A WAC-MAAN delegation visited the UK last November at the invitation of the British Fire Brigade Union (FBU). WAC-MAAN leaders, Assaf Adiv and Waffa Tyara, joined 65 FBU activists in a seminar held in the city of Sheffield in the north of England. The delegates also held a series of meetings in London with a number of trade union representatives, including the federation of trade unions in England and Wales (TUC), public workers’ union UNISON and union for rail, maritime and transport workers (RMT).
The Fire Brigade Union seminar takes place each year in a rural Yorkshire castle. This year dozens of activists spent a week in discussions and lectures, enabling the organisation to raise awareness and understanding amongst its regional leaders on a number of topics: the new economic reality; a history of trade union struggle in Britain; an international perspective on trade unionism; and an in-depth discussion of strategies in the face of a right-wing antisocial government and a wave of political reaction which has brought about the rise of anti-immigration and anti-foreign forces.
WAC-MAAN delegates were invited to give a talk and lead a discussion on the unique experience of establishing a trade union which welcomes both Jewish and Arab workers. To accompany the talk, Waffa Tyara and Assaf Adiv presented a short documentary film about the struggle of Palestinian workers at Zarfati Garage in the Industrial Zone of an Israeli settlement, including an explanation of the union’s modus operandi and the difficulties it faces. The presentation provoked a lively discussion and much support from FBU delegates, who recognised WAC-MAAN as a model for a future shared between Jews and Arabs in Israel and Palestine.
In a meeting they had with FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack and National Officer Dave Green, WAC-MAAN representatives were told that the decision of the FBU to invite them stemmed from a wish to deepen FBU understanding of the political reality of the Israel-Palestine conflict, so as to enable the FBU to adopt a balanced and well informed position. The FBU considers itself to have a historical obligation both within Britain and in its foreign policy to adopt a line of social progress and socialism and to support struggles for national freedom. As such, it unequivocally supports the Palestinian struggle for independence and opposes Israeli occupation of the 1967 territories. At the same time, as an internationalist union opposing racial discrimination and prejudice, FBU leaders aim to promote actions that strengthen progressive forces within Israel and encourage Jewish-Arab cooperation, as opposed to trends of separatism and national divisiveness.
The visit also included meetings with the trade union federation (TUC) international affairs representative Sean Bamford, Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) president Peter Pinkney and president of the Public Sector Union in Sweden Dan Nilsen, who came over to London specifically for this. Another important and fruitful meeting was held with the international secretary of UK’s public sector union UNISON, Nick Crook and his colleague Mairin Power. A relationship of trust, support and cooperation has already existed between WAC-MAAN and UNISON for a number of years, and this relationship was further advanced by the meeting which took place in the union’s new central London headquarters.
Another special contact was made with CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, with which WAC-MAAN already has a strong relationship of cooperation in a project promoting employment amongst Arab women in Israel. Waffa Tyara gave a talk to a large group of activists about the work she and her colleagues do with Arab women to empower and raise their awareness and self-confidence.
A further significant meeting took place with Dave Spooner of the Global Labour Institute (GLI) in Manchester. Dave Spooner is a veteran union activist who has for years held central roles within the international trade union movement. As head of the GLI, he now promotes new trends of struggle and dynamic political thinking amongst trade unions. In the meeting he expressed great respect for the unique work done by WAC-MAAN in promoting cooperation between Jewish and Arab workers in Israel.
Translation by Yaara Gregory