Annual survey of violations of trade union rights: What it tells us about Israel and Palestine

The International Trade Union Confederation’s annual survey of violations of trade union rights is a must-read for all trade unionists.

This year’s report is no exception.

Though it highlights very severe violations around the world (including 90 murders of trade unionists, the majority of those in Colombia), it also focusses attention on violations of workers’ rights in Israel and Palestine.

Unlike many criticisms made of Israel by some on on the far Left, the ITUC report is well-documented and considered to be authoritative.  It needs to be taken seriously.

Among the issues it raises regarding Israel are these:

Police stopped a bus filled with Arab Israeli protestors. Workers were harassed while trying to form a union at the Haredi Institute in Jerusalem. The Schechter Institute is accused of mocking and harassing those who tried to join a union.   A planned teachers’ strike was declared illegal by courts.   Cleaners at a university were sacked for going on strike.  The government engaged in strike-breaking when the diplomats’ union took industrial action.  Labour laws are widely violated by employers.  Palestinians working in Israel face a number of problems.  A quarter million migrant workers (half of them “illegals”) are often abused and exploited.

At first glance, these will sound pretty familiar to trade unionists in other democratic countries.  Employer harassment of union organizing drives is widespread in countries like the USA, and public sector strikes are often blocked by courts.  Migrant workers suffer in almost all countries.

These are issues of general concern, but it means that Israel is neither better nor worse than most Western countries.

And what does the ITUC have to say about Palestine?

It records one arrest and 19 dismissals (Israel had no arrests and 3 reported dismissals).  Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have jailed journalists.  Jewish settlers trashed a union a union building.  Quarry workers went on strike, dealing with a difficult management.  The UN refugee agency (UNRWA) refused to bargain with its employees.  Workers at a Jewish-owned West Bank factory were sacked after striking.  And the report also alleges that a delegation of South African trade unionists visiting Palestine was attacked by Israeli soldiers.

Again, none of this is very good — but it’s not exactly in the same league as, say, Colombia where 49 trade unionists were murdered.

There were ten murders of trade unionists in Guatemala.  Trade unionists were also murdered in Bangladesh, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Pakistan, the Philippines, Swaziland and Uganda. A teacher trade unionist was hanged in Iran.  Some countries completely ban trade unions - such as Saudi Arabia, Burma and the United Arab Emirates.

The report can only be comprehensive in countries where the ITUC actually can access information.  That means that open societies (such as Israel) provide dozens of stories, whereas closed, totalitarian societies offer very little. Here, for example, is how the ITUC reports on violations of trade union rights in Syria:

  • Murders: none reported
  • Attempted Murders: none reported
  • Threats: none reported
  • Injuries: none reported
  • Arrests: none reported
  • Imprisonments: none reported
  • Dismissals: none reported

And that’s it.  The Israeli page on violations of rights contains five paragraphs.  The Syrian page is blank.

In looking over the report, one has to ask - why are some unions keen on boycotting Israel, but have not a word to say about Guatemala, where ten trade unionists were murdered last year?

In Britain, dozens of unions are affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign — but where is the Guatemala Solidarity Campaign?

Where are the calls in trade unions to boycott goods from Colombia, Guatemala, Iran, or any other country where trade unionists are routinely shot or hanged?

Trade unionists in all countries should read this report and act on it, and build campaigns of solidarity with workers suffering everywhere.

But they should also put things in perspective, and prioritize, and realize that the violations of trade union rights in Israel and Palestine, while real, are nothing as compared to what goes on in dozens of other countries.