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7 February: Seize the day of action for Palestine

After months in which national unions have been largely absent from the Palestine campaign, a number of unions are now calling action. Dáire Cumiskey and Sophie Squire talk to activists planning action in offices, colleges and schools
Issue 2890
A school strike in Birmingham on a day of action in November

A school strike in Birmingham on a day of action for Palestine in November

A day of protest for Palestine on Wednesday 7 February is an opportunity for action that workers and students can seize. It’s a chance to look beyond the meek words of the union bureaucrats and hold ­militant action themselves.

School walkouts, workplace actions, occupations and protests can deepen the movement for Palestine and give confidence to all those who want to fight. Workers from a range of unions and industries are set to take part in the day, and are already building for the action.

Rana, who works for Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London, is pushing back against the inaction of her Unison union. “We want to do a stall outside the council building on the day,” she said. “Members are outraged at reps and branch officers and want them to do more.” Council workers in Tower Hamlets in east London also plan to rally in Whitechapel with local market traders.

Over 200 people packed Oxford town hall on Tuesday at a rally for Palestine and to build for the day of action. The meeting was so well attended that 160 other people couldn’t fit into the hall—and had to stand outside or watch online to be involved.  

Shaun, a member of Oxford NEU union, told Socialist Worker that those who came to the meeting didn’t just want to listen to speeches about Palestine—they want to take action. “Lunchtime protests are planned at several Oxford schools,” he said.

At the meeting, parents said they plan to hold protests outside school gates with Palestine signs before picking up their children. Members of the local Unison health branch have organised a lunchtime vigil for Palestine at Warneford Hospital in Headington, a suburb of Oxford.  

Keith Hamilton is a political officer for CWU union South Central Postal branch. He told Socialist Worker after the meeting, “There are 13 separate Royal Mail offices across Oxfordshire that I’ll go round to and chat with members about Israel and Palestine.

“I’ll ask to take solidarity selfies while holding posters calling for a ceasefire and a free Palestine with those who agree that trade unionists should be active. We’ll then share these on the day of action.” UCU union members from Oxford University also plan to link up with students and support each other’s actions. Together they set up a WhatsApp group.

Students said they will stage a walkout from lectures on the day of action, and march around the campus to gather more students to join a teach-in on campus. At their teach-in students and UCU members will discuss the history of resistance in Palestine.  

At the Oxford meeting students and university workers said the teach-ins will be an opportunity to discuss ending the university’s complicity with Israel. They said this means cutting ties with American company Raytheon, who supplies Israel with a range of weapons and military technology to kill Palestinians.  

Students and workers will then march through the city centre to a rally in the evening with other Palestine activists. Keith vowed that the CWU reps will carry their banner at the demonstration and that every member will be ­encouraged to attend. 

He added that he hopes members’ confidence to join days of action grows, as well as the CWU delegation bloc on national demonstrations. Keith also said that it’s essential that workers keep putting pressure on union leaders to do more. “Senior CWU officials will attend a national union briefing in Manchester next week.

“Along with other members I’ll push for more action from the top of the union at this meeting,” he explained.  “The silence from the union is shocking considering the CWU is actually affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.” 

The day of action called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition has been endorsed by just a handful of unions. Last month, UCU put out a statement calling on “every branch to arrange a protest at their workplace on 7 February, and to ask students and other campus unions to participate”.

The NEU also passed a motion that called for workers to build for the next national day of action, ­sending guidance to all members on what they can do in their workplace. The PCS union has issued its ­support for the day—but only nominal and ­without suggesting any actions nationally.

These motions make it easier for workers to organise, but they don’t go far enough to back the militancy needed. Workers can push union leaders to be bolder, but must also go beyond their calls. The day is a chance to send an uncompromising message in support of Palestine in defiance of union leaders.

School’s out for Palestine

School workers are organising for Palestine in the face of hostility from management. Anna is a teacher in east London. “The NEU members at my school will march around the local park with the banner we’ve made,” she told Socialist Worker.

Anna said that consistently taking a stand for Palestine inside her school has meant workers feel more confident to escalate actions and build bigger protests. “Where I teach in Hackney on the three previous days of action, we organised static protests in solidarity with Palestine outside our school gates,” she said.

