“I regard it as a kind of psychological displacement activity” a leading TUC left-winger told me: “It’s unions and delegates saying, in effect, ‘we can’t take on the government, we’re pretty crap at defending our members, but we can take a really hard line on Israel’.”
What is certainly true is that if this year’s TUC is remembered for anything at all, it will be for just two debates: high heel shoes at work and the call to boycott Israel.
What was finally passed on Israel/Palestine was a typical TUC fudge: the FBU motion, supported by Unison and Unite, calling for a total boycott of Israeli goods and questioning the TUC’s links with the Israeli union organisation Histadrut was overruled by a General Council statement, arrived at after much wrangling behind the scenes, that read: “To increase the pressure for for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories and the removal of the seperation wall and illegal settlements we will support a boycott of those goods and agricultural products that originate in illegal settlements through developing an effective, targeted consumer-led boycott campaign.”
Whilst the statement is less objectionable and dangerous than the FBU’s anti-all things Israeli position, two immediate problems present themselves. Firstly, as the FBU president Mick Shaw fairly pointed out, “these goods do not come with a label which says, ‘These goods are produced on an illegal settlement’.” So, EITHER this will be an impractical, ineffectual gesture…OR it will be turned in practice into an all-out boycott campaign of all Israeli products and links with Israel. The latter is quite clearly what people like the Palestine Solidarity Committee and other professional anti-semites and Israel-haters hope for. As the (Stalinist) Communist Party of Britain’s John Haylett writes approvingly in today’s Morning Star: “…it is important that the popular understanding will be that the TUC is in favour of a boycott of Israel…”
The second point to note is that the statement (like the FBU motion) talks explicitly about a “consumer-led boycott campaign.” In other words the leadership of Britain’s trade union movement is calling upon the general public to do something, but not especially upon trade unionists. If the TUC and its affiliates (especially Unite) were serious about a boycott, they’d be calling upon workers not to handle, transport, load, unload or sell these goods. Instead, they call for a what will, at best, be an empty gesture devoid of trade union principle, international solidarity or any suggestion of working class unity. I say “at best” because at worst – if it were to take off – the “boycott” call would, inevitably, become an anti-Jewish campaign, directed against all those linked to, and in any way sympathetc to, Israel: ie predominantly Jews. That may not be the intention of most of those calling for a boycott, but it would certainly be the end result of a successful campaign.
Much better a positive labour movement campaign of solidarity with the Palestinans, with the Israeli peace movement, and with workers on both sides. The “boycott” call militates against that sort of working class campaign. It’s actually a council of despair as far as working class politics goes.
But, of course, some of those promoting the boycott are actively opposed to working class unity in the context of Israel/Palestine. How else to explain the calls for a “review” (ie: breaking) of links with Histadrut? ‘Ah, but the Histadrut supported the attack on Gaza’, comes the reply. To which we can only reply in turn that if the TUC broke off links with all unions and union federations that supported their own governments – including over imperialist wars and invasions – then it would have precious few international links at all. ‘Ah but the Histadrut is not really a proper trade union at all, but what Comrade Haylett correctly describes as a “cross between a trade union and an employers’ federation”‘ reply the Israel-haters. Two points to make on that: Histadrut is far from being the only trade union organisation in the world to have class-collaborationist links with employers (and – of course – people like Comrade Haylett always rather approved of Eastern European and other Stalinist unions that were -and in the case of Cuba and China, still are – part of their respective states); secondly, whatever its faults the Histadrut is the collective, representative body of the Israeli labour movement. To write off Histadrut is to write off the Israeli working class. But then, that’s what most of the supporters of the boycott have done already, isn’t it?