Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Protesting Somewhere Near-ish the Israeli Embassy

Here we are, protesting against Israel Railways' threat to sack Arab workers.

I had been told in advance that we would be stuck in a pen on the other side of the road. But I had assumed that this meant the other side of the road that the Israeli embassy was on. Oh no: it was the other side of a completely different road! We couldn't even see the embassy!

When Bob Crow tried to knock on the embassy's door to follow up his letter asking for a meeting, he was stopped by a couple of serious-looking chaps carrying what looked very much like sub-machine guns.

Nonetheless, we made some noise and alerted passers-by to the issues. More importantly, Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and campaigners know that we organised this action, which will boost their fightback against this racist policy.

The pressure of the workers' campaign and the international support it is attracting may be starting to gain results. The Labour Court has ordered Israel Railways to review its policy giving consideration to equalities legislation. Israel Railways has submitted a new policy, which backs down a little, but still discriminates against Arabs, and will still lead to some Arab railworkers losing their jobs. So it is round one to the workers, but with some more rounds to go before we win outright.

I am particularly pleased with this protest because it comprised trade unionists taking action directly in support of trade unionists in another country. That might not sound a big deal, but it is actually quite different from what most unions do. How so? Most trade unions 'contract out' international campaigning by simply funding campaign groups and circulating their stuff. It gets them out of having to do something more practical and effective.

Moreover, on the issue of Israel, many unions are content to support boycotts instead of taking action, as though encouraging a few members to have an ethically-pure shopping list is enough to not have to bother with any real solidarity.

As in most unions, no doubt, many RMT members can be cynical about international campaigns, especially if the union is not doing enough to win better pay and conditions for its own members, seeming pre-occupied with 'irrelevant' matters abroad. But a campaign such as this one can overcome that cynicism, as it is in direct solidarity with people like them - with rail workers facing discrimination and threats to their jobs.

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