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Gaza Crisis (part 2) Union activism on the frontline

While British trade unions have played their part, joined by the 168-million strong International Trade Union Confederation and some of the Global Unions, the years of polarisation generated by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, means that there is a notable silence from some otherwise solidarity-minded quarters, most notably the US unions, which could do much to influence their government to take a more even-handed approach to human rights in the region. Searching the AFL-CIO federation website today, there are no entries at all on Gaza for the past month. Likewise the search term “Gaza” draws a blank at the Change To Win coalition web pages.

As ever, the trade union perspective is magnificently reflected in the diligent work of the hundreds of correspondents  who bring news daily to the LabourStart online activist website. A quick search of LabourStart highlights the tremendous amount of global union solidarity and activism as this crisis unfolds.

So what can we do? As well as supporting our Amnesty actions, unions are also offering tangible and concrete ways to make a difference. Humanitarian aid is, of course, urgent, and I am truly impressed by union efforts. On 7th January TUC Aid launched its appeal  for contributions to support emergency humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza. The same day the ITUC issued it’s own global appeal. By the 8th January a first trade union planeload of humanitarian relief, organised by the International Transport Workers Federation, with Palestinian and Jordanian support had landed in Egypt, delivering amongst other materials, three ambulances and medical supplies destined for the Palestinian Red Crescent in Gaza. Please support these initiatives.

Pressing though the humanitarian needs are, the solutions in the end will have to be political. Many are hoping that President Obama’s inauguration on 20th January will signal a shift in US policy, or that once the Israeli General Election on 20 February is out of the way the appetite for confrontation will diminish or be constrained. I am not optimistic, though I am in no sense an expert or pundit on these questions.

What does hearten me, though, is the realisation that there is more that we can demand; indeed insist upon, as citizens of Britain, Europe and the world. During Saturday’s demonstration, I was most struck by the calls from speakers for the European Union to suspend its preferential trade agreement with Israel. The EU is Israel's biggest importer of goods, and its second biggest exporter. In 2006 the total traded between the EU and Israel amounted to 23.5 billion Euros. One small activist group of cyclists at Peace Cycle have thousands of signatories to their petition to suspend the trade deal until humanitarian law and human rights are respected, and they are just one contributor to a wider movement to press for economic and political levers to be deployed in support of human rights.

Simon Tisdall, whose regular World Briefings articles and “Comment is Free” blogs in the Guardian I much admire, wrote a heartening piece in the yesterday’s paper, transferred from his blog of the previous day, that suggests that there is still much we should and could demand from our own government in terms of active intervention. Here is Krease Chan an Amnesty blogger on the subject. Goodness knows, the innocents of Gaza and of Israel deserve nothing less than our fullest commitment as this humanitarian and human rights disaster unfolds.

At this dismal time, I will give just one heads-up of a future theme I want to look at in this blog: the role of unions in conflict resolution. Amid the despair today, there’s lot’s to point to in terms of long-term achievement, including some perhaps surprising mediation by Amnesty…more on that later.

Finally, because I am new to this, I hope I haven’t overwhelmed the reader with links: I wanted to source what I have argued, but let me know if I have got the balance wrong: what matters my end, is human rights impact.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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