THE General Council of the Trades Union Congress held a crisis meeting yesterday morning, as it was split over Motion 76: Palestine, from the Fire Brigades Union.
This calls for the TUC to promote ‘a targeted, consumer-led boycott’ and to ‘encourage trade unionists to boycott Israeli goods, especially agricultural products that have been produced in the illegal settlements’, and to ‘encourage campaigns of disinvestment from companies associated with the occupation’.
The meeting went on for so long that the start of Congress was delayed for three quarters of an hour.
TUC Deputy-General Secretary Frances O’Grady was forced to apologise for the delay to delegates.
As a result of its meeting, the TUC General Council produced its own statement on the Middle East, which made a watered-down call for sanctions on Israeli goods.
Both the General Council statement and the FBU motion were put before Congress to vote on.
FBU President Mick Shaw moved Motion 76.
He said: ‘I am pleased to have our General Council’s support for our motion.
‘In the recent period the debate has shifted as a result of the sustained Israeli bombardment of Gaza, with 1,400 Palestinian deaths.
‘The UN report described it as a disproportionate attack designed to humiliate and punish a civilian population.
‘Who could not be moved by what we saw on our television screens.
‘But the UK government was not moved and the Histradut (Israeli TUC) described it as an act of justifiable self-defence.
‘This raised questions on the Histradut. Is it just a trade union body or is it a mouthpiece for the Israeli government?
‘I’m pleased the General Council is going to engage the Histradut on this issue.
‘The FBU called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the dismantling of the wall.
‘We are saying now the TUC has to go further as a result of the war on Gaza.
‘The Palestinians want to see support and international pressure put on for their plight.
‘We are calling for a boycott of Israeli goods,’ he added, comparing it to the boycott of South Africa during Apartheid.
He added: ‘It demonstrates to the Palestinian people and Palestinian trade unions that the rest of the world cares.
‘Archbishop Tutu said that the South African boycott helped remove Apartheid.
‘But the General Council statement does not go far enough.
‘Put sanctions on the Israeli government and target all pressure there.’
Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, spoke on the General Council’s statement.
He said the TUC vision was ‘a two-state solution, the roadmap, justice for the Palestinians, security for Israel’.
He continued: ‘Turning to the unions in the region, we have for the last year been trying to persuade the Histradut to be more vocal in criticising the Israeli government.
‘We think the statement issued by the Histradut in January, which failed to recognise the appalling loss of life and the suffering caused by the Gaza offensive, should be condemned.
‘We will continue to press them on the crucial issues of the occupation, the separation wall and illegal settlements.’
He added: ‘Finally, the General Council has considered what can be done by us to apply pressure to the Israeli government to make the end of the occupation, the dismantling of the separation wall and the removal of the illegal settlements more likely.
‘We believe targeted action – aimed at goods from the illegal settlements and at companies involved in the occupation and the wall – is the right way forward.’
He stressed: ‘This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services, which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers, but targeted, consumer-led sanctions directed at businesses based in, and sustaining, the illegal settlements.’
The TUC motion also called for the ending of British arms sales to Israel.
Seconding the FBU motion, Terry Hoad, of the UCU, said: ‘We support the policy of boycott to be carried out within our own aims and within the law.
‘Please support the motion as amended.’
Speaking in support of the FBU motion, Jill Murdoch, from the TSSA, said: ‘A lot has been said about balance.
‘When Germany invaded Poland, did Britain raise the question of balance?
‘Did we call for balance over Apartheid?
‘Why do we call for balance on the invasion of Gaza and the Israeli blockade?
‘A trade union friend in Palestine told me how Israeli bulldozers ripped up his house and destroyed his olive trees.
‘Palestinian railworkers are losing their jobs because of a new law which says that all workers have to have seen military service.’
She added: ‘We condemn the Histradut support of the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
‘It’s right for the General Council to review the relationship with the Histradut. That’s a balanced view.’
Hugh Lanning of the PCS welcomed both the FBU motion and the TUC General Council statement.
He said: ‘This is a landmark decision for the British trade union movement recognising that it’s time for action, and as chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign I welcome their support for the PSC.’
Mick Kirby, of Unison, spoke in support of Motion 76.
He said: ‘Under the occupation, Palestinians say this is trying to exclude us and remove us from our own land.’
He added: ‘The two-state solution, the return of refugees, is being brought to an end by the expansion of settlements.
‘We have to support the Palestinians’ sacrifice.
‘Support Motion 76 and the General Council’s statement.’
Congress chair Beacroft then put the motions to the vote.
Both were carried overwhelmingly.
The General Council statement was passed with the FBU voting against, while the FBU’s Motion 76 was carried with only the GMB opposed.