Unions Around the World Demand Ceasefire in Gaza

From the Winter 2024 UE NEWS

Close UE allies in Canada, Japan, Italy, France, Brazil, Great Britain, India and South Africa have all joined the worldwide call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

On October 17 Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union and a close UE ally, issued a statement that, like the U.S. call, condemns the Hamas attack but notes that “retaliation against a Palestinian civilian population is not the answer, and must stop immediately.” UE’s close ally CSN signed onto a ceasefire statement organized by Quebec’s Center for International Worker Solidarity. They have been joined by many other Canadian unions, including the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, two of Canada’s largest unions.

UE’s close allies Zenroren (Japan), FIOM (Italy), CGT (France), CUT Brasil, Unite (Great Britain), and NTUI (India) have all been actively calling for peace and an end to the violence. Unions representing transport workers in Belgium and Barcelona, Spain have urged their members to refuse to transport weapons for Israel, and maritime unions in Australia have endorsed actions intended to achieve the same.

Some international labor efforts on behalf of peace were directly inspired by UE. In February, UE was contacted by a regional official of the French union Force Ouvrière (Workers’ Force), who said that ‘The call you endorsed “The US Labor Movement Calls for Ceasefire in Israel and Palestine” has been an inspiration to us,’ and sent a copy of a similar resolution jointly signed by a number of regional labor confederations in Ile-de-France (the region including Paris).

In addition to the unfolding humanitarian crisis, approximately 150,000 Palestinian workers who work in Israel have been unable to go to work since Israel closed the borders. The MAAN Workers Association, which organizes Palestinian and Israeli workers, says that “the prolonged unemployment of these workers may escalate into a severe social crisis.” They have issued a letter calling for a one-time payment to these workers, which would be deducted from their savings in the Israeli pension fund. The union notes that, “This struggle is vital not just for their livelihoods, but also for the Israeli economy, and for the future of both peoples.”

“People who know too well the pain of dispossession”

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa issued a statement in October declaring that, “We really regard what is happening as a tragedy that could have been avoided by simply giving Palestinian people their long fought for freedom.”

NUMSA connected the struggle of the Palestinian people with the long struggle against apartheid in their own country. “In South Africa we avoided a cataclysmic war and forged a democracy in a unitary state,” they declared. “There is no reason why the same cannot be achieved in Israel and Palestine.”

At the end of December, the government of South Africa initiated proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice, the top court of the United Nations, alleging that Israel’s military actions, and refusal to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, “are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent … to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

Although the court’s interim ruling in January stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, as the government of South Africa had asked, it ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide. (The ICJ’s rulings are not enforceable, but carry important symbolic weight.)

Haroon Siddique and Bethan McKernan, reporters for The Guardian, note that the interim ruling “is not the final word from the court on whether Israel’s actions amount to genocide, but it provides a strong indication that the judges believe there is a credible risk to Palestinians under the genocide convention.”

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, a former leader of the mineworkers’ union, welcomed the ruling, saying, “Some have told us we should mind our own business … and yet it is very much our place as the people who know too well the pain of dispossession, discrimination, [and] state sponsored violence.”