West Bank roadblock project moves to organising drivers

ITF_logoThe ITF sponsored project to improve the daily conditions of road transport workers inside the Palestinian West Bank established in 2007 needs to be transformed into two parallel campaigns to organise drivers on both sides of the border between Palestine and Israel.

That was the conclusion reached by ITF General Secretary David Cockroft, after an intensive two day visit to the region last week.

“When I visited the region in early 2008, Israeli road blocks were seriously obstructing professional Palestinian drivers carrying out their daily work” said Cockroft.

“We were working with the two ITF affiliates, the PTGWU and the transport workers’ union of the Histadrut, to establish a Helpline which would drastically reduce the hours wasted waiting at the checkpoints which were spread throughout Palestine.”

Today, as a result  the improved security situation in the West Bank and  international pressure on the Israeli government, the roadblocks have been considerably reduced and journeys which used to take two hours or more can now be done in 20 minutes. But a major problem for Palestinian drivers – in trucks, taxis and minibuses – remains at the border crossings where cargo and passengers have to be physically transferred from Palestinian (green plate) vehicles onto Israeli (yellow plate) ones.

19514There is potential to significantly raise the trade union organisation rate amongst road transport drivers on  both sides of the border Iine addition, there are little or no basic facilities for the drivers who have to wait to unload and load goods coming from, or destined to Israeli ports or to drop off and pick up the more than 50,000 migrant Palestinian workers who travel to work in Israel every day.

“We are now aiming to set up two parallel projects – one to organise and regulate Palestinian trucks and taxis, and one to increase the unionisation rate in Israel, where road transport is by far the most badly organised transport sector” he added.

UNION COOPERATION THE BEST WAY FORWARD

“The experience of good cooperation between leaders of Palestinian and Israeli unions, which we have observed coming out of the roadblocks project  which emerged from a tough negotiating session in Cyprus in 2007, shows how trade unions can make a difference to ordinary workers” added Cockroft.

“We oppose Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the wall which was erected to protect Israeli civilians. We  strongly support  a viable two state solution agreed to by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government” he added “we also oppose violence on both sides of the conflict, but the ITF deals primarily not with the high level political discussions, but with improving the working lives of transport workers.

Disappointed by growing boycott calls

” That is why I was alarmed and disappointed to learn that there are growing calls for a general boycott of Israeli products and with suggestions that this is now supported by the PGFTU, the only legitimate umbrella trade union body in Palestine.”

David Cockroft

David Cockroft

“The ITF has long experience of industrial boycotts” he added. “But we do not believe that  a general boycott of Israel, a country where we have strong loyal ITF affiliates which have and continue to play a major part in our longstanding campaign against flags of convenience” would in any contribute to improving the lives or working conditions of Palestinian or Israeli workers.

Practical union cooperation is the right way forward<

” The PGFTU has long taken a strong position against the Israeli occupation in Palestinian territory and against the settlements and we fully support them, but it is clear that the ITF, the ITUC and the whole global trade union movement needs to provide strong support for the PGFTU and to the Histadrut which are both, independent trade union organizations which do not speak for their governments.

” We need to show that practical union cooperation is the right way forward and we do not believe that this process will be helped by a general boycott of Israeli products, many of which are produced by Palestinian workers.”

Urgent ITUC/GUF mission  to meet with PGFTU and Histadrut early in new year

Based on my discussions last week, he added, I will ask the Council of Global Unions to hold a special discussion on the current situation and to recommend an urgent ITUC/GUF mission to meet with PGFTU and Histadrut early in the new year in order to further the process of cooperation and to ensure that  practical union projects such as that being pursued by the ITF and other Global Union Federations continue with support from all sides and  take a clear position on the issue of Israeli boycotts.

Earlier item on ITF and Palestine/Israel projects