Two Oceans of Solidarity
In two simultaneous events on Saturday, November 20, 2004, the Labor for Palestine (LFP) campaign found roots on opposite sides of a divided country: The first, sponsored by New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), was themed, “Resistance to Empire,” and held at New York’s AFSCME District Council 1707. Meanwhile, the University of California at San Diego State hosted Al-Awda’s West Coast Regional Conference, where LFP was given center stage as one of Al-Awda’s most critical campaigns for international justice.
The NYCLAW conference came on the heels of the Million Worker March, the US presidential elections and the dual onslaughts against Fallujah and labor groups in the U.S. The opening plenary session presented the labor and anti-war movements as progressive, interacting social forces, and suggested ways of harmonizing their leadership and dynamics.
Following a summary of US/NYCLAW’s past achievements, provided by LFP endorser Michael Letwin, the panel, chaired by New York labor leaders Brenda Stokely and Larry Adams, addressed areas targeted by US imperialism, both local and abroad, and the need for labor to play a leading role in social justice movements. Speakers acknowledged the unique role of military families, as well as that of US soldiers and veterans who actively oppose the occupation of Iraq. They also focused on the war on immigrant workers and the importance of oppressed communities’ organization and leadership. The panel concluded with a call for labor solidarity throughout countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Charlotte Kates from Al-Awda New York, representing the LFP campaign, then addressed the Palestinian struggle as a working-class struggle, noting its local and international character. Conference participants responded enthusiastically to LFP’s call for labor to divest from Israeli Bonds, and recognized the Palestinian liberation movement as central to resistance against imperialism and corporate globalization.
Many conference participants eagerly took LFP literature and purchased campaign buttons. During an open discussion, several participants asked how to raise the Palestine issue in their union halls. Kates responded that the key to broaching this issue successfully is to raise it progressively: with forward-looking initiatives. International labor delegations, such as that between the Workers Advice Center and European labor (April 20041. are among LFP’s primary objectives. In short, labor must rely on its own conclusions, and not those of the bourgeois media or mainstream misrepresentations.
To illustrate this point, Kates discussed past US labor campaigns with Salvadoran and South African workers, and emphasized the importance of Palestinian national rights, and the centrality of the right of return in Palestine’s liberation narrative. NYCLAW’s Letwin then emphasized the need to distribute the LFP open letter, and hasten the call for divestment throughout all labor entities.
The day-long San Diego conference was attended by an audience of approximately 100 Al-Awda members, university students and other solidarity activists. Over a dozen workshops were held to prepare for Al-Awda’s Third International Convention, slated for Los Angeles in Spring 2005, and to coordinate inter-regional grassroots activism. LFP was presented during the conference’s two-part Divestment workshop, hosted by ANSWER’S Richard Becker and Zachary Wales, a member of Al-Awda New York and the National Writers Union.
Becker opened the workshop with an historical testimony of US labor’s role in divesting from South African Apartheid. His analysis of that struggle entailed the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s (ILWU) unprecedented action in 1984, when longshore workers at Pier 80 in San Francisco refused to handle cargo from South Africa on the Nedlloyd Kimberly in a protest against apartheid repression. Becker also highlighted the role that local resistance played in the Soweto rent strikes of 1986, when civilians and liberation militants fought against South Africa’s apartheid rent laws, which are not unlike Israel’s current policies.
The segment presented by Wales opened with an anecdote on the current state of South Africa’s economic apartheid, which replaced racial apartheid over the past eight years. This situation, Wales said, would not be the case had South Africa enforced mechanisms to secure economic empowerment (e.g. land and industry ownership) and labor rights. Before presenting details on LFP, Wales concluded that the Palestinian right of return is one such mechanism to insure a genuine transition from apartheid to democracy in Palestine.
As the Divestment workshop opened to general discussion, the following items were proposed:
- A labor divestment strategy should include a clear set of objectives, based on self-determination and anti-apartheid principles. These objectives should be articulated at the outset of any given LFP initiative.
- Industrial zones in Palestine and global “free trade” agreements should be researched at length for their connections to Israeli apartheid. Labor can use this research to leverage its role in lobbying against apartheid trade policies.
- State and municipal labor organizations should play a role in helping US cities divest from Israeli bonds and corporate agreements.
- To better leverage the progressive virtue of divestment, labor should take up initiatives against companies that are symbolic of repression. Assisting with campaigns against Caterpillar is one such example.
- US labor delegations should organize visits to Palestine to explore the apartheid exploitation of migrant workers in 1948 Palestine.
- LFP must become part of the December 3, 2004 divestment anniversary event in San Francisco sponsored by the IIWU.
In summary, Wales reiterated that the partnership between labor and Al-Awda was essential, since it represents the link between progressive social action and the cultural, grassroots character inherent in every successful movement.