Protesters in Tacoma, Washington block loading of an Israeli bound ship (Photo: KOMO News)
Workers around the world can play a role in mobilizing action against the apartheid Israeli state.
When speaking about Palestine, we must constantly reiterate two key points and a pressing addendum: Palestine is occupied by a Zionist apartheid regime; the Zionist regime is a settler colonial regime, and currently is committing genocide against the Palestinian people of Gaza, where the time it takes you to read this piece (roughly 10 minutes), a Palestinian child has gotten killed by the Zionist genocidal machine. The ultimate question then, what can the progressive forces in the imperialist core (belly of beast) do to stop imperialism and genocide in Palestine?
It is clear that there is a whole legitimation crisis in the so-called American democracy (read as kleptocracy), where the masses’ aspirations and calls are not being listened to by the elected elite, a testament to how dysfunctional representative ‘democracy’ is. One progressive response to the dysfunctionality of American kleptocracy has been labor unions – associations who challenge the authority of employers and capital. Individualistic, divided, and docile labor is susceptible to exploitation, hence the necessity for organization to combat such conditions. However, labor unions are not organically progressive and internationalist. In fact, despite their local-centric agenda, they have often been functionaries of the US imperialist agenda (i.e., the capitalist expansion beyond the confines of the nation state). Despite the complicated position labor unions have in relation to imperialism, they now have a decisive role to play in stopping the genocide in Palestine.
Understanding labor and imperialism
While at the imperialist core, labor unions fight for higher wages, better work protections, and other related benefits, workers are often threatened by the outsourcing of production to cheaper labor either indigenous oppressed groups or workers in the Global South. To create global conditions for such production dynamics, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) – the largest federation of unions in the US – collaborates with foreign governments and existing unions to: 1- support governments in reducing labor barriers to ease exploitation, and advise them on expanding privatization schemes; 2- train union leaders to focus on solely on business unionism, as opposed to making unions more social-justice oriented and internationalist. The AFL-CIO, which has been dubbed as AFL-CIA, works closely with the CIA to suppress, assassinate, and coup union leaders, communist organizers, and governments in the Global South so that they remain an “army of reserve labor” for the imperialists. The grim reality is that most labor unions in the US function under the auspices of AFL-CIO by paying membership dues. Hence, US labor is complicit in US imperialism.
Similarly, the Zionist entity practices the exact same approach in how it treats Palestine (both the land and its people). Palestinians serve as migrant workers in their own land. The apartheid regime grants Palestinians work authorizations to traverse through the apartheid checkpoints and serve as a cheap source of labor in the occupied territories. This outsourcing is largely done in the construction and stone industry, exposing Palestinians to the environmental hazards associated with such industries (e.g., cancer). And with the lack of ability to export their own goods, the Zionist regime exports Palestinian goods while usurping the surplus (i.e. profits). All of this is proliferated by the AFL-CIO investments in settlements, bonds, and other companies which enable Zionist settler expansion.
The battles that await unions to stop the genocide
“Imperialism is an international system of exploitation, and, we as revolutionaries, need to be internationalists to defeat it” – Assata Shakur
There is an ideological battle and material battle taking place within unions since the Zionist entity declared its intent to commit genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. One pertains to the support of freedom of speech and the other the right to disrupt work force majeure.
Unions in the US that tend to fight for social justice are often framed by delusionists as idealistic because their sole focus should allegedly be bread & butter (namely wages and health care). Clauses in union contracts that pertain to anti-discrimination, freedom of speech, and other civil protections are deemed a distraction from the pressing issue of wages, according to the delusional view. However, when membership dues, workers’ taxes, and pension funds contribute to the genocide, the right to speak against settler colonialism, against genocide, and to promote boycott, sanction and divestment (BDS) campaigns become a necessity. There are 37 states in the US that have anti-BDS legislation. Ironically, capitalism is allegedly predicated on free choice, yet US capitalism prevents people from choosing not to contribute to the Zionist regime’s economy. In periods of heightened Zionist aggression, unions that have decided to make outright statements, resolutions, and actions that support the BDS, the AFL-CIO has threatened them, while advocating that unions should focus solely on local issues. Local unions then have the obligation to fight the tyranny of AFL-CIO and its fascistic characteristics that are enabling the disciplining, defaming, and doxxing of graduate workers, the suspension of pro-Palestine organizations (e.g. Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine) from university campuses, and job offer revocation in a McCarthyite-like actions.
Acting against genocide is also respecting the mode in which resistance is defined by the people who are leading it, Palestinians. Palestinians define their future and progressive forces supporting them should respect how that liberation is defined by the Palestinians themselves. The armed struggle against settler colonialism and apartheid can be largely supported by the blocking of weapons shipments to the genocidal Zionist regime. While (most) Arab regimes are still debating how and when to send aid to Gazans, progressive activists have put their lives and jobs on the line to block arms shipments in San Francisco; in act of indigenous solidarity, indigenous tribes blocked Port of Tacoma; major trade unions in India encompassing more than 100 million workers have called their government to rescind agreements to supply the Zionist entity with Indian workers; Barcelona dockworkers refusing to load/unload ships carrying war materials to the Zionist entity; and most importantly, blocking the largest weapons supplier, Elbit Systems, and their various offices and factories. While Palestinians are being slaughtered, the least progressive must do is partake in the liberation struggle, even if it means losing one’s job – that is ultimately better than being imprisoned or killed.
In the words of Mohammed El-Kurd, “Across history, opposition to atrocities has not been met with applause. People who opposed injustices, who opposed colonialism, who opposed slavery were not met with congratulations, red carpets, applause, and awards. In fact, they were targeted, attacked, censored, smeared, and persecuted. It is not easy to be on the right side of history. It takes courage… You have a choice to be on the right side of history today. But the question is: Are you going to take it?”
Essam Elkorghli is a Libyan PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He researches Libya’s modern political history and contemporary imperialism in education. He is a labor organizer with the Graduate Employees’ Organization, assistant editor for Middle East Critique Journal, and a member of the Global Pan African Movement.