Peace and justice: Unifor’s in it for the long haul

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The strength of working people lies in their determination to support one another – in their workplaces, in their communities and around a world that all of us seek to share in peace and prosperity. This week, we couldn’t be prouder of the committed Canadian muscle going into a global piece of that effort.

Unifor — the largest private-sector and largest transportation union in Canada and, as we are always proud to note, a committed and active affiliate of the ITF – is part of a labour delegation now on a five-day visit to Israel and Palestine to continue the push for workers rights and for justice for the people of Gaza.

In the words of Unifor itself, “at its most basic, the labour movement is guided by a belief that when and where there is social and economic justice, people are best able to live full, decent lives.”

Peter Kennedy, Unifor’s secretary-treasurer, takes that belief with him on the mission this week. Also along are the ITF’s president, Paddy Crumlin, our general secretary, Steve Cotton, and leaders from the International Trade Union Confederation and the Singapore Organization of Seafarers.

Their mission will ring true with all fair-minded Canadians, now watching the sorry election campaign spectacle of a Harper Conservative government attempting to defend nine long years of war-mongering and legislated attacks on working families. We are watching him defend importing a temporary foreign campaign worker named Lyton Crosby, an Australian schemer who helped foist Tony Abbott on his own unfortunate country – a prime minister who did such a despicable job that his own party tossed him out of office this week. Across the Atlantic, we are watching with disgust as the Cameron Conservatives this week introduce a full-on draconian legislative attack on organized workers – an approach also masterminded by Crosby before he turned his withering gaze to Canada.

So the idea that working people need to join hands around the world finds much traction here, and Unifor has been a leader in fleshing out conviction with the hard work of help where it’s needed.

It has been a major financial backer of the Palestinian Truck Drivers Project. The program is a great example of practical, focused trade-union work. It helps Palestinian drivers who are held up for long periods at the Irtah crossing between Palestine and Israel; truckers and taxi and minibus drivers are all caught up in the delays. The project provides them with food and drinks, toilet facilities and parking areas. And there’s union education on hand – always important where workers gather.

Unifor has also been a strong advocate for peace in the Mideast, urging ceasefires during periods of bombings and calling for an end to all military operations by Israel and Hamas. Along with the global trade-union community, it has called for respect of international human rights law, immediate humanitarian assistance to Gaza, lifting of the blockade of Gaza and renewed peace negotiations. In Canada, it has called on all Canadian political leaders, including Harper, to advocate for peace in the Middle East. And it has branded the Harper government’s uncritical endorsement and promotion of the Israeli government’s actions “a disgrace to Canada that diminishes our ability to contribute to global peace and security.”

On a final note, in a month when Canadians have been fundamentally shaken by Harper’s cold, fear-mongering response to the plight of Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war at home, we are proud to note that Unifor will be supporting resettlement of five Syrian refugee families in Canada. Its Social Justice Fund is also donating $160,000 to the Canadian arm of the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to provide desperately needed support to Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

All of which is our way of saying that we are proud of our affiliate, proud of the Canadian workers it represents, and confident the delegation will bring its best to its work this week. We wish them every success.

They will be meeting with trade unionists in sites including Tel Aviv, Sderot, Ashdod Port, Nablus and the Irtah crossing.

In the words of Steve Cotton: “This mission is the latest expression of the ITF’s determination to achieve justice and rights for workers, and our continuing humanitarian support for the people of Gaza who have been so terribly affected by military action in recent years. The world cannot ignore the inequalities and human suffering that are manifest in this region, and the ITF pledges to continue to throw all its efforts behind achieving co-operation and peace there.”

Paddy Crumlin adds: “We are driven by a desire for equality, and by the manifest desire of the 4.6 million workers the ITF represents for peace and justice in Palestine, an end to its occupation and for a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. In particular the ITF is looking to strengthen transport workers’ rights and protections in both the critically important challenges of securing economic development and stabilising community services in Palestine, along with consolidating our long, practical and focused support for trade unions in both Israel and Palestine.”

You can read more about this week’s visit here.

You can read about the ITF’s program, now in its fourth year, to support workers in the region — including the members of ITF-affiliated trade unions — here.

And you can find details on the ITF Gaza Support Fund here.

Gaza humanitarian relief ITF

Bilal Malkawi (second from right), the ITF’s Arab World regional secretary, helps with a humanitarian-supply effort in Gaza.

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