Swindon TUC was pleased to help to facilitate a visit to Britain by the Israeli Workers Advice Center. The purpose of the visit was twofold:To provide WAC with the opportunity of acquainting the British unions with their work organising workers, campaigning against the discrimination which Arab Israelis suffer in Israel, and against the closure which denies the right of Palestinians from the occupied territories to work in Israel.
To learn about the work of British unions and the struggles they are involved in.To that end they were able to meet with:
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack and other national officers, including the union’s international officer Dean Mills.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow, President John Leach and members of the Council of Executives.
The TUC’s International Officer Owen Tudor.
The GMB’s international officer Joni McDougall.
Officers from UNISON’s international department, Nick Siegler and Nick Crook.
John McDonnell MP, secretary of a number of union Parliamentary Groups.
South West TUC Secretary Nigel Costley.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Trade Union Officer Bernard Regan.
In addition they visited Camden UNISON, the GMB’s Swindon office to learn about the union’s migrant worker organising, and were able to speak to Bristol TUC and a special meeting organised by Oxford TUC.
The RMT was good enough to provide accomodation in London for the delegation which comprised Assaf Adiv (National Coordinator), Khitam Na’amneh (Women’s Organiser) and Roni Ben Efrat (International Relations).
The visit succeeded in making WAC’s activities more widely known and opening up a dialogue with British unions, with a view to developing fraternal relations. In particular the meetings with the TUC and the national unions mean that WAC is recognised as a legitimate element of the equation of the Palestinian and Israeli workers movement.
A number of offers were made such as a two page spread in the RMT members’ paper, RMT News, regular exchange of reports, which will be followed up. Any trade union delegation visiting Israel and Palestine has an open invitation to meet with WAC.
The officially recognised union federation in Israel is the Histadrut. WAC organises outside this framework, in part because its activities were initially concentrated on the Arab/Palestinian Israeli population, which is not generally organised by the Histadrut. WAC concentrates its efforts on the massive task of organising amongst the 70% of workers who are unorganised.
As an organisation comprised of Jews and Arabs, working together as equals, it also seeks to organise workers regardless of their race, nationality or religion. For instance, it organises staff of Israeli Educational TV who are employed on a ‘temporary’ basis in order to deny them the rights of permanent employees. Most of these are Jewish workers. (See http://www.workersadvicecenter.org/tahi.html )
WAC originated, as the name suggests, as an advice and support centre helping workers who had no voice in Histadrut to deal with problems in the workplace (or the unemployment offices). However, it moved on to tackling collective issues. In the context of the Israeli situation one of its key tasks was to fight for jobs for Arab Israeli citizens, firstly in the building industry (many workers had been driven out of the industry by conscious government policy of important cheaper foreign labour under conditions of super-exploitation) and latterly in Agriculture. WAC had to tackle the racism and prejudice according to which Arab workers are ‘lazy’ or uninterested in gaining jobs.
Consequently WAC is a hybrid type of organisation, an NGO, but one with the aspiration to build an independent trade union movement, albeit it under very difficult conditions.
Whilst there are other NGOs doing good work in supporting oppressed workers, and the unemployed, campaigning for rights etc, WAC is unique insofar as it brings together Arabs and Jews with the perspective of building an independent workers’ movement and a radical trade union which sees itself as part of the struggle of the working class internationally, challenging ‘globalisation’.
It’s opposition to the oppression of the 20% of the Israeli population which is Arab/Palestinian, makes it difficult to build support amongst the Jewish population, at least without a break with the Zionist outlook which sees Israel as ‘a state of the Jews’. Nevertheless its work shows the practical possibility of building a movement which unites Jews and Arabs.
For more information on WAC visit its web site at: http://www.workersadvicecenter.org/
You can receive WAC’s bi-monthly English language newsletter by emailing assafa@MAAN.org.il
The Israeli English language magazine Challenge, which is devoted to examining the Israel/Palestine conflict, has regular reports on the activities of WAC: http://www.challenge-mag.com/
Whilst the delegation was in Britain, The Mall, a short (12 minute) DVD about ‘Illegal’ Palestinian workers squatting in an unfinished Mall in Tel Aviv, was shown at an International Documentary Film Festival in Oxford. The DVD was made by Video 48, which works with WAC (see http://www.video48.com/ ). Also available are:
A Job To Win – a film about WAC’s campaign to get Arab Israelis back into the construction industry.
The Mission – a film of a visit by a European Trade Union delegation to Israel and the West Bank organised by WAC.
Breaking Walls – a film about a mural painted by US artist Mike Alewitz in an Arab Israeli village, Dani Ben Simhon who gave up a potentially lucrative art career to devote his efforts to organising for WAC, and Musav Salameh, a building worker, who is kept apart from his parents in the West Bank by Israel’s separation wall.
Our thanks to those who helped with the visit and to the following organisations for their financial support which made the trip possible:
Socialist Unity Network
Wiltshire & Swindon GMB
Secretary Swindon TUC