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Spartacist Canada Supplement

11 August 2006

Defend CUPE Ontario!

Defend the Palestinians!

For standing in defense of Palestinian national rights, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees has come under furious attack from the government, media and sections of the labour bureaucracy and NDP. Apologists for Zionist state terror rail that CUPE Ontario’s defense of Palestinian rights equals support to terrorism. Others have viciously slandered the union stance as anti-Semitic. All opponents of Israel’s murderous assault on Lebanon and its ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people must defend CUPE Ontario against this pro-Zionist right-wing backlash!

CUPE Ontario’s late May convention, attended by 900 delegates representing 200,000 union members, unanimously adopted a resolution calling to “support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination.” Endorsing a July 2005 call to action by 180 Palestinian organizations, the resolution specifically demands the dismantling of the “apartheid wall” built to seal off the West Bank, as well as the right of return for all Palestinian refugees. These demands are squarely in the interests of working people throughout the world. Unions elsewhere, including the COSATU labour federation in South Africa, have now raised similar calls.

CUPE Ontario’s stance slammed into a ramped-up “war on terror” that targets the Muslim population for state repression, as well as the Harper government’s hardline support for Israel. Canada was the first country to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority following the election of Hamas earlier this year, acting even before the United States, Ottawa’s senior partner and Israel’s chief paymaster. Harper has obscenely described the death and destruction raining down on Lebanon as a “measured” response by Israel.

CUPE Ontario’s call for active labour support to Palestinian national rights marks a break with the pro-Zionist consensus that has historically dominated in the Canadian labour bureaucracy and especially the NDP. Some unions, notably the Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, have defended CUPE Ontario against the right-wing onslaught. But in the main, the labour misleaders have distanced themselves from or actively oppose CUPE Ontario’s stance. Among the most vile is New Democrat MP Pat Martin, who raved in a letter to the rabidly Zionist National Post (5 June) that “the state of Israel deserves the support of the international labour movement…. As a trade unionist and an NDP MP, I do not want to be associated in any way with the Ontario CUPE resolution.”

Both the national and B.C. CUPE leaderships have made clear that they disagree with the CUPE Ontario resolution. The president of CUPE Local 2063 led a pro-Zionist picket of the union’s Toronto offices. It has been widely reported that a member of the University of Toronto teaching assistants Local 3902 is preparing a lawsuit against the union, attacking its right to defend causes that are “irrelevant” to its members’ interests. This is a frontal attack on the right of the labour movement to champion causes on behalf of the oppressed and an open invitation to union-busting by the capitalist state. Defeat the Zionist backlash—Defend union rights!

Also joining the chorus against CUPE Ontario is Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove. While denouncing CUPE Ontario’s “finger-pointing and boycotts,” Hargrove salutes Israel’s rulers—including war criminal Ariel Sharon, who he calls a “brave leader”!—for making “genuine progress” by pulling out of Gaza last year (Toronto Star, 5 June). Seeking to line up the working class behind the bourgeoisie’s anti-Palestinian backlash, this labour traitor reserves his ire for “the election of the terrorist organization Hamas.”

Contrary to Hargrove’s whitewash, Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza, combined with the wall sealing off the West Bank, has allowed the Zionist rulers to even more effectively strangle the Palestinian population economically while giving the army a freer hand for military terror. Gaza is little more than a concentration camp: an impoverished, devastated strip where 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped, surrounded by the sea, an electrified fence and a wall sealing its border with Egypt.

Relentless state terror and devastation by Israel have long been visited upon the Palestinians. Combined with the political bankruptcy of Palestinian nationalism, exemplified by the ignominious 1993 Oslo deal between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel, this has driven much of the Palestinian people into the arms of the reactionary, anti-woman and anti-Semitic outfit Hamas. The latter’s electoral victory was met with a starvation embargo. Now, with their imprisonment of much of the Palestinian cabinet, the Zionist rulers, like their U.S. patrons, are asserting their “right” to carry out “regime change” against any Palestinian government not to their liking. Down with the starvation embargo! No U.S./Canadian aid to Israel! Free the Hamas ministers, legislators and other victims of Zionist repression! Israel out of Lebanon, Gaza, the West Bank and all the Occupied Territories!

Boycotts, Divestment and the Class Struggle

To his credit, CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan has refused to buckle in the face of the pro-Zionist barrage. He told one reporter, “I come out of Ireland and know about the right to self-determination. You can’t have self-determination without a viable state.” Indeed, there are many parallels between Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and the long history of Britain’s suppression of Irish national rights.