“On the last day of action in November we held an open mic. Teachers voiced their horror at the genocide in Gaza and called out British complicity in backing and arming the Israeli state.”

University workers and students at Brighton University are planning to target the company L3Harris for making weapons technology for Israel. University worker and UCU member Christian told Socialist Worker that students and workers are planning to “step things up” for the day of action.  

“The L3Harris offices are only five minutes away from campus in Brighton. They are an obvious target,” he said. “We’ve decided to march from campus and protest outside the arms company. Ridiculously the company is also planning to open another premises in Brighton.  

“The council has been in meetings to discuss whether it should be allowed to expand, so we’ve decided to join with council workers and protest outside the council buildings.” “It’s taken work to set this up,” Christian added. “We’ve also had film screenings in the run-up to 7 February. All of this can be used to build stronger links and connections and build people’s confidence to do more.”  

‘It would be intolerable for us to be silent when our tuition fees are funding Israel’s ongoing genocide’

Patrick, from the University of Glasgow student occupation

Students want to make 7  February the most significant mobilisation for Palestine on campuses yet. At the University of Glasgow students have already occupied the old Hetherington building on campus to call out the university’s investments in companies arming Israel.

The occupation began on Tuesday. Patrick, who’s in the occupation, told Socialist Worker, “It’s been really exciting. It would be intolerable for us to be silent when our tuition fees are funding Israel’s ongoing genocide.

“Huge networks of support messages and solidarity have been set up, and people have brought us hot food every day.” On Wednesday, over 150 students marched on a meeting of the university’s finance committee to call for divestments and end the university’s complicity. The university invests £5.5 million in arms companies, such as BAE Systems and QinetiQ, that are fuelling Israel’s genocide in Palestine.

Glasgow Against Arms and Fossil Fuels who organised the occupation said in a statement, “The students involved represent a diverse coalition united by a shared moral stance against the university’s financial involvement with companies contributing to global conflict.” 

The students involved aim to hold the occupation until the university makes the necessary changes to its backing of Israel. Plans are also underway to link up with other students on 7 February’s day of action. Matthew is a member of the Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) at Portsmouth University.  

He told Socialist Worker, “On 7 February, we are planning a march that will end at University House. We have been having frustrating conversations with our vice chancellor about the university’s ties with Israel. We’re discussing whether we should occupy University House, where his office is.”

Matthew also said that students plan to link up with workers on the day.  “We are going to join up with council workers. A delegation of trade unionists will speak at our rally and then we plan to join workers for a bigger rally in town.”

Matthew is feeling optimistic about the day of action because the issue of Palestine has “opened up” political discussion on his campus. “It’s been very encouraging to see how many people want to get involved at the moment. Students don’t want to just come to protests—they want to help to organise.  

“A few months ago, it felt there was very little going on politically on campus. The only political society was SWSS. The Palestine movement has changed everything.  

“As a SWSS group, we’re working alongside the Palestine Society and the Islamic Society. We’ve built an impressive wider periphery of activists who want to fight for Palestine. We’ve already had several rallies and marches and they’ve been successful.”

Civil service workers answer call

Steve West, co-secretary of PCS union’s DWP Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders branch, has plans to march on the day of action. Steve said, “I’m working with a rep in the Edinburgh PCS Scottish Government branch. Our branches are pushing for a march on 7 February.

“Civil servants will gather at a government hub in central Edinburgh where many work, then we’ll march to the Scottish Parliament with union flags and Palestine placards. The walk is short but symbolic. We’ll be able to call out the inadequate response from politicians in parliament.”

Steve said that it’s “really good our union has backed the call for a workplace day of action in solidarity with Palestine”.  “But PCS members need to continue to build physical protests at their workplaces. The situation requires a massive shift in the response from trade unions,” he added.

“We’ve set up PCS members for Palestine WhatsApp group. Trade unionists who’ve been on Palestine protests, and as individuals who have seen each other, can now organise collective actions. Our aim is to put pressure on union leadership to initiate activities for members across Britain in solidarity with the Palestinian trade union movement.”

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