As others move into action on Gaza, the Canadian Labour Congress stumbles badly

PV Labour Bureau  

“An injury to one is an injury to all!” For well over a century, workers in Canada and the US have repeated this slogan as one which crystalizes what the labour movement is all about. It speaks of the need for working class unity against corporate attacks, but it is also a call to action to defend any and all who are victimized by the bosses and their policies. As such, it is a union slogan which also projects the political necessities of unity, solidarity and internationalism.

Of course, the path from expressing a slogan to putting it into action is often long and winding, and the contradictions of class society place several obstacles along the way. Some of the biggest barriers are international borders. Building working-class internationalism typically means cutting through the tightly woven curtain of “national identity” which coerces us into placing “God, King and Country” before class.

The response of the global labour movement to Israel’s genocidal siege of Gaza is a blunt example of this challenge, and it highlights the central importance of international labour unity and solidarity with Palestine.

Within five days of the Hamas attack on October 7 and the start of Israel’s murderous response, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) launched a global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The organization, which represents over 105 million workers in 133 countries around the world, called on its affiliates and all unions to immediately mobilize actions, protests and demonstrations against the siege of Gaza.

In response, hundreds of thousands of working people in at least 30 countries throughout the world (including the US) organized emergency actions, hitting the streets in militant solidarity with the people of Palestine.

The WFTU then called for a Global Day of Labour Action on November 29, coinciding with the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. That day saw mobilizations throughout the world by labour, anti-war and solidarity organizations, involving millions of people including in communities across Canada.

Consistent and principled support and solidarity with the Palestinian people has always been a priority for the WFTU, which understands the root cause of the current crisis to be Israel’s occupation and illegal settlement of the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as the continuous criminal aggressions and blockades which Israel has committed against the Palestinian people for decades.

With such a longstanding global voice for working-class internationalism and solidarity, we might expect the labour movement in Canada to take a leading role in the massive ongoing mobilizations by anti-war and solidarity organizations in this country. Unfortunately, while working people are in motion, calling for a ceasefire and end to the genocide, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has sat shamefully silent.

Even now, the CLC has only made two public “statements” about the genocide in Gaza, neither of which were its own initiative. On October 13, it reposted on its website a seven-sentence statement from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a conservative labour body of which the CLC is a member, calling for “a ceasefire by all parties” and supporting the UN call for “a major humanitarian effort for the people of Gaza” and calling on “all governments to strive for peace.”

Reposting another organization’s statement isn’t a problem – but that’s all the CLC did. It was an utterly insufficient response, which was followed by absolutely nothing until January 16, when the CLC stated its support for the ITUC’s call for a ceasefire and called on the Canadian government to fund the International Labour Organization’s programs in support of Palestinian workers.

“We strongly believe that supporting the demands of the workers in the region is how we, as Canada’s unions, are best placed to respond to the crisis and push for a just and lasting peace,” said CLC President Bruske at the time.

But Palestinian workers have since October been calling for mobilizations, protests, blockades and other labour actions to oppose and block Israel’s bloody actions. This is precisely what the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), General Union of Palestinian Teachers, General Union of Palestinian Women, General Union of Palestinian Engineers and Palestinian Accountants’ Association asked of the international labour movement in a joint appeal on October 16.

Why then has the CLC organized or supported none of these demands of the workers in the region? Why did it wait three months before publicly calling on the Canadian government to act – and even then, only calling on Ottawa to fund the ILO and failing to demand that Canada work for a ceasefire and withdrawal by Israel?

While the CLC has sat silent, many of its affiliated unions moved quickly to help build action.

The Hamilton and District Labour Council called for an immediate ceasefire and further called on the Canadian government to impose an arms embargo on Israel. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers Local 580 condemned Canada’s complicity and support for Israel and called on its members to build rallies in solidarity with Palestine and take action against companies that aid the manufacture and delivery of arms to Israel. BC’s Hospital Employees Union called on the government to take action for an immediate ceasefire and end to the siege, as well as to support Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution for war crimes. The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, in direct response to an appeal from Palestinian unions, condemned Ottawa for refusing to call for a ceasefire and continuing to ship arms to Israel and demanded that the government reverse these policies immediately.

As the genocide has continued, the CLC seems to have doubled down on inaction. Where was it when unionized workers – members and leaders of its own affiliates – were under attack by those who want to silence critics of Israel’s genocide?

Even when its major affiliates organize jointly, the country’s largest labour federation remains absent.

After Minister of International Development Ahmed Hussen announced – on the same day the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s siege of Gaza is “plausible genocide” – that Canada was suspending additional funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), six labour unions representing over 2 million workers issued a joint statement calling on the federal government to reinstate funding.

The statement was signed by five CLC affiliates – the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees, National Union of Public and General Employees, Public Service Alliance of Canada and United Steelworkers – as well as Unifor, which is not affiliated. The five affiliates collectively represent more than half of the CLC’s total membership, yet the CLC neither signed the statement nor referenced it on its website.

In fact, the CLC has made no public comment about the government’s cuts to – and attacks on – the UNRWA, which is the main agency providing humanitarian aid to Gaza and upon which some 2 million people rely for their survival. United Nations representatives, humanitarian organizations and several governments around the world have all warned that the cuts to UNRWA funding – which were imposed by Canada as well as the US, Britain and other Western states – will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The agency’s funding is expected to run out by the end of February – the cuts to UNRWA must be repealed, and funding restored and increased.

Currently, as Israel prepares for a ground assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, the WFTU is calling for labour action to push the UN and international community to prevent “a new Nakba,” referring to the violent mass displacement of Palestinian people from their land in 1948. It argues that as Israel’s aggression intensifies, working-class solidarity must intensify as well.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has responded to Israel’s preparations for a ground assault in Rafah, by calling for a “sustainable” ceasefire and a hostage exchange. Joly’s statement continues the Canadian government’s qualification that a ceasefire must be “sustainable,” as a way to place equal responsibility on Hamas and Israel and minimize the latter’s genocidal actions.

When the International Court of Justice determined over two weeks ago that Israel was committing a “plausible genocide” in its siege of Gaza, it outlined a series of immediate measures which Israel needed to implement. Israel has ignored the court’s ruling, and the Canadian government continues to shirk its responsibility, as a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention, to take action to implement the ICJ measures and prevent genocide.

Sadly, the Canadian Labour Congress is also shirking its responsibility – to stand up and lead the fight in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Working people across this country are outraged at Israel’s genocidal actions and disgusted with Ottawa’s ongoing complicity and outright support. They expect and need to demand more and better from the CLC at a time when 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in a genocide, with hospitals destroyed, Gaza in ruins, the population starving and another mass slaughter about to unfold in Rafah.

Around the world, the demand is for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the siege and the occupation, and the creation of a Palestinian state as called for by the UN, based on the 1967 boundaries with East Jerusalem as the capital and with the right of return.

Silence is complicity. It’s time for labour to speak up and be heard: “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

Support socialist media!

If you found this article useful, please consider donating to People’s Voice or purchasing a subscription so that you get every issue of Canada’s leading socialist publication delivered to your door or inbox!

For over 100 years, we have been 100% reader-supported, with no corporate or government funding.

Sign up for regular updates from People's Voice!

You will receive email notifications with our latest headlines.