By Tom Costello, Socialist Alternative Merseyside
A child dies every ten minutes in Gaza. 60% of homes sit in ruins. More than 80% of the population are internally displaced, as leading Israeli government ministers talk of a new round of ethnic cleansing.
In response, Britain has been rocked by a wave of mass protest. Close to a million took to the streets of London in November. At the January national demonstration, an estimated 500,000 took part. Local actions have taken place in cities, towns and villages all over Britain.
Important school and college strikes have taken place in a number of areas, such as in Luton in December, when students organised a walkout after discovering their college’s ties to the arms industry.
These protests have exposed the gigantic rift that exists between the interests of ordinary people and the capitalist establishment. While Sunak and Starmer happily spout Israeli state propaganda and line up with the bombing, polls say 71% back a full ceasefire.
Developing our movement
Four months into this mass movement we need to ask, what has our movement achieved so far? And where does it need to go next?
Undoubtedly, the protests have rocked the capitalist establishment. It is no coincidence that the biggest march in November saw the downfall of Suella Braverman. The global character of the protests, including in the US, also played no small part in the agreement of the temporary ceasefire in late November.
Starmer, who initially horrifically fully backed the “right” of the Israeli state to cut off water, food, fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza, has been forced to backtrack and express his support for the occupation with more caution. But clearly, we need to go further. The slaughter is continuing, with no change in course from the Netanyahu regime. Increasingly, people are becoming aware that marches, though necessary, are not enough, and are beginning to ask what other methods will have to be used to force a genuine, permanent ceasefire, an end to the occupation and real peace.
Some activists have begun to look towards the methods of direct action. Campaign groups like Palestine Action have targeted the offices of Elbit and ZIM as two companies tied closely to the Israeli war machine. More recently, Workers for a Free Palestine have organised blockades of BAE and other companies aiding the production of weapons, with the involvement of Socialist Alternative members.
Unions cannot sit on the sidelines
In October a coalition of 19 Palestinian trade unions made an international appeal, calling on workers worldwide to refuse to build and transport weapons destined for Israel.
Quickly afterward, dock workers’ unions in Catalonia, Italy and across Belgium issued statements following the call. These kinds of methods need to be maintained and deepened.
What makes action taken by workers through their unions more powerful than anything else is that it has the most potential to disrupt business as usual for the capitalist elite. The profits that the system relies on, which are often drawn from these destructive war industries, can be disrupted when workers down their tools and refuse to allow production to continue.
Many rank-and-file union members and activists clearly share a sense of deep solidarity with the Palestinian people facing bombardment. In November, Manchester firefighters and FBU members for instance refused to move Palestine solidarity protestors from the roof of Elbit’s factory.
Examples like these give a small glimpse of what would be possible, provided there is a lead for workers’ action.
Role of the union leaders
What would be needed to stop the bombings is a mass mobilisation of union members, prepared to take generalised strike action internationally. Unions must actively use their resources and profile to build for the demonstrations far above what they are doing today. Where workers face disciplinary measures for taking action against arms shipments, the wider movement must be prepared to mobilise in their defence.
Were this call made in defiance of the government and prepared at every level of the movement, it would leave the Tories paralysed, given the mass support for an end to the bombing and the government’s weakness. Leaders of the Trades Union Congress, however, have adopted a weak approach, issuing statements ‘condemning’ the massacre, while remaining silent on the need for concrete action. Our job is to force this to change. If leaders are not up to this task, we need to organise to replace them.
This is particularly incumbent on Unite, which organises around 80,000 of its members in the arms industry. Unite’s General Secretary Sharon Graham has, despite calling for a ceasefire, unfortunately remained silent on concrete steps.
A clear policy calling for retraining of workers into socially useful production without loss of pay and condition, based around nationalisation of the ‘defence’ companies, would ensure that we can show solidarity with the people of Gaza without job losses here.
Socialist Alternative members have prepared a model motion to be discussed in unions (see below), urging the workers’ movement to take the lead in organising mass resistance against the slaughter, as well as deepening and strengthening links with unions and campaigns in Palestine/Israel who stand against the occupation and supporting workers’ struggles on both sides of the Green Line.
We cannot simply sit and wait for our unions to take this approach. We need to make them act now. We need to build for the 7 February workplace day of action. Campaigns like Workers for a Free Palestine, have held ‘workers’ assemblies’ to coordinate between rank-and-file worker-activists about how to take action at the workplace level. These assemblies need to become a place to coordinate further: linking the recent arms factory blockades with walkouts and workers’ action in the arms and transport industries, building the profile of the mass demonstrations on the shop floor, and defending against any reprisals workers face for standing in solidarity with Palestinians.
The struggle against war must be a struggle against the capitalist system which drives it. International Socialist Alternative is fighting for international working-class solidarity in the struggle for socialist change, where the horror of this blood-soaked system is replaced with a democratically planned economy, based on solidarity, peace and meeting the needs of the majority.
Socialist Alternative members in the trades unions have put together a model motion (linked here), which can be used around conference season to stress the need for workers’ action and solidarity to stop the massacre in Gaza.