Meeting rumoured among Unite insiders for over a week crystallises – and union general secretary’s silence over slaughter of Gazan civilians continues
Unite’s elected executive (EC) has called an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss the union’s response to Israel’s mass slaughter of Gazan civilians – or rather non-response, since Unite’s general secretary appears to have been silent on it. A search of her social media for any mention of the words ‘Gaza’ or ‘Palestine’ returns zero results.
The lack of solidarity with the oppressed, let alone leadership, has infuriated branches and regional organisations of Unite, with several sending in or publishing openly outraged letters to Graham demanding action and a firm show of support for Palestinians.
And she has not merely been silent, but – as Skwawkbox exclusively revealed – used proxies to try, unsuccessfully, to cancel a Unite Palestinian solidarity fringe at Labour’s conference earlier this month. In addition, a statement Unite did make on Gaza outraged many by differentiating between the deaths of Israeli and Gazan civilians. Many saw it as another sign of Graham’s increasing behind-the-scenes cosiness with right-wing Labour leader Keir Starmer.
A letter from Unite’s Brighton branch is circulating ahead of the meeting, gathering signatures to pressure Graham and the EC into taking the right action against the ‘brutal and illegal siege’. The letter, which Skwawkbox understands already has the support of some EC members, reads:
Ms Sharon Graham, Unite the Union General Secretary
Unite Executive Council,
Ms Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary
Ms Bob Middleton, Regional Secretary
Ms Hayley Garner and Max O’Donnell-Savage (South East Region EC Members)
24 October 2023
Dear Sisters, Brothers, comrades,
Re: Unite the union’s position in relation to current genocide against Palestinian civilians
We call on our General Secretary, Senior Leadership, Executive Council and Officers to heed the call made by 18 Palestinian Trade Unions for international solidarity against war crimes that are currently being committed against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.
The world is witnessing genocide.
This summer, Unite backed the BDS campaign and affirmed;
“…the Union’s recognition that Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid, calls for an end to the UK Government’s proposed free trade agreement with Israel, and for support for BDS campaigns against companies complicit in supporting Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.
According to the United Nations over 5,000 innocent civilians have been killed since 7 October 2023, with more than 62% of the fatalities made up of women and children. Over 15,273 have been injured.
Further, the ongoing siege of Gaza, withholding the basic necessities for life such as food, water and electricity constitutes collective punishment, and is illegal under international law.
There is much more that can and should be done to protect Palestinian people from war crimes and genocide and to show basic solidarity with the Palestinian Trade Union movement.
Solidarity with Palestinian trade unionists and all civilians
Our branch of Unite (Brighton and surrounds SE / 6246) calls upon Unite leadership to respond to the urgent call for solidarity issued by Palestinian trade unions. Please see below link:
They say: “Palestinian trade unions call on our counterparts internationally and all people of conscience to end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes.”
The call further states:
“Israel has demanded that 1.1 million Palestinians evacuate the northern half of Gaza, whilst subjecting them to constant bombardment. This ruthless move is part of Israel’s plan, backed by unwavering support and active participation from the US and majority of European states, to carry out unprecedented and heinous massacres against 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza and to ethnically cleanse it altogether.”
This collective punishment of the population of Gaza has been encouraged by the British government which has made no criticism of Israels actions or its long history of systematic discrimination and violence against the Palestinians. No wonder Palestinians fear a second Nakba, or catastrophe, referring to the mass dispossession and ethnic cleansing of up to a million Palestinians in 1948 with the creation of the Israeli state.
The bombing of al-Ahli Baptist hospital, leaving at least 500 dead, underlines the horror of the Israeli assault on Gaza.
The coalition of Palestinian Trade Unions has called upon trade unions around the world to:
- Refuse to build weapons destined for Israel. This is relevant for Unite as Leonardo and Babcock, two employers where Unite is active and has recognition, have links with the Israeli military. Unite has endorsed BDS and it is essential that as a union we adhere to this by ensuring our members are supported by our union in refusing to make weapons that are being used for war crimes.
- Refuse to transport weapons to Israel. With considerable membership in the docking and shipping industry, we call upon Unite to honour this call by taking steps to encourage and support our members in refusing to build or transport weapons to Israel while it is so clearly committing acts of genocide.
- Pass motions to this effect in our trade union.
- Take action against complicit companies involved in implementing Israel’s brutal and illegal siege.
- Pressure governments to stop all military trade with Israel. The UK government has already signalled it will give military support to the Israeli state. We must oppose this in the strongest terms as a trade union.
