Fifteen years after the historic Oslo accords, Israel finds itself isolated as never before in the international labour movement. The erosion of support for the Jewish state has not been affected in the slightest by Israeli concessions over the years. The withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, the closing of all Jewish settlements in Gaza and the withdrawal of troops, the acceptance of the right of Palestinians to their own state, the ongoing attempts to reach agreement with the PLO – none of these has slowed down the growing hostility toward Israel on the Left and in the trade unions. Read the full article here – on Democratiya.
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President-Elect Barack Obama has a formidable to-do list. Those who voted for him, and people all over the world as well, expect him to tackle the global economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change, and much more.
Everyone understands that these are enormous undertakings. It is unlikely that Obama will be able to fulfil even a small fraction of what is expected of him in a single term in office. Indeed, to achieve the kind of fundamental change he seeks it is probably not an exaggeration to say that liberal Democrats need to be in power for a generation.
This article appears in Democratiya (number 14).
Russia, it was said, was still reeling from the loss of its empire. It had formally accepted the right of countries like Ukraine to self-determination. But among its leaders, some sought ways to bring the “near abroad” back into the fold. As a result, all the countries on Russia’s borders were actively seeking the protection of European powers and America. This, in turn, was interpreted by the Kremlin as a kind of encirclement. Tensions with Poland were running expecially high. And then the Russian army invaded Georgia.
The response of the trade union movement and the democratic Left was swift – universal condemnation of a blatant act of aggression, an obvious attempt to seize control over a country whose independence Russia had recognized. Georgia had no better friend than the international labour movement which stood by its side at a difficult moment.
That was in 1921 – not 2008.
For those of us who support the growth of democracy in the world, it almost goes without saying that we support workers’ rights and trade unions. But sometimes that support is only perfunctory.
After all, when we think about dictatorships in the world today and the struggle for democracy, we usually think of political and spiritual leaders, writers, intellectuals and others before we think of the workers. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama have become household names. For some of the larger and better known human rights organizations, workers’ rights have long been seen as a bit of a footnote — though there is some evidence that this is now changing.
While most of us will be vaguely familiar with key international human rights documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), most human rights campaigners will have difficulty naming the eight core conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) which lay out what are universally recognized workers’ rights — such as the right to form and join a trade union and to bargain collectively.
Everyone remembers the central role played by independent trade unions in bringing down Communist rule in Poland and triggering the collapse of the entire Soviet empire in the process. But my guess is that few are aware of the key role being played by trade unions today — unions which find themselves on the front lines of what amounts to a fight to the death with dictatorships. Those dictatorships are often far more severe in their repression than the Polish Stalinists ever were.
A quarter century ago, I stood with an American friend at a peace rally in Tel-Aviv. We were both veterans of the anti-Vietnam war movement, and my friend commented how similar had been the trajectories of both the American movement and the Israeli in the wake of the 1982 Lebanon war. The difference, he pointed out, was that what took years to happen in the USA – the steady growth of that movement – happened in Israel over the course of several weeks.