On the current conditions of the struggle of the Palestinian working class

This statement is reprinted from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

May Day: on the current conditions of the struggle of the Palestinian working class

George Habash, founder of the PFLP

George Habash, founder of the PFLP

On May 1 of every year, the Palestinian working class marches in its struggle for national liberation. Today, the Palestinian working class, an integral part of the working class of the world, stands steadfast in its struggle for freedom – despite living under siege and occupation, deprived of all rights, including the right to work and the right to seek employment.

The entire Palestinian people are subject to a collective punishment that not only deepens poverty and creates a crisis of unemployment but also continues the policy of the Zionist forces maintaining the Palestinian working class as a reserve army of labor.

Palestinian workers today are part of an ongoing and continuous struggle for liberation. This struggle, with Palestinian workers in the forefront, spans decades and centuries – from the factories in Haifa at the turn of the century and the early resistance to British colonialism, Palestinian workers have spurred the struggle for liberation onward. Palestinian workers in 1936 waged a historic general strike over a six-month period – the longest general strike in the world – as part of the revolt against British and Zionist colonialism.

Indeed, the Zionist movement has constantly attacked Palestinian labor and Palestinian workers, from the time of its inception. As Zionist colonialism spread in Palestine (in alliance with British colonialism) in the 1920s and 1930s, policies banning the hiring of Palestinian workers spread, at the same time that local Palestinian-owned small businesses were forced out of business by larger competitors, often Zionists – creating even more unemployment, in a deliberate attempt to impoverish and dispossess Palestinian workers in their own land. In addition, Palestinians under Jordanian rule were prevented from organizing labor unions by the Jordanian regime, and all attempts at labor organizing were ruthlessly suppressed.

These same types of attacks continue to this day, as siege and closure are used as weapons that first target Palestinian workers. Today, unemployment is once more a mechanism used against Palestinian workers in an attempt to separate them from their homeland. There is a 70% unemployment rate among university youth, and 50,000 unemployed university graduates, and 120,000 Palestinian workers without jobs. That number reached 200,000 after 3,900 factories were shut down out of the 4,000 factories operating, due to closure and siege.

At the same time that the oppression of Palestinian workers has always played a central role in Zionist colonialism and occupation, the Palestinian workers have always played a leading role in pushing the revolution forward and constantly building the resistance. Palestinian workers – and farmers and peasants – have always made up the main forces of the resistance, and Palestinian workers’ and labor organizations have played a key role in resisting occupation. The role of the Palestinian working class in the first Intifada was key, as labor organizations and trade unions and worker-led committees played a key role in organizing and coordinating resistance and protest. General strikes and mass closures of stores and factories, among many other activities of the Intifada, were coordinated by the labor unions, with broad participation and leadership of Palestinian workers. The Palestinian labor movement has given dozens of martyrs and countless prisoners from its leadership, as Palestinian union leaders have always been targeted for assassination and imprisonment.

Within the occupied lands of 1948, the Histadrut, the Zionist so-called “trade union”, played a key role as an agent of the zionist state rather than a workers’ organization. The slogan of “Hebrew labor” has governed the activities of the Histadrut, which for decades excluded Palestinian and Arab workers from its membership. At its inception, the Histadrut placed as its key goal “conquering” Palestine for Jewish labor – away from Palestinian Arab labor. For years, the Histadrut collected dues from Palestinian workers while providing them with no services. When, in the Oslo period, the Histadrut finally agreed to pay the Palestinian union federation, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, some compensation for the millions upon millions of dollars taken from Palestinian workers, the Histadrut soon abandoned its promise. The Histadrut has played an integral role as a part of the structure of the racist, colonial-settler state of Israel – rather than representing workers, it represents Zionist racism, and has, in fact, been an enemy of Palestinian workers. The role of the Histadrut has reflected that of the so called “Israeli left,” a so-called left that is founded on the racist principles of Zionism and finds no accomodation, solidarity or space for the liberation of Palestinian workers.

