What way forward for the Palestine solidarity movement?

The Palestine solidarity movement of the last six months has brought tens of thousands regularly onto the street and many more who have been following events on social media.

By Kevin Henry

The Palestine solidarity movement of the last six months has brought tens of thousands regularly onto the street and many more who have been following events on social media. Understandably, the purpose of protests can seem unclear to some people who feel powerless to stop the horrific onslaught in Gaza. But the student protests in the US has made clear the effect that protests across the globe can have, giving confidence to Palestinians struggling against occupation and genocide. Protests with specific targets can also be seen as more purposeful, such as demands to expel the Israeli Ambassadors or challenging the biased coverage of the BBC and other media outlets.

There are thousands of people who had not previously joined protests or engaged in activism who are now becoming involved in the solidarity movement. While there are many solidarity groups including new ones formed in this movement, the majority of people at the protests are not involved in any group. In our view there is the need for the building of a broad movement, with democratic structures, involving those both inside and outside the solidarity groups, which can discuss not just the next protests but what strategy is necessary to build the most effective solidarity movement. 

Build for student occupations 

The development of the student encampment movement in the US is very important. We should seek to build solidarity protests with these students and workers including occupations here. Such protests/ occupations as well as showing solidarity should demand disinvestment of universities here from Israel  and demand that defender of genocide Hilary Clinton is removed as vice-chancellor at Queen’s University, which an overwhelming majority of students supported in a referendum. 

Boycotts: We need workers’ boycotts

Another important way the movement is likely to go forward is the question of boycotts. Already the boycott of Starbucks and McDonalds has had an impact on their stock value; indicating the wide scale support for the boycott. “Cultural” boycotts, of Eurovision or the Paris Olympics, can also be important in highlighting opposition to the genocide in Gaza, making clear that there will be ‘no business as usual’ and opposing the attempted normalisation of Israel.

To really undermine the regime what is needed is an escalation in the boycott movement including going from consumer boycotts to workers’ boycotts. This is particularly important in relation to the arms trade. Stocks going down in some companies is important but such consumer boycotts obviously won’t work against all companies or industries particularly those of arms companies, like BAE and Thales.

Historically, workers’ boycotts played an important role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, where for example Dunnes Stores workers in Dublin refused to handle goods from South Africa and were suspended by their employer. The struggle they waged ultimately forced the Irish  government to ban South African goods being imported. Today, in the face of the genocide in Gaza, the trade union movement should send out a clear message that they will fully support any worker or group of workers who refuse to move any goods which profit from the Israeli occupation. 

Protests outside sites can temporarily stop production. However workers in those industries have the capacity to stop production in a more long term manner. Transport workers in particular have enormous power to stop the movement of arms, as we have seen in the likes of Australia, Italy and Catalonia. We should try to work in a manner which seeks to bring workers closer to taking action inside workplaces. Our starting point, as groups have been doing, is to reach out to the workers including leafleting them and engaging them in discussion.

The attitude of some Trade Union leaders to the question of taking up the armaments industries is that the first principle must be the defence of jobs- even if those industries are connected to the genocide in Gaza. This is a flawed approach. The role of the Trade Union movement should not be to just represent the narrow interests of one group of workers, but rather the working -class as a whole. 

As part of this, the real concerns, including the fear of job losses must be addressed. The recent leaflet produced by activists targeting Spirit AeroSystems where fuselages for Ch-53K helicopters are produced is an example that we should follow. The leaflet made the point that during covid these same companies shifted to producing medical equipment. These workplaces could shift to alternative production, but the pursuit of profits by employers is a blockade to this. Workers have the right to fight to control what is produced in their workplaces, crucially that requires a fight for the company to be brought into public ownership and for democratic workers control of production. 

Struggle in the region key

The Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement takes inspiration from the movement that anti-apartheid boycotts. The movement gave confidence to people in South Africa that they were not alone and had an effect on the economy, however it’s a mistake to view that as being what actually brought down apartheid. The most important factor was mass resistance of the South African workers and youth over decades including with the explosion of the organised workers’ strikes in the 1980s that rocked the whole of South Africa. The same is true for Israel today, as we deal with elsewhere it will take mass revolutionary movements of Palestinians to win liberation, but the solidarity movement can play an important role in assisting to build confidence.

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