Love, Labor, Loss?

As I begin to segue into some international issues over the coming weeks, where better to start than with the international labor movement?

I’ve already pointed out the challenges BDS advocates have with regard to getting American unions to support their cause, given that (after Jews and Evangelical Christians), American labor is the most pro-Zionist community in the country. While BDSers may luck out with a fringe union here, or a local stunt there, the notion that the AFL-CIO is going to remove the bronze statue of Golda Meir in the lobby of their US headquarters (which reflects US labor’s appreciation of the role of American and Israeli Jews in the global union movement) is pretty fanciful.

Overseas (particularly in the UK) the story is quite different. There, boycott advocates have been steadily increasing their penetration of British labor, beginning with some small skirmishes in places like the education (UCU) and journalist’s (NUJ) unions, which eventually percolated up to the national umbrella group, the Trade Unions Council (TUC). While actual UCU and NUJ boycotts never got off the ground (thanks largely to their unpopularity with rank-and-file union members vs. more radicalized leaders who push anti-Israel boycotts within their organizations), it’s safe to say that the big question regarding labor and BDS boils down to whether American unions will begin to look more like their European counterparts in the coming years, or vice versa.

Which gets me to an extraordinary speech given by Paul Howes, National Secretary of the Australian Worker’s Union, in which he outlines the reasons behind labor support for the Jewish state and the contribution his union, and unions in general, are making to bridge the divide between Jews and Arabs in the region by appealing to worker solidarity that transcends borders.

In normal times, such an appeal to the brotherhood of the working class in the name of peace and reconciliation would seem very ordinary, even commendable. But remember that it is this very type of cooperation that BDS seeks to undermine.

In this historic moment when labor’s role in international affairs (not to mention the very identity of labor vis-à-vis many issues domestic and international) is up for grabs, Howes’ speech (which should be read in its entirety) seems like a beacon of sanity shining through the thick fog separating the US labor movement and its counterparts abroad.