A British fire fighter union is calling for sanctions and a complete boycott of Israel, months after forming a new global movement along with its Israeli counterpart.
The Fire Brigades Union has also urged Britain’s 6.5-million member Trade Union Congress to distance itself from its counterpart, the Histadrut Labor Federation, for not condemning Operation Cast Lead.
The Fire Brigades Union asked the Trade Union Congress to “carry out a review” of its relationship with the Histadrut at the Trade Union Congress annual conference in Liverpool next month.
Motion P76 submitted by the Fire Brigades Union, which represents around 85 percent of UK fire fighters and support staff, calls on the General Council of the Trade Union Congress to condemn Israel for the Gaza operation and “ongoing blockade in contravention of international law.”
It comes months after the Fire Brigades Union worked closely with the Israeli fire fighter union to form the International Fire Fighter Unions Alliance to represent fire fighters globally, which was set up shortly after the IDF offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The alliance’s slogan is “Stronger together.”
The sanctions call has been questioned by Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP). The new organization works with Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists and non-governmental organizations to find practical ways to respond to Israel-boycott calls.
TULIP’s Eric Lee has accused the Fire Brigades Union of having a “split personality.”
“The irony here is that two months after the Gaza war – which supposedly made Israeli unions pariahs – unwelcome in the international trade union movement – the Fire Brigades Union happily joined forces with an Israeli union and just 10 other unions to launch a global federation of fire fighters unions,” Lee said. “I can’t imagine why they think it’s appropriate for them to work with Israeli trade unionists, but are calling on the TUC [Trade Union Congress] to ‘review’ its links with the Histadrut. It’s almost as if the FBU [Fire Brigades Union] had a severe case of split personality.”
In response, Mick Shaw, president of the Fire Brigades Union, said his group was “merely” calling for the Trade Union Congress to “review” links with the Histadrut. “As an affiliate of the TUC, we are part of the international trade union movement and recognize that Histadrut is also a part of that movement. We therefore participate in international organizations and their conferences alongside Histadrut, including this year at both the International Fire Fighter Unions Alliance and the European Federation of Public Service Unions. We merely call in our motion for the TUC to review their links with Histadrut,” Shaw said in a statement.
The Fire Brigades Union wants the Trade Union Congress to review its links with the Histadrut based on evidence from the fringe Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the findings of a delegation of Scottish Trade Union Congress members who visited the region in February with a view of boycotting and calling for sanctions against Israel.
At the time the delegation said it was meeting trade unionists in Israel and the Palestinian territories to “investigate the merits of supporting a boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against the State of Israel until it complies with international law and agreed human rights principles.”
“The debate within the FBU followed officials from within the union having participated in delegations to the Occupied Palestinian Territories organized by both the Scottish Trade Union Congress and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign; and reporting back their findings,” Shaw said.
Asked why the Fire Brigades Union was happy to work closely with the Israeli fire fighter union soon after the Gaza conflict but was now calling for sanctions and boycotts against Israel, Shaw said the Fire Brigades Union recognized, and sought to work with, “progressive elements” within Israeli society.
“In line with a resolution passed at our 2005 annual conference, we recognize “…that there are progressive elements within Israeli society, both within the working class and trade union movement, and political parties who strive for peaceful coexistence with the Palestinian people and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.” We would seek to positively engage with such elements,” he said.
The Fire Brigades Union motion also calls for the Trade Union Congress to condemn the Histadrut statement of January 13, 2009, which supported the Gaza operation, and pressure the British government to take several actions against Israel. These include ending all arms trade with Israel, imposing a ban on produce imported from the West Bank and suspending the European Union’s preferential trading terms with Israel.
The Fire Brigades Union also wants the Trade Union Congress to use its influence with the British government to make representations to the international community to secure support for a negotiated settlement “based on justice for the Palestinians,” and to build solidarity with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.
The fire fighter union has also called for the Trade Union Congress to affiliate with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and to develop an effective “Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions” campaign.
The Trade Union Friends of Israel said the Fire Brigades Union motion would isolate the Trade Union Congress internationally, and called for the TUC to develop relationships with Israeli and Palestinian unions.
“Unfortunately, the FBU has taken a divisive and negative position,” said Stephen Scott, director of Trade Union Friends of Israel. “This would only serve to isolate the TUC internationally and goes against all efforts of trade union solidarity.
“Instead, I would urge the FBU, and other TUC affiliates, to develop relationships between their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts as a way of progressing peace and cooperation in the region,” he said.