PCS Broad Left Network: ‘Our union must be stronger on Gaza’

This is an edited, shortened version of an article published by the PCS Broad Left Network

Around the world, millions of working-class people have erupted into anger at the murderous actions of the Israeli state, provoking demonstrations. The vast majority have no sympathy with Hamas, but are outraged by the killings and destruction of communities in Gaza. In the UK, in many cities and on almost every weekend since the invasion, there have been major demonstrations, many joined by UK-born Palestinians and the families of those who live in Gaza, who have tried to get their families out, or who have not been able to contact their families. Broad Left Network (BLN) supporters in PCS have supported all of these.

In London, PCS members asked union reps what else their union can do to force an end to the conflict, and to support members with family caught up in the crisis.

Most unions, including PCS, have published statements calling for an end to hostilities, and leaders have spoken on major demonstrations to call for the same. Unions in general can and should go much further, however, to mobilise the power of labour to force an end to the conflict, particularly given the role of PCS as the largest trade union in the UK civil service.

Several PCS branches and groups have been proactive in encouraging union members to join the demonstrations in London. This is a good first step and could be widened to other parts of the UK.

Leadership said no

It is with surprise, therefore, that supporters of the BLN on the PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) found themselves outvoted by the majority of the union’s NEC on this question.

The union’s NEC met on 6 and 7 December. The NEC majority, under president and now also general secretary-elect Fran Heathcote, voted against a proposal by assistant general secretary John Moloney to work to broaden out these demos across the UK.

The majority Democracy Alliance grouping (which includes the Left Unity group) also opposed a donation to the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) appeal to support international unions’ efforts to get medical supplies and food in to Gaza.

They further opposed a proposal to hold a national lunchtime online meeting to publicise the union’s position on the Gaza conflict, which was intended to have a Palestine Solidarity Campaign speaker.

At the NEC meeting, the question of a small number of resignations from the union over the Gaza statement was raised as a reason not to do more for Gaza.

Branch reps have told us that a very small number of resignation letters have been received denouncing the union for “supporting Hamas”, which is simply not true (see PCS Statement on Israel and Gaze at pcs.org.uk).

Any time the union takes a strong position on questions that matter to workers, a small number of people will not like it and some prefer to resign from the union rather than engage with the union’s democratic processes, including members’ meetings.

Union must lead

This is not a reason to shrink from a robust defence of the lives of Palestinians facing the destruction of their homes, communities and lives.

We call on the union’s NEC to reverse their position, to agree the donation to the ITF appeal, to agree to organise workplace and city or town demonstrations, in concert with other parts of the labour movement and national campaign organisations such as Stop the War Coalition, to call for a ceasefire, and to organise a national PCS meeting to explain the union’s position and what members can do, with a speaker from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Our union, in particular, must be more proactive in ensuring that civil servants are protected from the government’s attempts to politicise civil service workplaces by projecting the Israeli flag on to buildings, and from any activity which may be in breach of UK or international law, including having any role in the transfer of weapons to a state that is clearly attacking civilians.

Much more than this, we need to work across the entire labour movement to increase the numbers on demonstrations. Trade unions, the largest membership-based organisations in the UK, and representatives of the ‘sleeping superpower’, the working class, have a crucial role to play in this, and should name the day for a national day of action – following the example of school and college students – for workers to unite on the streets in protest at our government standing by while Gazans are slaughtered.

This requires national coordination across all trade unions. PCS could take this up with the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The defence of any group of workers in the UK who strike to block arms to Israel must also be raised.

We also need an organised political opposition to the Israeli armed offensive. Keir Starmer’s stance shows clearly that the Labour leadership is unwilling to play this role.

Trade unions could convene an open meeting under a ‘Stop the War’ umbrella, drawing together all socialist political forces, including MPs and councillors who have called for solidarity with Palestine and who oppose the invasion, to organise political opposition.

  • See bln.org.uk for the full article