When CUPE delegates returned to their homes and workplaces after attending the Ontario Division’s annual convention in May, the media reports they would see and hear focused on but one resolution adopted at the convention. That was the now-famous Resolution 50, which called for the Division to work with Palestine solidarity and human rights organizations and develop an education campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the political and economic support of Canada for these practices. The resolution also called for CUPE Ontario to support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Following the convention the leadership of the Ontario Division was subjected to a hysterical attack in the mainstream media. CUPE was criticized for daring to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. Little was said about the fact that South Africans themselves, including the South African Council of Churches and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have made just such comparisons.
Since July CUPE’s critics have become more muted. The voices of Israeli apologists have been drowned out by the reports of the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza by the Israeli military. Everyone but the most fanatical supporters watched in horror as Israel proceeded to destroy the civilian infrastructure and inflict collective punishment on the entire populations of Lebanon and Gaza—all this supposedly in retaliation for the capture of three soldiers by Hezbollah and Hamas. After the United Nations’ emergency-relief chief Jan Egeland said the “disproportionate response” by Israel to Hezbollah’s actions was a “violation of international humanitarian law,” the self-righteous critics of Sid Ryan and CUPE Ontario had little to say.
During the bombing of Lebanon, several unions, including the Canadian Labour Congress, issued strong statements condemning the senseless deaths of civilians and destruction of infrastructure. It is time for the labour movement in Canada to revisit its policies concerning the Middle East. If one thing has become clear in recent months it is that only massive international pressure will convince Israel to seriously pursue a negotiated settlement. Just as it did with the struggle in South Africa, Canadian labour can make a valuable contribution to supporting the workers of the Middle East in their efforts to achieve a just settlement.
In fact, we should examine what South African unions and churches have formulated. Their proposals go much beyond those of CUPE Ontario. They include:
Ending diplomatic relations with Israel;
Establishing a boycott and sanctions campaign against the Israeli apartheid state until the end of the occupation;
Organizing a national day of action in solidarity with the Palestinian people;
Demanding Israel withdraw from Gaza immediately and end the occupation of Palestinian lands;
Demanding Israel abide by the provisions of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and refrain from imposing collective punishment on Palestinian civilians
Calling on Israel to release all detained Palestinian ministers and legislators and to release all political prisoners including hundreds of women and children;
Ending the sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority; and
Calling on the United Nations to implement the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s Apartheid wall
Before debating these and other proposals, unions in Canada need to do a lot more to raise the issues associated with the Middle East with the membership. CUPE Ontario has begun to conduct such an education program. It deserves to be applauded for its leadership.
Geoff Bickerton is a member of CUPE 1979 and labour columnist for Canadian Dimension.
This article appeared in the September/October 2006 issue of Canadian Dimension (Good to the Last Drop).