TUFI Update – March 2009

International Trade Union News: Union leader refuses to support Israel boycott

International Trade Union News: CUPE National opposes local union resolution

Trade Union News: ICTU re-launch year-old delegation report

British Trade Union News: Scottish trade union delegation to Israel and Palestine

Israeli Industrial News: Redundancies hit record high as 20,000 Israelis lose jobs in January

Israeli Industrial News: Factory protests threaten to escalate

Israeli Affairs: Netanyahu chosen by Israeli President to form the next Government

Israeli Affairs: Eighteenth Knesset is sworn in with a record number of women

Palestinian Affairs: Hamas reject recognising Israel as part of reconciliation with Fatah

MEPP: UK pledge £30 million for Gaza reconstruction

International Trade Union News: Union leader refuses to support Israel boycott
The National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union (AWU), Australia’s largest union, has condemned moves by other Australian trade unions to boycott the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) and Israeli goods, calling them counter-productive and a “knee-jerk reaction”.

At the AWU’s National Conference on 5 February, Mr Paul Howes said: “We don’t believe a union campaign to boycott Israel helps advance the peace process, especially because unions in Israel and Palestine have made important, if tentative, steps to build co-operative, working alliances under the auspices of global union federations such as the International Transport Workers Federation… these projects point the way to a better life for working people in the region.”

In a video speech to the conference, the Chairman of the Histadrut (Israeli TUC), Ofer Eini, said: “A boycott of any kind is totally unacceptable as it counters the solidarity of trade unions around the world”.
International Trade Union News: CUPE National opposes resolution on Israel by local union
The National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Paul Moist, has said that the CUPE national union does not support the boycott resolution passed by the Ontario University Workers Coordinating Committee (OUWCC) of CUPE Ontario on 22 February 2009. He said in a statement, released on 24 February, that the views expressed in the resolution were only those of a small number of local CUPE Ontario members and did not represent CUPE national policy.

The CUPE Ontario resolution calls for members at Ontario universities to boycott Israeli institutions, which would mean that researchers and professors would not be able to collaborate with their Israeli colleagues. Aido DiCarlo, the president of a local union branch, which represents technicians and maintenance workers at the University of Windsor, said the action was unacceptable and that any boycott would hamper research and counter the long tradition of collaboration by universities around the world. He said his members were contemplating disaffiliating.
Trade Union News: ICTU re-launch year-old delegation report
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) re-launched its delegation report, which proposes a boycott of Israel, at Stormont on 10 February 2009, more than a year after the trip actually took place. ICTU President Patricia McKeown led the delegation in November 2007 that included eleven members: seven from Northern Ireland, two former ICTU lay-members and two from Trade Union Friends of Palestine.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams hosted the event and commended the report; however others dismissed it as unbalanced and urged unions to concentrate more on important local issues during the economic downturn. Robin Newton, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, complained that the report took no cognisance of the difficulties of Israelis and also warned that sanctions would hurt both innocent Israelis and Palestinians.

To counter the growing anti-Israel activism emanating from Northern Ireland, a Northern Ireland Friends of Israel (NIFI) group is being set up and is due to be launched on 12 March 2009 by trade unionists, politicians and community leaders.
British Trade Union News: Scottish Trades Union Congress delegation to Israel and Palestine
A delegation of trade unionists from the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), departed on 28 February for a week-long delegation to Israel and Palestine. The delegation is due to meet with trade unionists in Israel and the Palestinian territories, to “investigate the merits of supporting a boycott”.

The delegation is mostly made up of lay-members and entirely of public sector union representatives. Speaking before departing, STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith said: “This is a very important mission for the STUC. In 2007 our Congress asked us to explore the merits of a boycott…and it is absolutely vital that we speak directly to trade unionists in Israel and Palestine about this, and see for ourselves what is happening in the region”. The delegation will report back to its Congress in April 2009.

Stephen Scott, Director of Trade Union Friends of Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that any boycott would be damaging to both Israelis and Palestinians. “The STUC delegation needs to develop links with their Israeli and Palestinian trade union brothers and sisters,” he said. “There are many positive initiatives between the Histadrut and Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) member unions that the STUC unions should be supporting. While we understand the STUC’s concerns and solidarity with the Palestinian people, boycotting Israel in any form would only damage relationships and dialogue between workers from both sides.” Instead, Mr Scott said, efforts should be made to promote peace through economic empowerment: “Efforts should be concentrated on concrete measures for creating an enduring peace that includes economic and social development through the trade union movement.”
Israeli Industrial News: Redundancies hit record high as 20,000 Israelis lose jobs in January
January 2009 marked the highest number of redundancies in Israel’s history, according to an Employment Service report released on 18 February. Nearly 20,000 workers lost their jobs (equivalent to 180,000 British workers), and the number of registered job seekers reached 275,000. Israel’s economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis with unemployment rising since April 2008. Ofer Eini, the Chairman of the Histadrut has predicted that more than 100,000 Israelis will lose their jobs in 2009.
Israeli Industrial News: Factory protests threaten to escalate


Over 700 employees of Pri Galil, a processes-food company in the North of Israel, went on strike on 23 February to demonstrate against the possible closure of their factory. Protesters burned tires and blocked the entrance to the factory by welding the gates shut. The local court is due to determine if a receiver will be appointed for Pri Galil’s parent company, which has debts of over £27 million. The company’s bank has rejected all proposals for dealing with the debts.