In addition, the Palestinian trade union sector of today is corrupted. It must be rebuilt, fully and completely, on a democratic basis with full participation of all forces. Palestinian workers need a leadership and an organization that represents them and the valor and steadfastness of their struggle. In addition, the Palestinian Authority itself has deprived Palestinian workers of their rights – refusing to pay salaries and wages to many workers, including teachers, engineers and employees of the general public sector, in an attempt to exercise political control over the political activities of Palestinian workers. Indeed, the Prime Minister of the Ramallah government is none other than Salam Fayyad, a former representative of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These organizations, known around the world for their anti-worker policies of forced corporatization and imposed “austerity,” have, in Palestine, played the same role they have elsewhere, of fostering exploitation and imperialism. The World Bank has been key in developing a plan to create so-called “industrial zones,” into which Palestinians, dispossessed of their land, would travel to work, in an environment geared toward foreign exploitation, rather than Palestinian economic development, and without trade unions or labor protection, in prison-like conditions, surrounded by the racist annexation wall.

Similar forces of repression have been arrayed against the Arab workers’ movement on a national level. The rise of hunger and poverty in Egypt graphically illustrates the dreadful conditions of Arab workers. Iraqi workers, organizing under and against occupation, face the threat of military occupiers and a puppet government, and vast exploitation exists of international workers in the Gulf. At the same time, the movement of Egyptian workers for their rights, against hunger and poverty, is an inspirational symbol of the rise of a revitalized Arab workers’ movement, as are the oil workers of Iraq, organizing and fighting despite occupation. Today, we salute all Arab workers in our common struggle against imperialism and exploitation. Arab wealth gained from oil resources can and should go to the workers who make such wealth possible, and to support the Palestinian cause – not to regimes and rulers who exploit Arab labor and seek to use the people’s resources for their individual interests.

On an international level, there have been tremendous victories for the working class in recent years, despite the international balance of power heavily favoring U.S. imperialism. Throughout Latin America, for example, workers’ and people’s movements have moved towards throwing off the shackles of imperialism and exploitation.

This May Day, we call upon the workers of the world and the international labor movement to support Palestinian workers in our struggle for liberation. The solidarity of working class forces around the world, particularly the workers of the United States, is needed. The Histadrut, a racist arm of the Zionist state that has done nothing but aid in the exploitation of Palestinian workers, should be boycotted and unwelcome at all labor functions. Israel Bonds are not a fit investment for a labor organization – they are an investment in a racist, colonial state. The U.S. labor unions hold billions of dollars in such bonds; now is the time to divest from Israel Bonds and make it clear that racism is the common enemy of all workers, around the world.

In addition, the labor unions of Europe have key roles to play in fostering solidarity with Palestinian workers. The ruling class in Europe, the U.S. and Canada support Israel – the organizations of workers can and should take their role in supporting the struggle of Palestinian workers for liberation and against racism and colonialism. Indeed, there have been promising and important developments, and we salute the workers and workers organizations that have taken part in the growing movement to demand the full international isolation of Israel, including economic boycott. Most recently, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers passed an important resolution at their most recent conference urging boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel because of its denial of Palestinian rights, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return, and including its repression against Palestinian workers, including postal workers who daily must brave numerous checkpoints merely to deliver the mail. Such initiatives are important and should be widely replicated by the international labor movement.

Today, the PFLP is calling upon the Palestinian left and Arab left to unify our forces into one working-class front. This is a historical moment for the left, and it is critical that we rise to our responsibility in defending the working class, and we are committed to working toward that end. Any victory for the Arab working class – and the international working class – shall immediately impact the Palestinian working class.

On May Day 2008, one hundred and twenty-two years after the first workers marched on May 1 through the streets of Chicago to demand an eight-hour workday and justice for our class, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine salutes the workers of Palestine, the Arab nation, and the world, in our common struggle against exploitation and oppression, to break the chains of Zionism and imperialism.

Victory to the workers of the world!

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