Throughout history, trade unions have stood in solidarity with oppressed peoples across the world. We stand on the shoulders of Scottish workers in 1973 who refused to repair engines for the fascist coup of Chile by Augustus Pinochet, and more recently, in 2021, Italian dock workers of Livorno who refused to load arms destined for Israel. We as trade unionists have a duty to stand in solidarity with our fellow trade unionists in Palestine, and to oppose the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people in the strongest possible terms.
Unite the union statement dated 16 October 2023
We ask that Unite correct the statement issued on 16 October by reference to the following questions / points :
- Why has there not been a statement recognising and condemning the frequent attacks by Israel against Palestinian civilians ? By making a statement condemning the actions of Hamas but not doing so on the frequent occasions in which the Israeli state has undertaken atrocities you appear to place the lives of Israeli civilians above those of Palestinian civilians.
- Why has Unite referred to Israeli civilians as “innocent” but not Palestinian civilians ? All civilians (Israeli and Palestinian) are innocent. This appears, at first glance, to repeat and amplify a stereotype that Palestinians and Muslims are not and cannot be “innocent”. We ask that you correct this and explain why there is no reference to “innocent” Palestinian civilians.
- The statement ‘unreservedly’ condemns and expresses its ‘revulsion at the recent appalling acts of violence by Hamas’ whilst only managing to ‘deplore’ the deaths of Palestinians from Israel’s merciless bombing of Palestinian civilians ? Unite does not express its “revulsion” at the “appalling acts of violence” by the Israeli state at all. Why ? Unite appears to ignore well documented war crimes documented by neutral international organisations such as the UN, Amnesty International, Red Cross and many other respected bodies.
- Throughout the statement Unite refers to Israelis and Jews first and only secondly refers to Palestinians and Muslims. The first paragraph is the most glaring example and is problematic. Why ? There must be equality in language used because Israelis and Palestinians are equal and must be treated as such.
- At no point does the statement call for a ceasefire or seek to stop continued Israeli bombardment and war crimes against Palestinian civilians.
- Unite has not expressed support for Palestine Solidarity Campaign or Stop the War in your recent statement and ask that you do so immediately.
We urge Unite to stand with the Palestinian people in Gaza and beyond. Every trade unionist and every trade union should debate what steps can be taken to challenge British complicity with Israel’s war machine and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians and more importantly take action as a result. As a first step, we urge every trade unionist to attend demonstrations in support of the Palestinians along with their union banners to show they are not alone in their struggle for justice.
Action to support Palestinian trade unionists and prevent genocide
As trade unionists we must always stand on the side of justice, both in word and in deed.
We are calling on our senior leadership, executive committee and officers to respond to the call from Palestinian trade unions by:
- Supporting the clear message(s) contained within this letter at the emergency meeting of the Executive Council this Thursday and at any and all future Executive Council meetings and Unite meetings;
- Issuing a clear statement calling for an immediate ceasefire.
- Encouraging and pledging practical support to Unite members who refuse to build or handle weapons destined for Israel.
- Providing education about the occupation of Palestine to members in workplaces involved in the building and transportation of weapons destined for Israel, including video conversations with representatives from Palestine’s trade unions.
- Examining Unite’s contractual agreements to ensure we are not engaged in business with companies involved in implementing Israel’s brutal and illegal siege on Gaza, particularly military companies.
- Examining Unite’s investments to ensure we are not financing companies involved in implementing Israel’s brutal and illegal siege on Gaza, particularly military companies.
- Issuing a public statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and expressing support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel to bring it in line with its obligations under international law. This would be reiterating Unite’s policy of supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions that was agreed earlier this year.
- Make clear that Unite the union opposes and condemns Islamophobia (and specifically anti-Palestinian racism) as well as apartheid in Israel.
- Expressly supporting and attending demonstrations that oppose war crimes and genocide committed by Israel.
- Contacting Palestinian trade unions urgently and ask what material and political support Unite can offer and thereafter undertake any and all reasonable requests;
- Make a sizeable donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians;
- Make a sizeable donation to the prosecution of any politician or individual complicit in Israeli war crimes. You will be aware that the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has written a notice of intention to prosecute any UK politicians or those who hold a prominent position who aid and abet war crimes against Palestinian civilians.
In a time of overwhelming dishonesty from politicians and propaganda from complicit media to fan hunger for more war and to whitewash murder, the UK desperately needs unions and their leaders to step up and lead, providing stark and uncompromising commentary on the sickness and madness of our political-media establishment. So far, Sharon Graham appears to have provided none and indeed tried to distance Unite from solidarity with oppressed Palestinians.
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