By Hélène Mulholland, The Guardian – 17 Sept 2009
Unions back consumer-led boycott of goods originating from illegal settlements
The TUC today backed a targeted boycott of Israeli goods originating from illegal settlements and an end to arms sales to Israel to ramp up the pressure “for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories”.
The decision to step up its position was triggered by widespread dismay by unions at the Israeli offensive in Gaza in January.
Reiterating the union’s condemnation of the offensive, Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, told union delegates that they “have a part to play” in seeing an end to the occupation, a dismantling of the separation wall and the removal of the illegal settlements.
In the most controversial motion to be debated at the four-day conference in Liverpool, Barber told delegates: “We believe that targeted action – aimed at goods from the illegal settlements and at companies involved in the occupation and the wall – is the right way forward.
“This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services, which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers but targeted, consumer-led sanctions directed at businesses based in, and sustaining, the illegal settlements.”
The motion produced by the TUC’s governing body was thrashed out in a prolonged meeting earlier today in an attempt to water down a tougher stance by the Fire Brigades Union, which called for a general boycott of Israeli goods.
The issue led to behind-the-scenes wrangles and rows in the general council before a revised, position was presented to congress this morning.
Delegates backed both the FBU’s motion and the general council statement, effectively agreeing to a watered down statement because the latter, drawn up by the TUC’s governing body, takes precedence in forming TUC policy.
The TUC statement condemned both the Israeli January offensive and the rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.
Barber said: “Both were unacceptable, and both have led to the UN investigation concluding that war crimes may have been committed.
“The blockade of Gaza, which continues to this day, is intolerable collective punishment.”
Tabling the FBU motion, Mick Shaw, the FBU president, said the general council statement did not go far enough.
“It’s not just an issue of a boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements. Firstly, we think that impractical. These goods do not come with a label which says ‘these goods are produced on an illegal settlement’.
“We feel we need to have discussions with Palestinian trade unions, discussions with the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council], where we can put most pressure on the Israeli government and to target a consumer boycott better.”
Speaking after the debate, Shaw said the TUC policy now in place “was an important shift” in reaction to the military action earlier this year.
“We will now try to identify goods and products where the most pressure can be put on the Israeli government to persuade them to change their policies.”
Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it was a “landmark” decision which followed a wave of motions passed at union conferences this year because of “outrage” at Israel’s “brutal war” on Gaza.