Friday, 21 April 2006

'Momentous occasion' as Palestinian and Israeli trade unionists meet

UNISON's Mike Kirby hosted 'momentous' meetings at the STUC bringing together reps from the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the Israeli Histadrut trade union federation http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/siu/aprmay06/4.html

"It is a momentous occasion to have representatives of the Histradut and the PGFTU together at the STUC", Mike told the congress in Perth.

UNISON Scotland had given financial support to make the dialogue possible and hosted a fringe meeting on workers' rights in Palestine, the Occupied Territories and Israel.

The PGFTU's Wael Natheef told delegates, "I am proud and honoured to bring greetings from your friends in Palestine".

He was grateful for the help of Scottish unions in the struggle to 'build democratic life' for the Palestinians. Unemployment stands at 50% and 70% of Palestinians live below the poverty line. 93,000 Palestinians have been thrown out of work because of the 'wall and green line' cutting them off from jobs in Israel.

The Histradut's Nawaf Massalha also thanked Scottish unions. "Colleagues, you have taken us into your hearts... to make it a very important few days with you."

Nawaf, an ex member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) spoke of the first agreement between the Histradut and the PGFTU in 1995. This needed to be built upon.

In a proud and direct statement Nawaf said, "I am against the humiliation of Palestinians, I support a Palestinian state".

Workers in Israel were suffering from the policies of the government but there may be some promise ahead with half of the Knesset now supporting decent pensions and a fair minimum wage.

Nawaf thanked the unions for their support and called on them to continue to help "For Israel and Palestine to be together as workers... We are more than neighbours".

Later, delegates were able to get round the table with the guests and debate a range of issues such as:

The huge travel and work problems faced by Palestinians created by checkpoints and military roads.
The effects of Israeli government divide and rule policies on stability for the Palestinians but also for Israeli workers.
The relationships between the largely Fatah PGFTU and the new Hamas government.
In conversations outwith the sessions, Wael spoke with pride of bringing together Israeli, Palestinian and French children to a summer camp organised by the French CGT union.

"These children are our future and we need to build understanding for the future", he said. The meetings ended in a firm agreement to build and drive forward union links and understanding.

"To hear this brave dialogue was humbling" was one delegate's response.

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