As defenders of the Palestinian people and opponents of Israel’s blitzkrieg in Lebanon, the Trotskyist League/Ligue trotskyste stands with CUPE Ontario against the Zionist-orchestrated anti-union offensive. At the same time, we oppose the political strategy of calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel promoted by the CUPE Ontario resolution. Such a strategy is not merely ineffective: it is counterposed to the only road to social and national liberation for the oppressed Palestinians, which lies through the class struggle of the international proletariat.

The CUPE Ontario resolution appeals to “international law,” i.e., the United Nations. A CUPE Ontario call to join an August 12 protest at the Israeli consulate prominently includes the slogan “Support UN Peacekeeping.” And in a July 31 letter to Stephen Harper, Sid Ryan calls for the Canadian government to stop backing Israel and return to “the proud history and tradition of Canada’s role as an international peacekeeper.”

The UN and the Canadian imperialist rulers are not and have never been “peacekeepers”! From the 1950-53 Korean War to the starvation sanctions that killed 1.5 million Iraqis, the UN has acted as a tool of imperialist depredation around the world. It was the UN that disarmed Palestinian fighters during Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, setting up the 1982 massacre of 2,000 civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Christian rightist forces directed by Israeli troops under the leadership of Ariel Sharon. Under successive Liberal and Tory governments, Canadian UN troops have for decades acted as border guards for the Zionist rulers, including today in south Lebanon. Against the current Israeli attack on Lebanon, we stand in military defense of Hezbollah without giving that reactionary fundamentalist outfit any political support whatsoever. No to UN intervention!

Campaigns for divestment and sanctions sow illusions that pressuring the Canadian government, corporations and campus administrations will produce a more benevolent policy toward the Palestinians. This is often promoted as a “peaceful” alternative to military defense of the Palestinians against Israel’s rampage. What is urgently needed is the mobilization of the working class in this country (and in the U.S. and elsewhere) in concrete acts of solidarity with the besieged Palestinian and Lebanese masses—for example, refusing to handle military goods to Israel and organizing material aid to the Palestinians.

This perspective can only be realized by mobilizing workers against their own rulers, not by fostering illusions in the supposed benevolence of the imperialist state. While defending CUPE Ontario against the Zionist hysteria, reformist left groups like the International Socialists (I.S.) and Communist Party (CP) have uncritically backed the calls for sanctions and divestment. This reflects their own dead-end stance of pushing the Canadian rulers to take a stand against their senior partners in Washington. Typical is a July 15 statement by the Canadian Peace Alliance, whose steering committee includes I.S. and CP supporters, demanding “in the name of humanitarianism and Canada’s historic diplomatic role that our government reverse its shameful support for US and Israeli aggression.”

As revolutionary Marxists, we advance the perspective of a socialist federation of the Near East. That requires struggle by the Arab, Hebrew-speaking and other working classes of the region to smash the Zionist state and the despotic regimes in the surrounding Arab countries. We defend the Palestinians in their struggle against Zionist rampage and occupation. However, as long as the conflict remains one of nation against nation, the Palestinians can only lose out to the heavily armed (including with nuclear weapons) and more technologically advanced Zionist state.

At bottom, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is one of interpenetrated peoples, two populations laying claim to the same small piece of land. There can be no equitable resolution to the conflicting national claims of the Palestinians and Hebrew-speaking people under capitalism. It is necessary to break the Hebrew-speaking proletariat from Zionist chauvinism and the Palestinians from Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. That requires the construction of Leninist-Trotskyist parties committed to the overthrow of capitalist rule in Israel and throughout the region. We have no illusions that this will be an easy task. Winning the Hebrew-speaking proletariat to champion defense of the Palestinians will likely require a historic event like the victory of social revolution in another country in the Near East extending a hand of proletarian internationalism to the Israeli workers.

From North America to the Near East, a class axis of struggle is desperately needed. Here in Canada, we fight to break the working class from the grip of the pro-capitalist NDP and labour bureaucracy, winning it to champion the cause of the oppressed—from the Palestinians abroad to immigrants, Native people and the Québécois at home. In the fight to forge a revolutionary workers party, the proletariat will become conscious of its power as a class to sweep away the rapacious, war-mad capitalist system through socialist revolution.