Groundxero | November 2, 2023
Belgium transport workers’ unions on last Tuesday have called their worker-members to refuse handling of weapon shipments destined for Israel. The unions said in a statement that “a genocide” was underway in Palestine, and they have urged ground handling workers in airports in Belgium not to handle deliveries of weapons destined for Israel. The unions also called for an immediate ceasefire and asked the Belgian government not to allow arms transit through airports.
The unions pointed to accounts from employees who have witnessed weapons being transported from the United States to Tel Aviv via Liège Airport, one of Belgium’s major cargo hubs. The unions said that loading or unloading weapons would mean contributing to supplying organisations that kill innocent people.
“We, several unions active in ground logistics, call on our members not to handle any flights that ship military equipment to Palestine/Israel, like there were clear agreements and rules at the start of the conflict with Russia and Ukraine,” a statement by the unions said.
The Statement issued by the Trade Unions Front in Belgium is given below :
“While a genocide is underway in Palestine, workers at various airports in Belgium see weapons leaving for a war zone.
Loading and unloading of these weapons helps provide organisations with the ability to kill innocent peoples.
We, the various trade organizations active in the ground handling sector, call on our members to no longer handle flights shipping military material to Palestine/Isreal, as there were clear agreements and rules at the beginning of the conflict with Russia and Ukraine.
We therefore call for an immediate ceasefire, and we ask the Belgium government to be consistent and not to tolerate arms shipments passing through Belgium airports.
As trade unions, we declare our solidarity with those who campaign for peace.”
On 16 October, Palestinian trade unions issued an international call for action to stop the Israeli war machine. The call urged trade unions worldwide to refuse to build weapons destined for Israel; to refuse to transport weapons to Israel; to pass motions within trade unions to this effect; to take actions against companies involved in supporting Israel’s illegal blockade; and to pressure governments to stop any military trade with Israel.
Earlier, in 2021, unionised Italian and South African dock workers refused to load arm shipments to Israel in a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Dock workers from Naples in Italy too had refused to handle arms shipments destined for Israel.
Now we are hearing of similar actions from the Belgian transport unions following Israel’s war in Gaza. The Israeli army has expanded its air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, which has been under relentless airstrikes since Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7. So far, the Israeli attacks in Gaza have claimed over 8,525 lives in the Gaza Strip, most of them being children and women.
In Britain there is already an ongoing campaign targeting Israeli arms companies by the group called Palestine Action. Palestine Action blocks access to factories in the UK with alleged connections to Israel. They target Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private arms company, by consistently occupying its factories and offices.
We’ve SHUT DOWN two weapons manufacturers, owned by Israel’s biggest arms producers.
— Palestine Action (@Pal_action) October 31, 2023
During the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza since 7 October, over 150 activists and trade union members held a mass picket blockading an arms factory in England. They blocked the two key entrances to Instro Precision Ltd, a subsidiary of Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems, at a site in Sandwich, Kent. Protesters raised banners that read “Workers for a Free Palestine” and “UK: Stop Arming Israel”. “Palestine Action activists occupy the roof of the Israeli weapons factory Elbit Systems in the town of Shenstone, England, in protest of its production of equipment used in Israel’s murder of innocent Palestinians,” the group said in an online post.
On 31st October (Monday), four members of the Palestine Action group also climbed on the roof of an Israeli-owned drone engine factory in the English city of Lichfield, calling for the closure of the site.
In the United States, workers protesting Israel’s attacks have faced a wave of repression by employers. On 9 October, after Starbucks Workers United posted a message of solidarity with Palestine on X (formerly Twitter), Starbucks executives sued the union in federal court. Despite the crackdown on criticism of Israel’s actions, various unions in the USA have expressed solidarity with Palestine and demanded an immediate ceasefire. In the past week 27,000 labour activists have signed a letter calling on top US union leaders to “break your silence” and push for a ceasefire.
In Olympia, Washington, the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council voted unanimously for a resolution against “any union involvement in the production or transportation of weapons destined for Israel,” and called for “our parent federation [the AFL-CIO] to also publicly support an immediate ceasefire and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.” But the Council president yielded to the push from the national office of the AFL-CIO, and posts about the resolution were taken down.
Pro-Palestine activists claimed they shut down a Boston arms company that supplies Israel. Palestine Action US posted on X alleging it “completely halted” the business of Elbit Systems in Boston after a protest on Last Monday.
In the United States, the labour movement must actively mobilise against the Biden administration’s policy of “unwavering support” and military aid for Israel and boycott any U.S. shipments of weapons destined to be used against the people of Palestine. The workers across various sectors who have in recent years launched waves of strikes should now pressurise the union bosses to oppose the Zionist war in Gaza. They should take lessons from the labour movement that in 2008 took action in the U.S. against the imperialist war against Iraq. Thousands of dockworkers had closed all 29 West Coast ports in a historic May Day protest against the Iraq war. Perhaps the unions need reminding of the unionised Rolls Royce workers in Glasgow who refused to service Chilean Dictator Pinochet’s fighter jets in 1973, saving countless political prisoners’ lives and managing to ground half of the junta’s air force.
By announcing refusal to participate in the transportation of military equipment to Israel, Belgium’s trade unions are making a powerful statement about the role of labour organisations in opposing imperialist war and their commitment to worldwide peace and justice. This past week alone while Western powers continue to stand by Israel as it bombards Gaza, millions took to the streets in support of Gaza. The mass support is there, it must now be turned into concrete actions beyond chants and rallying cries.