This week, activists from Palestine Action occupied a factory in Leicester building combat drones for Israel. The Israeli-owned Elbit itself says its drones are a “backbone” of the IDF. In fact, 80 percent of IDF drones, used in surveillance and attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, are supplied by Elbit Systems. The company has four subsidiaries and two joint ventures in the UK. It is to these factories sites that many Palestine activists have turned their attention in the UK.
On Wednesday, Palestine Action successfully shut down production at the Leicester site and received a huge outpouring of solidarity online. This included the Fire Brigades Union who refused to cooperate with the police operation to remove Palestine Action activists from the roof of the arms factory in Leicester.
The chair of Leicestershire FBU Graham Vaux, in a statement, said, “Union officials immediately reminded senior managers that as firefighters, we are, and remain, a proud humanitarian service and our role does not involve law enforcement.” The statement went on to say “The Fire Brigades Union stand in support of Palestinian solidarity and the right to protest.”
It has become abundantly clear that there is significant support and solidarity within the trade union movement for the Palestinian struggle. Just this week, in Italy, a workers’ union refused to load an arms shipment destined to Israel. After being informed of the ship’s destination and contents, Italian port workers decided to block it in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people. As governments like our own continue to collaborate extensively with Israel’s army and military industry, workers are increasingly taking a stand against such complicity.
A similar development took place in South Africa yesterday, when dockworkers refused to offload cargo from an Israeli ship in Durban. Members of the South African BDS coalition as well as Trade Unions will converge on the Durban port today to protest the docking of an Israeli ship. They will also celebrate the decision by members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) to boycott the offloading of the ship.
The trade union movement has a rich and proud tradition of standing in solidarity with global human rights struggles. In the 1970s, trade unions played a pivotal role in ending British complicity within apartheid South Africa. That spirit of solidarity has far from waded. Last year, the Trade Union Congress released a statement in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The statement called for the British government to end its arms trade with Israel and expressed clear support for a ban on trade with illegal settlements.
These positions embody the values of social justice and solidarity that the trade union movement was founded upon and serve us with an acute reminder that solidarity has no borders. Workers are demanding change; it’s time for the government to listen.