid or supply trucks able to make it into Gaza. The fishing industry is completely destroyed, and the union members’ trucks and boats are now gone. Mayas estimates that over 10,000 of his members are now unemployed and unable to provide for their families. They are also having to deal with massive inflation and homelessness due to the bombing. Most of them have been uprooted and forced to move at least eight times since the start of Israel’s invasion last fall.

“The occupation is seeking to destroy our infrastructure and our ability to economically develop,” Mayas said. “Many of our union members have been killed or imprisoned. Their crime? Transporting people from one place to another.

“We urge the U.S. trade unionists to hold a clear position on international trade union solidarity. We know a majority of your citizens and unionists stand with us,” Mayas said. “We need you to advocate and pressure your government administration to change policies” on the political and military support for Israel. “Without a real threat, the Israelis will not respond. They think they’re immune.”

Rafeef Ziddah, an organizer with Workers in Palestine, spoke on the necessity of building worker-to-worker solidarity. She appealed to the workers of the U.S. to refrain from transporting military equipment to Israel. Over 30 Palestinian trade unions and professional associations called for a united action to stop arming Israel on Oct. 16, 2023. The current U.S. trade agreement with Israel, valid from 2019 to 2028, is worth $3.8 billion per year. The Biden administration and Congress have approved an additional $14.5 billion in military aid since Oct. 7, 2023.

“Every office of the PGFTU has been bombed. Workers are holding our communities together in Gaza,” Ziddah said. “They are on the frontlines to defend our communities under the constant threat of Israeli bombs. They are doctors, dentists, teachers, transport workers, agriculture workers, and fishermen,” she told the panel, “and they are working hard” despite living in tents.

The National Labor Network for Ceasefire issued a call to action for trade unionists at the international meeting. They are calling on organized labor to continue the peace struggle and to demand the long overdue action of U.S. government officials to call for an end to Israel’s war on Palestine.

“U.S. workers need to take responsibility and say, ‘Not in our name!’’ declared Ziddah. “Not with our tax dollars! This money can be better spent on the working class in our home countries to address the massive cost of living crisis,” including a lack of affordable housing, healthcare, and good union jobs.

“We need a ceasefire,” Ziddah concluded. “But we also need to end the occupation of our lands. We need to boycott the corporations that support Israel. We need to allow Palestinian workers the opportunity for justice and to begin rebuilding Gaza in order to live in peace and dignity.”

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Cameron Harrison
Cameron Harrison

Cameron Harrison is a Labor Education Coordinator for the People Before Profits Education Fund. Based in Detroit, he was a grocery worker and a proud member of UFCW Local 876, where he was a shop steward. He writes about the labor and people’s movements and is a die-hard Detroit Lions fan.