In the wake of Israel’s ongoing slaughter of Palestinians, rank-and-file trade unionists have been targeting industries that directly feed the Israeli war machine to help in the fight for a free Palestine.
With increasing organisation and numbers, these trade unionists and demonstrators have blockaded the entrances of Israeli-owned arms factories around Britain. This follows action by activists from Palestine Action who took to the rooftops of several such factories and drew attention to them.
Health workers, hospitality workers, teachers, and many others have united under the banner of ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ to do so, organised across at least eight different unions.
The movement started in October, with 150 activists blockading an Elbit Systems subsidiary factory in Kent. November then saw 400 trade unionists target BAE Systems in Rochester. And now, December has seen over 1,000 workers block four separate arms factories across Britain.
BREAKING: This morning, dozens of trade unionists under the banner ‘Workers For A Free Palestine’ have blocked both entrances to Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms company in Kent. pic.twitter.com/ePmpIO6ilZ
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) October 26, 2023
This action is internationally coordinated, alongside workers in France, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
Other movements targeting Israeli arms factories have emerged, including the Shut Down Rafael campaign in Newcastle. Comrades of the IMT have participated in several of these actions.
The logic behind these campaigns is clear. The genocidal slaughter of Gazans by the Israeli regime is wholly backed by British imperialism, keen to support a key ally in the Middle East.
Such support is also a material one, with arms produced by British arms manufacturers and then sold to the IDF being directly used against the Palestinian people. However, production of these arms ultimately relies on the workers: without us, nothing could be produced.
This therefore makes the trade unions, as organisations of the working class, especially well-placed to fight back and hit the imperialists where it hurts.
This fact is recognised by our class brothers and sisters in Palestine. On 16 October, Palestinian trade unions issued an urgent call to international unions to take action to stop the arms trade to Israel.
Shamefully, however, the trade union leadership in Britain has completely failed to organise any kind of serious response. Indeed, in response to these blockades, Unite has scandalously issued a statement to its members calling the protests “attacks on our members for doing their jobs”!
We must be clear. The whole reason such blockades are happening is precisely because the trade union leaders have failed to mobilise their members for effective action. Trade union members are therefore bypassing this block and moving into action themselves.
Further, by attacking these protests under the guise of ‘protecting jobs’, these people are in effect giving British imperialism a free pass to continue selling weapons!
This reflects the narrow outlook of the trade union leaders, particularly in relation to the arms industry. While they are happy to put forward fine words about ceasefires and peace, in practice they do nothing. They are too afraid of disturbing their cosy positions, and too short-sighted to understand the potential power of the working class and its capacity for solidarity, to really dare to make a difference.
To the workers!
This is not to say, however, that workers actually within the factories can’t be reached and convinced of taking action themselves. Indeed we must do whatever we can to reach them: they are a powerful potential force in the struggle against imperialism.
That these blockades are being carried out by sincere and courageous activists is not in question. But it is clear these actions alone cannot ultimately halt arms production. After all, in order to begin to do that, action from within the factories will be needed.
Some blockaders have attempted to reach the workers inside the factories and discuss this precise argument with them. This is correct and must now be taken further. We must redouble our efforts to reach workers directly, win them politically, and on that basis organise with them, and build support for taking real solidarity action.
Just one factory taking action in this manner would send shockwaves across the country, and even the whole world. It could then become a broader campaign across the rank and file of the union movement.
After all, the most effective action can be taken by workers organising not just in the factories, but along the entire supply chain: from transport to dock workers; and not just in Britain, but internationally!
For many class-conscious workers, the failure of the trade union leaders to begin such a campaign has brought into sharp relief their parochial and reformist outlook.
It is clear that the struggle against imperialism requires a determined, fighting leadership of the working class. With such a leadership, armed with a revolutionary programme, we could not only halt the capitalists’ war machine – we could smash it for good, and create a real and lasting peace.