COSATU Open Letter in Support of CUPE Resolution

The passing of a resolution on 27 May 2006 by the Ontario Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees in support of the Palestinian peoples has sparked a great deal of notice across the North American labour movement, and, indeed, the international labour movement. Resolution 50 clearly states the case for Israel as an apartheid state, and calls for “support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” It also calls for a campaign of education on the nature of the Israeli apartheid state, and the role of the Canadian government in its support.

The resolution has met with a sharp and predictable response from the Canadian Jewish Congress blaming the Palestinians for all, absolving the Israeli state, and raising the usual shibboleths of any that would contest their ‘blaming the victim’ interpretation of the conflict. The apartheid wall cutting Palestine into a series of bantustans, the violations of the International Court of Justice, the ignoring of UN resolutions and international law in the building of illegal settlements, the possession of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons outside international arms treaties, are all safely ignored. Sadly, the CJC has been joined by the President of the Canadian Auto Workers, Buzz Hargrove, in condemning the CUPE resolution in an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star on 5 June 2006. In ignoring some of CAW’s own resolutions on the conflict, Hargrove continues to pull the CAW in a rightward and corporatist direction, leaving behind the social unionism that the CAW was once noted for, preferring now the company and political positions of major Canadian capitalists and leading Zionists such as Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman, both playing a significant role in pushing the Liberal government of Paul Martin to shift Canada’s policies in the direction of Israel and closer to the U.S. position.

The position taken by the CUPE Ontario Convention, and the op-ed in defence of Israel written by the CAW’s increasingly unpredictable leader Buzz Hargrove, has led to a revival of the debate within the Canadian labour movement on the Middle East. In the past, trade unionists who spoke out against Israeli policy in the Middle east were quickly marginalized. The recent position taken by CUPE Ontario in support of the boycott against Israel has led to the expected counter-attacks, but we seem to be in the process of a sea-change in international opinion which suggests that this
time, it may be the Zionist lobby that will be put on the defensive. One expression of this shift is the authority which the South African trade union movement has given to the CUPE Ontario position in a letter – reprinted below – which was sent to CUPE’s leader Sid Ryan this week.

The Bullet reprints here this important open letter from the Presidend of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Willie Madisha, in support of the CUPE Resolution, and for further development of the international campaign of unions in support of the rights of the Palestinian peoples.

Congress of South African Trade Unions

From: President,
Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)

To: President,
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Ontario

June 6, 2006

Brother Sid Ryan,

On behalf of over 1.2 million South African workers organized under the banner of COSATU I greet you in the name of worker internationalism. It is this solidarity, since the formation of the very first union and across space and time, often in the face of harsh repression, that provided vital moral succour and allowed workers to strengthen their resolve against
oppression and exploitation.

In this spirit and with great pride, I congratulate CUPE Ontario for their historic resolution on May 27th in support of the Palestinian people – those living under occupation and those millions of Palestinian refugees living in the Diaspora. We fully support your resolution.

As someone who lived in apartheid South Africa and who has visited Palestine I say with confidence that Israel is an apartheid state. In fact, I believe that some of the atrocities committed by the erstwhile apartheid regime in South Africa pale in comparison to those committed against the Palestinians.

The latest outrage by the apartheid Israeli regime-the construction of the hideous Apartheid Wall-condemned by the International Court of Justice – extends the occupation of Palestinian lands, disrupts the already precarious economic, social, health and education well being of an entire people and entrenches the Bantustanisation of Palestine.

When the governments of the world turn a blind eye to these injustices; when they are seduced by apartheid Israel’s justification of brutality through the pretext of ‘security’; when they silence criticism of state terror through the canard of ‘anti-semitism’ – then it is time for the global workers movement to stand firm and principled against hypocrisy and double standards. We cannot remain silent any longer. It is time to stand in word and in deed with the peoples of the Middle East and heed their call to support the struggle against occupation. There will be no peace in this region and in the world, without justice.

Despite the action of some Western governments and big business, workers and democrats of the world including the citizens of Canada, heeded our call when we struggled against apartheid. Boycotts, disinvestments and sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa hastened our march to democracy. Why should it be different for Palestinians? In the face of an intransigent, arrogant, racist and brutal Israeli state, this strategy of isolation-particularly since the vast majority of Palestinians support it-should be applied to Israel as well. It is a peaceful option.

South African workers will never forget the support given by the Israeli state to the apartheid South African regime. In the same way we will never forget the thousands of acts of solidarity of ordinary citizens around the world who sustained our struggle through the boycott weapon.

COSATU supports the demand that Apartheid Israel must respect and implement all resolutions passed by the United Nations; that the right of return of Palestinian refugees must not be compromised; that Israel respects the democratically elected government of Palestine; and that Palestinian taxes collected by Israel must be returned to the elected representatives of Palestine unconditionally.

Those supporting the ideology of Zionism and the pro-Israeli lobby will muster their substantial resources against you. Despite these pressures, we ask you not to doubt for a single moment the correctness of your just stand. We salute the courage and vision of CUPE Ontario’s leadership and members in unanimously passing resolution 50. Your unwavering resolve inspires us, we who lived through decades of apartheid oppression, as it will undoubtedly inspire and endear you to millions of Palestinian and other freedom loving people throughout the world

In Solidarity,

Willie Madisha, President
Congress of South African Trade Unions

Send a Note of Support to CUPE Ontario:

There is a lot of pressure being waged, and certainly going to be waged, against the CUPE resolution from conservative forces in the media, in
government, and even the labour movement. Please send a note of support to the Ontario head of CUPE, Sid Ryan, at Alternatively
send support through the CUPE Ontario fax number at: (416) 299-3480 or through the website at

To lend your support and become active in the Boycott Israeli Apartheid campaign e-mail: