Workers Around the World Can Stand Up for Palestinians

In recent days, Palestinian trade unions have called on workers across the world to demand an “end to all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes.” Trade unionists in the UK, the US, and elsewhere should meet their call.

Protesters wave Palestinian flags and shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration in support of Palestinians, next to the Greek Parliament in Athens on October 12, 2023. (Angelos Tzortzinis / AFP via Getty Images)

In the wake of a wave of horrifying attacks from Hamas, the Israeli state has launched a full-scale assault on Palestine.

The official stance is that Israel is attempting to root out and destroy Hamas in retribution for ongoing attacks on Israelis. In fact, as several officials have stated, the real goal seems to be to terrorize ordinary Palestinians into submission.

One Israeli government official has overtly stated that Gaza must be smaller after the end of the war. An Israeli minister even commented at the earliest stages of the conflict that the Israeli state would unleash a second Nakba on the Palestinian people. With one million Palestinians being forced to evacuate northern Gaza under pain of total destruction, this is exactly what we are witnessing.

Israel has shown no qualms about committing war crimes in its bid to level Palestine to rubble. It shut off electricity and water to the occupied Gaza Strip, which amounts to collective punishment, a war crime under international law. And human rights organizations have documented Israeli use of white phosphorous in civilian areas — also a war crime.

Keir Starmer — the former human rights lawyer — has not only failed to condemn Israel’s war crimes; he has actually endorsed them. In an interview with LBC, Starmer stated that Israel had the right to shut off power and water in Gaza.

In the midst of all this politicking, thousands of civilians have lost their lives as the West refuses to address the root cause of this decades-long conflict: the continued oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Israel’s illegal military occupation results in the regular killing of Palestinians. These deaths include horrific examples like that of the teenager who was shot in the back while running away from the Israeli Defense Forces in the West Bank, and another who was shot while walking to school close to the Jenin refugee camp.

It is difficult for Western audiences to understand the terror and oppression to which ordinary Palestinians are subjected on a daily basis, because it is simply not reported throughout much of the media.

As well as being brutalized by Israeli soldiers, Palestinians are systematically forcibly evicted from their homes by settlers, with the active support of the Israeli government. They are also subjected to ruthless laws controlling their daily movements and activities in what amounts to a system of “segregation and control.”

For all these reasons and more, Amnesty International has characterized Israel’s treatment of Palestine as a modern form of apartheid — I would thoroughly recommend that readers follow the link to understand precisely why Amnesty, alongside numerous other human rights organizations, has used this term.

But understanding what is happening in Palestine is only part of the battle — we must also think about how we can take action in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

In recent days, Palestinian trade unions have called on workers around the world to demand an “end to all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes” by taking action to disrupt the flow of weapons to the Israeli war machine.

There are several Israeli weapons companies located across the UK, including Elbit Systems, which has frequently been targeted by Palestinian organizers. UK weapons manufacturers like BAE Systems are also involved with the construction of technology being used against Palestine. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and other NGOs have compiled data that shows the embeddedness of British industry in producing weapons for use by Israel.

The very least Palestine should be able to expect from the world in terms of solidarity is an end to their active complicity in the terror being unleashed by the Israeli state. It is critical that British trade unions express solidarity with Palestine — and consider ways to disrupt the shipment of arms to Israel.

There is a long tradition of such international solidarity within the labor movement. In the 1970s, workers in a factory manufacturing jets being used by Pinochet’s brutal authoritarian regime announced a boycott of shipments to Chile. More recently, unionized workers in Italy, South Africa, and the United States refused to load shipments of arms headed to Israel.

It is easy to think of these as small, isolated actions that do little to arrest the functioning of the global arms trade. However, history has shown that actions, however small, can be of outsized importance in placing material limitations on the criminal actions of states.

Such solidarity is all the more important today, as we move into an era when these criminal actions are likely to become all the more frequent.

We are witnessing the end of the age of unipolarity — during which time American military, economic, and ideological dominance was effectively unchallenged. As new economic rivals emerge, US officials see challenges to their hegemony everywhere.

Their response is to use more of the world’s scarce resources fighting endless wars in order to ward off any threats to the status quo. As has always been the case — from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq — ordinary civilians will be the ones who pay the price for the United States’ desperate attempts to retain its status as the world’s foremost superpower.

In 2022, the budget of the US Department of Defense was $877 billion, or 4 percent of GDP. In contrast, China, the next largest spender, spent around $229 billion on defense in 2022, or around 1.5 percent GDP.

Much of this funding is used to support US allies waging war or oppressing their own populations. And countries like the UK support the American war regime in both material and political terms. Meanwhile, massive arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems make billions from the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, militaries — of which the United States’ is by far the largest — account for a staggering 5.5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, meaning the impact of today’s conflicts will be felt far into the future.

In such a world, international solidarity will become all the more important. Workers in the Global North must stand alongside those in the Global South to demand an end to the endless wars that produce so much death and destruction, and so much profit for capital.

In times like this, we must look to those who have fought for peace, justice, and sustainability throughout history. In the 1970s, workers at Lucas Aerospace put together an extraordinary document showing how the failing firm could be repurposed away from the production of weapons and toward the production of socially useful technologies, like kidney dialysis machines and wind turbines.

Their movement was crushed by Margaret Thatcher, but their legacy lives on. Today, it is up to us to continue that legacy. We must start by standing alongside Palestinians asking for our support all the way from Gaza.