“I want to express my gratitude to both CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) and CUPW (Canadian Union of Postal Workers) for the solidarity they have shown to the Palestinian people.” With these words, Manawell Abdul Al, member of the executive committee of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions summed up the sentiment at the 150-strong opening plenary of the “Brick by Brick” conference at the Steelworkers Hall in Toronto. He was referring to the motions passed first at CUPE-Ontario, and this year at CUPW national, supporting the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the state of Israel.
Organized by the Labour Committee of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), the conference focused on “building labour solidarity with Palestine.” As well as members of CUPE and CUPW, the weekend conference brought together members of CAW (Canadian Auto Workers), the USWA (United Steelworkers of America), FNEEQ (Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec), OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) and other unions to debate ways to strengthen the BDS campaign in the labour movement.
Marion Pollack from CUPW also spoke on the opening panel. “It is very clear to us that the struggle facing the Palestinian people is the same struggle faced by the South African people against apartheid,” she said, and thanked CUPE Ontario for taking the lead in being the first major union grouping in Canada to pass a BDS resolution. In the wake of the CUPE Ontario resolution, there were literally thousands of emails sent by pro-Israeli forces denouncing the union. After CUPW members at the recent national convention voted 90 per cent to endorse the BDS resolution, “we were braced for a backlash” Pollack said. “However, we have not had the same level of fall-out.”
One of the most moving speeches came from Paul Loulou Chery, Secretary of the Confederation of Haitian Workers. He described the extremely difficult conditions being faced by Haitian workers, chafing under military occupation sanctioned by the United Nations. He talked about the conditions created by the 2004 coup d’état, carried out by the military of the U.S., France and Canada. But he also said that even though Haitian workers face terrible conditions, they do not want their Palestinian sisters and brothers to stand alone. Manawell Abdul Al took the microphone in response, and said that the occupation of Haiti and the occupation of Palestine are one and the same. “It is the dictatorship of capital that wants to exploit and put its hands on the wealth of the people.”
Notably present at the opening plenary was Phyllis Bennis, well known anti-war activist, (prominent in United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the principal anti-war organization in the United States), who spoke from the floor as a member of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Also from the US were members of US Labor Against the War. Links with the U.S. anti-war and labour movements will be critical in the campaign to build solidarity with Palestine.
© 2008 Paul Kellogg
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid Labour Committee, www.caiaweb.org/labourcommittee
CUPE B.C., The Wall Must Fall, 2007, www.cupe.ca/updir/WallMustFall2007-eng.pdf
CUPE, “CUPE Resolution 50 Palestine“, www.cupe.on.ca
CUPW, Resolution for BDS, http:stopthewall.org
U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, www.endtheoccupation.org