On the 24 February, farmers and students, including members of Hanoar Haoved ve Halomed, a socialist youth movement, joined the protesting workers on a march along the town’s main road. Several heads of nearby regional councils came to show their support, and residents of the town also launched a general strike in solidarity.

The Chairman of the Histadrut, Ofer Eini, in a speech on 24 February called the events at Pri Galil “the spark that would ignite social struggle throughout the country” and that the “government must heed it”. Mr Eini criticised the bank’s actions over the company’s debts, calling on them to show humanity and not to evaluate the plant’s future solely in terms of “cold, hard numbers”. He said that “banks have to realise that workers earn very low wages and all in all they have been swept into this crisis because of a few speculators who make deals.”
Israeli Affairs: Netanyahu chosen by Israeli President to form the next Government
Israeli President Shimon Peres assigned Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu with the task of forming the next Israeli Government on Friday 20 February. Netanyahu has until 20 March to form a coalition that would control a majority of seats in the 120 seat Knesset. This deadline, however, can be delayed by two weeks at Peres’ discretion, if Netanyahu does not succeed.

The right-wing Likud party won one less seat (27) than the centrist Kadima party (28) in the recent general election, but was deemed by Peres to have a better chance of forming a governing coalition than Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, due to the size of the right-wing Knesset bloc compared to the centre or left blocs.

Livni and Netanyahu met on Sunday 22 February to discuss the possibility of Kadima joining Likud in government, which would reduce Likud’s reliance on the various small right-wing and religious parties. Netanyhu described his attempts to form a coalition with Kadima as “the will of the people”, but Livni said that their meetings had failed to bridge their “deep differences on diplomatic issues.” A source close to Netanyahu said that the main point of difference was whether the coalition guidelines called for “two states for two peoples,” as Livni wants, or something vaguer, as Netanyahu wants.

Israeli Affairs: Eighteenth Knesset is sworn in with a record number of women
Israel’s eighteenth Knesset (Parliament) was sworn in on 24 February after the recent general election, with a record twenty-one women, four more than previously. Thirty-one new Knesset members were amongst the parliamentary veterans, including Balad party MK, Haneen Zuabi, the first female Arab MK to enter the Knesset for an Arab party.

Palestinian Affairs: Hamas reject recognising Israel as part of reconciliation with Fatah
Reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, mediated by Egypt, began on 25 February in Cairo. The Palestinian factions have agreed to set up committees to discuss the formation of a new unity government, the scheduling of elections and the release of each other’s detainees. Other committees for reforming the Palestinian security services and the merging of Hamas into the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have also been established and all committees are scheduled to finish their work by the end of March.

The new US Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, indicated on 19 February that America was in favour of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, saying that it would be “a step forward” for peace in the region. This is in sharp contrast to the Bush administration, which opposed a national unity government. However, Mitchell added that Hamas would still need to adhere to the Quartet’s principles of engagement and renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas echoed this on 28 February making clear that any new National Unity Government would have to be based on support for a two-state solution. Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, Ayman Taha, rejected this, saying that “Hamas would never agree to sit in a government that recognises Israel.”
Gaza: Ashkelon schools closed in response to continued rockets fire from the Gaza Strip
Palestinians militants in Gaza have continued to fire missiles into Southern Israel, launching more than 110 since the conflict in Gaza ended on 17 January 2009.

The Ashkelon Parents’ Committee called for the city’s pupils to stay at home on 2 March to protest against the government’s failure to protect 130 schools, attended by 26,000 children, from the barrage of rocket attacks. Despite calling the decision premature, the city’s deputy mayor, Shlomo Cohen, said: “When there is a warning siren, there is nowhere to go.”

MEPP: UK pledge £30 million for Gaza reconstruction
The UK has pledged £30 million for reconstructing Gazan homes, schools, hospitals and essential infrastructure, damaged during the recent conflict. The pledge includes £20 million of newly announced funds as well as an allocation of £10 million from the support for Gaza announced in January. This brings the total UK response to the humanitarian situation in Gaza to nearly £47 million since the conflict began. Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, made the pledge while visiting Gaza on 1 March ahead of the one-day reconstruction conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. In her address to the conference, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told delegates that: “Our response to today’s crisis in Gaza cannot be separated from our broader efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace.”

In total £3.2 billion was pledged at the conference, with Gulf Arab states pledging £1.2 billion and the US and EU pledging £640 and £400 million respectively, both for Gazan reconstruction and to support the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget.