Analysis: Rank and file solidarity with Palestine

Mar 22, 2024

Analysis: Rank and file solidarity with Palestine

A protest against an arms manufacturer in Canada. (Photo: World Beyond War)

As human beings in Palestine are being slaughtered, Palestinian trade unions have appealed to workers internationally to stop the supply of arms to Israel's high tech war machine. In response, workers in Belgium and Spain have refused to handle weapons shipments, while in Canada workers in a number of cities have set up flying picket lines to disrupt business as usual at arms corporations.

In spite of these brave actions, indifference, hesitancy, and even hostility continue to be significant obstacles to the mobilization of rank and file workers in solidarity with Palestinians. Whether it is the frantic pace of the daily grind or a pervasive culture of siloing our work lives from the world around us, it really is no surprise that large numbers of workers in Canada are struggling to relate.

In tandem, the federal government is doing its best to pacify any and all anti-militarist sentiment through misleading pronouncements about commitments to peace, human rights, and most recently an apparent freeze on new weapons exports to Israel. Yet in spite of near daily assurances to the contrary, the flow of weapons under existing permits and through third countries like the US and the UK continues unabated, and so does the killing. For those unconvinced by such con-artistry, methodical intimidation and harassment await: the fist in the velvet glove.

To push back against this smothering business as usual being foisted on workers, we must start from the shop floor and the individual worker. A key step as we do this is the realization that the individual worker only exists and acts on the shop floor with others. Our individual efforts are combined to create things much bigger than ourselves – things that give our community and our society physical form. This collectivity is a key grounding principle for the labour movement, which at its best embodies the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all.

Working collectively, whether in our particular industry or within a specific geography, does not magically end at a national border. Our collective existence, aspirations, and solidarity are entwined with a multitude of people we have never met from around the world. They may be engaged in the same trade as we are such as machine operator, teacher, welder, nurse, delivery driver; or our workplaces may rely on parts, raw materials, or servicing by other workers. At the same time, in a grim usurpation and assault on this international solidarity, Canada exports death and destruction to people around the world as a top tier weapons producer. In Palestine, these weapons are being used to commit genocide in real time.

So what are we to do? Flying pickets blocking weapons corporations are an excellent start. As momentum builds, however, workers who are taking action have been encountering certain common misunderstandings, often from our fellow workers and union officials. What about the workers who make a living in the arms manufacturing plant? Are these workers in the same union as me? When well intentioned, questions like these are easy enough to answer. The worker operating the machine press, the lathe, the welding torch that assembles these weapons, neither owns nor is in charge of where these weapons go. As workers, like all workers, they receive a wage in compensation for their time, and return home to live their lives. It is often just by chance that their labour is being used to produce armaments rather than anything else – industrial workers rarely seek out jobs based on what they produce. With very few exceptions, workers seek out work based on more immediate concerns like wages, benefits, pace of work, and commuting time. So a flying picket line is not something directed against workers employed in an arms plant, but rather a potential connection point between them and workers outside of the plant, through the actualization of solidarity on the ground.

Of course, confusion can continue to arise from the apparent underlying contradiction that workers rely on the profitability of their employer while at the very same time being exploited by their employer. This contradiction can be quickly dealt with by reversing this logic and again looking at it from the position of the shop floor – is it corporate profitability that gives the worker employment, or is it the employed worker through their daily labour who creates the profit on which the employer relies? The point of all of this is that there is absolutely no reason to not support picket lines at arms corporations. Workers employed in the arms industry can and must stand in international solidarity with other workers, most notably workers in Palestine. Canadian workers owe nothing to the weapons they produce, and even less to the bosses who employ them.

As Palestinian people are massacred, workers in Canada have both the responsibility and the means at their disposal to take action to stop the flow of weapons to the Israeli war machine. Work to rule slows the production of weapons to a crawl; hot cargoing paralyses the transfer of weapons by workers refusing to handle arms shipments; strike action shuts production down completely by exercising and respecting the picket line. These are the tools of the worker and the labour movement to turn solidarity into action. As workers stand in solidarity beyond national borders, they can act in solidarity in their workplaces and communities. By collectively acting together and shutting down weapons production, we can shut down the ability of the Israeli war machine to carry out genocide.

Johannes Joachim is a pseudonym. Joachim is a Unifor transit operator who has been serving his community for the last 15 years and a member of Labour for Palestine Victoria. He has driven taxi on the night shift and Class 1 fuel trucks at the airport. Whether reading or hiking, writing or supporting a picket line, he believes it is together as rank-and-file workers that we can shape our future.

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