[The following three documents are statements by Palestinian trade unions in the occupied West Bank. For information about trade-union struggle under occupation, we refer the reader to Simon Traggart’s booklet, Workers in Struggle ‒ Palestinian Trade Unions in the Occupied West Bank, Editpride, London, 1985, which was reviewed in Khamsin journal no 12. As Traggart explains, the West-Bank trade-union movement split along political lines into two groupings. Somewhat confusingly, both claim, and continue to use, the old pre-split title, “The General Federation of Trade Unions in the West Bank”. The first document below, dated 1 May 1988, was issued by the more left-wing group, whose political thinking is close to that of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian Communist Party. The remaining two documents are by the group whose political sympathies tend to al-Fatah.]
1. The General Federation of Trade Unions in the West Bank Statement
1 May 1988
The daily intensification of the Palestinian national uprising against the Zionist occupation will continue until it results in achieving the national rights of our people: the right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state under the leadership of the PLO.
As the uprising intensifies, the occupation army and settler forces are also escalating their repressive and fascist measures: shooting to kill; using poison gases; breaking bones; detention without charge or trial; mass arrests; a starvation policy of blockading foodstuffs, fuel, water and electricity; destroying and sealing homes; and a “scorched earth” policy of uprooting olive trees. And while doing all this, they lift a hand against the press to stop it from reporting to the international community.
The Palestinian working class and its trade-union movement is bearing the brunt of many of these fascist measures. More than 70 workers have been killed and hundreds injured by bullets or beatings; thousands are being held in detention camps under arrest or administrative detention. These live in difficult, inhuman conditions resembling concentration camps.
Eight out of the eleven members of the Executive Committee of the General Federation have been arrested, including the General Secretary, Mahmud Ziadah, as well as Khamis abu-Daba’at, Radwan Ziadah, Ibrahim Khader, Suleiman Rihani, ‘Umar Zidani and ‘Adnan Kilani. More than 50 other members, including members of the Federation’s Council, secretaries of branch unions, members of Administrative Committees and active unionists, have also been arrested.
Hundreds of Palestinian workers are being dismissed from their Jobs under the pretext that they have participated in the uprising and gone on strike; these receive no compensation and sometimes not even the wages due to them. On the job, Palestinian workers face a harsh form of apartheid, beatings and insults at Israeli work-places.
Many union centres have been closed for two years by Israeli military order. They include the following:
- Construction Workers (Tulkarm, Jenin, Nablus)
- Public Institution and Municipal Workers (Tulkarm, Nablus)
- Public Service Workers (Jenin)
- Drivers and Maintenance Workers (Jenin)
- Iron and Aluminium Workers (Jenin)
- Public Institution Workers (Hebron)
- Iron and Maintenance Workers (Hebron)
- Assistance Engineers (Hebron)
- Quarry Workers (Hebron)
- Food Products Workers (Nablus)
- Olive-Wood and Public Carpentry Workers (Bethlehem)
- Construction and Public Institution Workers (Ramallah, Ya’bad, ‘Arabah, Dura, Bani Na’im, Deir Ghasun, Qabatya)
Union offices in Jerusalem have been frequently raided; union activists’ homes have been broken into and their family members arrested.
The General Federation of Trade Unions in the West Bank calls on all trade-union federations throughout the world as well as on international legal and humanitarian bodies to intervene immediately and effectively to stop the repressive, senseless measures practised by the Zionist occupation against all of our Palestinian people and primarily against the working class and trade-union movement.
[The document concludes with a list of names of 15 union secretaries who are under administrative or preventive detention.]
2. Appeal to Labour Unions throughout the World
Brothers and Sisters, our Comrades,
The Palestinian people as a whole, the workers, trade unions and leadership in the occupied territories are under most brutal attack by the Israeli occupiers. This attack attempts to destroy any chance for a just peace and denies the Palestinians’ national rights to an independent Palestinian state where all people can live in dignity.
In our unremitting suffering under Israeli occupation, we ask you, our comrades, to stand by us in solidarity, in order to put an end to repressive Israeli measures, including the killing of innocent children, women and old people. The occupation forces can never destroy our belief in the justice of our struggle.
From the heart of the occupied Holy Land we ask you to pressure your governments to force Israel to recognize the inalienable national and human rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination and to establish our own independent state on our national soil under the leadership of the PLO, our sole legitimate representative.
We ask you to take the following measures in support of our struggle for freedom from occupation:
- Boycott Israeli-produced goods.
- Boycott Israel transport services (ships and aeroplanes).
- Take all possible measures to force the Israeli government to allow the importation of Palestinian goods, especially Palestinian agricultural products, into your country.
Finally, we ask that your union take a stand against the continued Israeli occupation and issue a statement to this effect.
Shaher Sa’ed, General Secretary
General Federation of Trade Unions in the West Bank
3. The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) in the West Bank
The GFTU in the West Bank comprises 54 different unions with a total membership of 75,000 workers in various occupations in the West Bank.
Some of the unions included are the following: Assistant Engineers, Health Services, Construction Workers, Municipal Workers, National Public Employees, Rubber and Leather Workers, Carpenters, Iron Workers, Soap factory Workers, Stonemasons, Printers, Electricity Workers, Hotel Workers, Transport and Mechanical Workers, Sewing and Wool Workers, Bakers and Confectionery Workers, and the Jabal Dawud Hospital Workers uin Bethlehem.
Despite strong Israeli discouragement of membership, approximately 55 per cent of West Bank workers are unionized. Some $20 billion [sic] paid during 1967-86 as taxes to the Israeli trade union, the Histadrut, brought no benefit to Palestinian workers; benefits are allocated on the basis of citizenship and West-Bank and Gaza residents are not Israeli citizens.
The federation has three committees that determine major union policy. They are:
- The General Assembly. Consisting of 538 members selected from the constituent unions, it is the major committee and decides the Federation’s policy and plans. The General Assembly normally meets once a year, but the Israeli authorities have banned meetings since 1986.
- The Council. Consisting of 138 members selected from the General Assembly, it discusses and decides the Federation’s plans and budget. The Council normally meets once a month, but ten out of its 12 meetings in 1987 were arbitrarily cancelled by the Israeli authorities.
- The Executive Committee. Consisting of 13 members elected by the Council, it carries out all the plans and activities of the Federation.
The GFTU in the West Bank is independent. It is a member of the Federation of Palestinian Unions, whose headquarters are in Tunis. It is also a member of the Arab Federation of Trade Unions.
The Federation regards the PLO as sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people wherever they live.
Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967, the Israeli authorities have placed many restrictions on the freedom of unions and of unionists’ activities. Suppressive and punitive measures include the following:
- Deported unionists include Zakaria Hamdan, General Secretary of the GFTU in the West Bank (1968); Jibril Rujub, member of the Arab Journalists Association, Jerusalem (1988); Husam Khader, member of the National Public Employees Union, Nablus (1987); and Jamal Jebarah, member of the National Public Employees Union, Tulkarm (1987).
- Administrative detention. Israel uses this procedure despite international condemnation of internment without trial. [The document gives the names of 11 people who are among unionists detained during the current intifada (uprising).]
- Security detention. In February 1988, there were 45 union members detained for periods of 18-96 days.
- Raids. The Israeli authorities have periodically raided the offices both of individual unions and of the Federation. On 8 January 1988, they raided the Federation office, arresting six people.
- Interrogations. Many union members and activists have been interrogated about normal union activities.
During the Intifada 10 per cent of those killed by Israeli soldiers, 60 per cent of those injured and 50 per cent of those arrested have been workers.
Shaher Sa’ed, General Secretary
General Federation of Trade Unions in the West Bank