USP: “The autonomously organized refusal of our labor is the weapon we wield against apartheid” (video)

The speech by Itaï van de Wal of Utrecht in Solidarity with Palestine (USP) at the MayDay celebration in Utrecht.

Last year in May, 2021, on May 18 Palestinians from the river to the sea went on a general strike. This marked the instigation or the birth of the Unity Intifada. They protested the apartheid and settler colonial regime that’s present in Israel from the river to the sea.

And this is not just something Palestinians did once. It’s actually a historical tradition.

It started in 1936, when Palestinians, even before the founding of the state of Israel, recognized what was about to happen and protested British colonialism and the incipient creation of a settler-colonial state in Palestine.

And then again in 1987, marking the start of the First Intifada, the Palestinians went on a general strike again.

And I think that all of us gathered here as socialists and anarchists, should recognize that, however much we struggle for a general strike here, general strikes all over the world have been taking place, especially in the Global South, and especially by oppressed and colonized peoples, the Palestinians perhaps foremost among them.

The fact that we agitate for general strikes around the world, and that socialists around the world also call themselves internationalists marks the fact that this movement isn’t suppressed or contained by borders, and that international solidarity is possible and that it is key. 

And in fact, when general strikes took place in Palestine – I say words about international solidarity because they were met with reciprocation. They were met by other strikes and boycotts by workers around the world.

On May 14, 2021, just before the Palestinian general strike on May 18, in Livorno, Italy, the the L’Unione Sindacale di Base (USB) basically boycotted an Israeli ship that was coming in to the port. They refused to unload and sadly their picket line was broken by their bosses. Regardless, the show of solidarity was material. It wasn’t just a protest or a picket line. It was the organized refusal of labor. Namely refusing to unload an Israeli ship from the largest Israeli shipping company and one of the 10 largest shipping companies in the world, ZIM.

It wasn’t just in Italy that strikes took place. Unsurprisingly, in South Africa, in Durban, workers in the South African Transport & Allied Workers’ Union (SATAWU) also showed solidarity. I’ll read part of their statement, because it’s quite beautiful. As you know Israel is an apartheid state. South Africa, politically and civilly speaking, used to be an apartheid state, economically, arguably, still is an apartheid state. SATAWU workers said the following:

“It has been brought to our attention that a shipment from apartheid-Israel will be landing on South African shores – Durban Port. As a school of class struggle, located in the transport industry, SATAWU calls upon its members to stage rolling boycotts against these shipping companies and take part in lunchtime pickets, to show solidarity for the subjugated. This will not be the first time the union advances countervailing action against proponents of misery and bourgeois grim reaper states. In 2009, SATAWU members refused to offload shipment coming from the lsraeli state. Because history tends to repeat itself, SATAWU will always support any form of struggle aimed at liberating the working-class from the shackles of colonialism, cloaked as the capitalist mode of production. Finally, the liberation of the Palestinian population is equally the liberation of the African nation.”

Let it be clear that this came from the Global South, and not the Global North.

On May 18, 2021, workers in Ravenna, Italy again refused to unload an Israeli ship. This strike was actually successful. Showing you that in fact, picket lines can’t be broken if we don’t want them to be broken.

And, I’ll bring this into the present of 2022 as well. Amnesty International released a long report on how Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Recently, the Dutch government was asked for their opinion on this report, because of international furor, outrage, about and also support for this report. Our government was asked to give its own opinion through questions in parliament from BIJ1. 

They’ve just responded and said it was up to a judge to decide whether this legally specific form of oppression is actually taking place in Israel. 

First of all, this is legally incorrect, since in International Law, states are the main actors, not judges. 

However, and this is the part I’d like to add and tell you about today, we need neither judges, nor states, nor ngo’s, to stand up against apartheid.

Capitalism was and is built on the backs of generation upon generation of workers, peasants, enslaved peoples, and indigenous peoples. It is built with the labor or land that it stole, day in day out from the hands of generations upon generations. 

We, the children and children’s children of generations of exploited, have to realize we need neither judges, nor states, nor ngo’s, will help us topple an apartheid state and topple global colonialism and apartheid. The organized refusal of our labor is the weapon we wield against apartheid and capitalism.

We must also recognize that we live in the heart of the heart of the First World. Our wealth may seem like it is produced as if by magic. But every digit on the ledger is written in sweat and blood. 

We find ourselves in a park, but we live just upstream from one of the largest ports of Europe, Rotterdam. The boats that carry the resources extracted from the Third World are right there. 

We also have to recognize that we live in a city with an extremely prestigious university. The  European Union funded research programs that drive the research, development, and innovation necessary to grease the gears of war and surveillance take place right here. These programs are paid for by students and administered by academic workers.

But neither judges, nor states, nor ngo’s – nor the general labor union – will organize anti-colonial and anti-imperial solidarity action right here. 

If our picket lines and strikes only serve to improve the conditions of labor in the heart of the First World, it only serves capitalists in their mission to divide the international working class.

We, the children and children’s children of generations of exploited, have to realize that neither judges, nor states, nor ngo’s, nor general labor unions will help us topple colonialism, or be anti-colonial ever, or be anti-imperial ever, or be truly anti-capitalist ever. 

The autonomously organized refusal of our labor is the weapon we wield against apartheid, against colonialism, against imperialism, and against capitalism.

Utrecht in Solidarity with Palestine is an anti-capitalist, anti-imperial, anti-colonial group. We work horizontally. We were born as a student group. We target Utrecht University’s complicity with the Israeli Apartheid State, but we aim to reach much further than only that institution. We see Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as a form of international and local class struggle. So, please approach us as comrades and help us do our work.

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!

Itaï van de Wal

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