Monthly Archives: May 2005

2005.05.23: Reconstructing Internationalism with Labor For Palestine (Electronic Intifada)

Reconstructing Internationalism with Labor For Palestine
Zachary Wales, The Electronic Intifada, 23 May 2005

Those who follow Palestinian activism, from the McCarthyist “Campus Watch,” to the intrepid Jews Against the Occupation, are aware that Labor For Palestine (LFP) has emerged over the past year as a new campaign in labor internationalism. Yet as LFP prepares for its first national conference in Chicago on July 23, 2005, few know how it began.

Officially, LFP was born in June 2004 when I met Michael Letwin in Manhattan’s Union Square to discuss drafting the Open Letter, LFP’s founding document. Letwin’s unrelenting pro-Palestinian advocacy had recently cost him his presidency of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325. It came down to a choice between title and conscience, he recalled, and “which one I would rather have when the day is over.” Across from where we sat, the Virgin Music Store stood like a garish backdrop for Union Square’s arena of musicians without record labels, dancers without agents, farmers without franchise supermarkets — we were off to a good start.

But the notions behind LFP were in the works long before this. They started in South Africa, where an international divestment movement in the 1980s threw a wrench in apartheid’s brutal turbines, yet where people still vanish in the night over political struggles like water privatization. Johannesburg is where academics are screened. Soweto is where Reagan-era “terrorists” form community crisis committees to defy corrupt authorities. It was where, two years ago, at a freezing August meeting in the Workers’ Library, people began speaking of a U.S.-based solidarity campaign for Palestinian workers.

The notions arrived in the U.S. in late 2003, and ruminated through the midnight hours in Al-Awda’s Brooklyn office for months to come. They were articulated at conference panels about apartheid and the AFL-CIO’s estimated $5 billion Israel Bond investments, or in the memory of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which blocked South African cargo from entering San Francisco’s docks in 1984. By the time it debuted at the Million Worker March in October 2004, LFP had a global following.

As the LFP Open Letter states, “international solidarity, the right of national self-determination and social justice are among the most basic trade union principles.” Those principles, also known as working-class internationalism, emerged as early as the 17th century and eventually heralded the anti-slavery movement.(i) By 1864, workers from Poland, Germany, Italy, France, Britain and Switzerland convened in London to found the First International, driven by Karl Marx’s dictum, “Proletarians of all countries unite!”(ii) This was the beginning of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), which was affirmed in two successive conventions, and which inspired other global labor collectives, such as the Wobblies — the Industrial Workers of the World — who established themselves in Chicago in 1905, and gave rise to the legendary labor martyr, Joe Hill.

The IWA, however, did not have an unblemished historical record, if its overtly masculine profile is anything to go by. Despite its noble worldliness, the movement was often tainted with bigotry and xenophobia. One well-known agent of this abuse was the American Federation of Labor’s (now the AFL-CIO) founder, Samuel Gompers, who told the 1898 Anti-Imperialist League, “How vital then is the importance of saving American labor from the evil influence of close and open competition of semi-barbaric laborers in the Philippine Islands?”(iii) Likewise, following World War I, white mine workers in South Africa formed armed commando units, one of which used the slogan, “Workers of the World Unite, and Fight for a White South Africa.”(iv)

These fallacies were familiar to Tony Cliff, who was born into a Zionist Jewish family in Palestine in 1917, and later founded the Socialist Workers Party. Internet-based biographies on Cliff note how early on he was puzzled by the way that Zionist activists smashed Arab farmer market stalls in the name of “Jewish produce only,” or how Zionist trade unionists promoted “Jewish labor only.” In this light, Israel’s kibbutz-style “socialism” was an existential farce, particularly because it was built on stolen Arab lands.

But as Lewis L. Lorwin writes, the real legacy of the IWA was inside peoples’ heads, and it spawned “the tradition to which the movements of a later day turned for inspiration and to which they were eager to trace their own ideas and doings.”(v) As a campaign, LFP is a part of that consciousness, that ongoing deliberative process of interrogating the principles of labor internationalism. Or, as Brenda Stokely, the president of New York’s AFSMCE DC-1707, said at LFP’s launch last year, “In the same vein that DC-1707 has stood, and still stands up for Jews as a persecuted minority in the U.S., so it is time to stand up for Palestinians, the persecuted minority of our world today.”

The very essence of LFP is to apply the critical, revolutionary lens of labor activism to the plight of Palestinians who endure the catastrophe of Israel’s division, dispossession and ethnic cleansing. It is these workers who raise children under the anarchy of sniper bullets and home demolition, who freeze or suffocate at meaningless “security” checkpoints, who endure the multi-fold indignities of occupation. They are women and men, Christian, Muslim and secular, and they are workers like any of us.

The day-long LFP First National Conference will take place at Truman College in Chicago, Ill., and will coincide with the AFL-CIO’s week-long quadrennial convention. The event will include speakers on topics ranging from academic persecution, to organizing labor delegations to Palestine. Finally, the conference will debut two new documentaries: The first is titled “Breaking Walls,” and was produced in 2004 by a delegation of European trade unionists. The second, titled, “Bonds of Disaffection,” examines the historic, contradictory relationship between U.S. labor and Israel.

More Information
# Labor for Palestine, Web:, Email:

Zachary Wales is a journalist and masters student in social policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

End Notes

i Linebaugh, Peter and Rediker, Marcus. The Multi-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon Press, 2000.

ii Frank, Dana. “Where is the History of U.S. Labor and International Solidarity? Part I: A Moveable Feast.” Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas Volume 1, Issue 1, 2004: p. 100.

iii Scott, Jack. Yankee Unions, Go Home! How the AFL Helped the U.S. Build an Empire in Latin America. Vancouver: New Star Books, 1978: p. 93.

iv Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. New Haven: Yale University, 2001: p. 160.

v Cited by Frank: p. 100. Referring to Lorwin, Lewis L. Labor and Internationalism. New York: Macmillian, 1929: p. 58.

2005.05.19: NYCLAW Statement on IFTU Tour

NYCLAW Statement on IFTU Tour
May 19, 2005

New York City Labor Against the War cannot support the northeast tour organized by USLAW for the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

As shown below, the IFTU — and its political affiliate, the Iraqi Communist Party — shares a position virtually indistinguishable from the Bush administration”s: U.S. troops must remain in Iraq for as long as it takes to crush the resistance.

(Since July 2003, the ICP has been an ardent member of the occupation regime, which on January 28, 2004 designated the IFTU as “the legitimate and legal representatives of the labour movement in Iraq.[1])

*June-July 2003. Former ICP general-secretary: “If the [U.S.] were to withdraw from Iraq, there would be a civil war and democrats would have no chance.”[2]

*June 25, 2004. IFTU general-secretary Majid Musa to British union UNISON: “[U]nilateral withdrawal of troops would be bad for Iraq, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists.”[3]

*September 28-29, 2004. IFTU international representative Abdullah Muhsin successfully urges the British Labor Party conference to defeat a resolution calling for “early withdrawal” of British troops: “[A]n early date for the unilateral withdrawal of troops . . . would be bad for my country, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism, and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists,”[4] and would “lead at best to the Balkanisation of Iraq and or even worse a bitter civil war.”[5]

*November 23, 2004. ICP general-secretary Majid Musa opposes a December 31, 2005 deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops: “[T]he withdrawal of foreign forces . . . is an objective that all Iraqis without exception seek to achieve. . . . However, the problem is deciding when those troops could depart. We have not yet built sufficient military, police or security forces to protect the security of Iraq.” [6]

*December 19, 2004. ICP general-secretary Majid Musa: “[H]ow can we [end the occupation] in view of the country”s complex situation, the current balances of power and the regional and international circumstances around us” . . . . [T]errorist and subversive acts will only prolong the presence of foreign forces and give an excuse to others to say the country is in danger and cannot endure the bad consequences and so the help of the foreign forces is needed.”[7]

*April 22, 2005. Saady Edan, president of Mosul IFTU: “[I]f [the occupation] ends now, it will bring chaos. Once the Iraqi security forces are capable, then the occupation should leave. But they are not yet.”[8]

In sharp contrast, the Southern Oil Company Union demands an immediate end to the occupation: “We as a union call for the withdrawal of foreign occupation forces and their military bases. We don”t want a timetable — this is a stalling tactic. We will solve our own problems. We are Iraqis, we know our country and we can take care of ourselves. We have the means, the skills and resources to rebuild and create our own democratic society.”[9]


1. “Official recognition given to new union federation by Iraqi Governing Council,” February 9, 2004 <>.

2. “NDI Assessment Mission to Iraq, June 23 to July 6, 2003,” p. 4 <>.

3. “UNISON Labour Link committee chair on Labour Party conference,” October 1, 2004 <>.

4. “Open letter from Abdullah Muhsin, foreign representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, to trade union delegates at the Labour Party conference” <>.

5. Patrick Wintour and Kevin Maguire, “Deal with unions to keep Blair safe,” Guardian, September 30, 2004 <,14991,1316070,00.html>.

6. Juan Cole, “Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion,” Guardian, November 26, 2004 <>.

7. “Iraqi Communist Party leader views electoral program, obstacles to elections,” BBC International Reports (Middle East), December 21, 2004.

8. John Lloyd, “United we understand,” Financial Times, April 22, 2005 <>.

9. Hassan Juma’a Awad, “Leave our country now,” Guardian, February 18, 2005 <,3604,1417222,00.html>.