Photo: James Hutt

1. 29. 2024

Moving Unions to Fight for a Free Palestine

James Hutt

On December 12, Canada voted in favour of a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza. Despite the international attention, the vote itself had little impact. As Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Iddo Moed, said, “The fact that Canada changed its position didn’t change anything on the ground.”

And why would it? Canada continues to sell weapons to Israel. It continues to provide international and diplomatic support to the Israeli state – voting against Palestine on other UN resolutions and blocking efforts to try Israel for war crimes and human rights violations. It props up Israel’s apartheid regime with trade agreements that favour Israel and its illegal Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank. Canada enables more than 200 registered charities, including the HESEG Foundation, to send more than $250 million per year of taxpayer-subsidized donations to assist Israel and its occupying army. 

Canada’s many forms of economic, military, and diplomatic support for Israel ensure that the Israeli state can easily ignore a UN vote. 

As solidarity activists in Canada, our role is to eliminate our government’s longstanding support for Israeli apartheid and to force Canada to put economic sanctions and other pressure on the Israeli government – until Palestine is free.

I believe the most effective way to do that is through the labour movement.


Labour for Palestine

Since October, thousands of new supporters have joined Labour for Palestine (L4P), a pan-Canadian network of trade union activists working to deepen solidarity with Palestinian workers and people in their fight for liberation. Countless more have emailed the network and posted on social media to ask what their unions and locals can do to stop the genocide in Gaza – and end Canada’s complicity.

Labour for Palestine was founded in 2006 in response to the call from more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations – including all major Palestinian trade unions – to boycott, divest from, and apply sanctions (BDS) to Israel until it complies with international law. L4P helped major unions such as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), and Unifor to pass BDS resolutions and to develop lasting connections with Palestinian workers and unions.

A new generation of trade union activists, of which I’m a member, relaunched Labour for Palestine in 2017, after a period during which the organization had been dormant. We’ve focused on expanding our connections throughout the rank and file of unions, delivering education on Palestine and developing a network of trainers, passing new resolutions and implementing existing BDS resolutions in concrete ways, and engaging union members in both mass demonstrations for Palestine and direct actions against weapons manufacturers.

As a network, Labour for Palestine connects activists to others in their union or region, offers resources, and provides organizing spaces so that anyone can act to help advance Palestinian liberation across the entire labour movement.

Here are concrete steps to push your local or union to support Palestine:

  1. Join or start an L4P caucus in your union. Identify a couple of like-minded people and host an initial meeting to strategize. Here’s a sample agenda. Let Labour for Palestine know ( and we can promote it to others from your union on our email list.
  2. Get your union or local to host an educational on Palestine for members. L4P has a number of presentations, trainings, and materials available. We’re available to present to labour bodies and train members on how to deliver trainings themselves.

  3. Pass a pro-Palestine resolution at your local, union, or labour council. Passing a BDS resolution might be a long shot if you haven’t taken smaller steps. Check out L4P’s resolution tracker for ideas. These include everything from committing your union to support a demonstration to leading solidarity delegations to Palestine.
  4. Launch a BDS-specific campaign for your union or workplace. Our workplaces and unions prop up Israeli apartheid in unique ways. We can change that by updating procurement policies with reference to the boycott list, eliminating partnerships with Israeli companies and universities, or exploring our sector’s specific connections to apartheid (for example, Canada Post refuses to recognize Palestine on outgoing mail).
  5. Join or start a regional chapter of Labour for Palestine. Chapters are great ways to meet Palestine solidarity activists from other unions and from your community – to learn what they’re doing, share tips, and strategize.

  6. Convince your local or union to endorse pro-Palestine protests and promote them to members. Organize a contingent to attend demonstrations or direct actions (bring your union flags!) and get involved in protest planning.

Since October, Labour for Palestine has started caucuses in CUPW, PSAC, CUPE, British Columbia General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), and Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU). In those organizations, often for the first time, union members are meeting to strategize about how to educate and engage their coworkers around Palestine liberation, and how to get their unions to actively champion that struggle. We have launched regional chapters in Victoria, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax, and St. John’s, with more chapters on the way.

Far too often, radical unionists have limited connections to others outside their union. Labour for Palestine regional chapters bring union activists together from across unions and sectors, connecting them to community activists and civil society groups to organize together.


Why the labour movement? 

Though not all unionists may think of their unions as prime sites for organizing in solidarity with Palestine, unions have been critical drivers of social change for more than 150 years. The labour movement has been on the decline for decades, and its political ambitions have shrunk, but it is still among the best tools we have to win changes not just in our workplaces but also throughout our society and around the world. 

Here’s why:

  1. Scale: 29% of Canadians belong to a union (as of 2022 data). By working within our unions, labour councils, and federations, we have the potential to reach more than 11 million union members – plus their families and friends. No other organization or network of organizations comes close to that. Most national unions have members in every single community and riding in the country.

  2. Resources: Major unions have millions of dollars at their disposal for member engagement and education, political advocacy, and international solidarity. They can host events, provide translation and printing, dedicate staff time, or book off members to do organizing work.
  3. Influence: Unions are social and cultural institutions that can influence society overall. When they take a position, it has the potential to reverberate throughout society, shifting what people think of as normal and just, and making it easier for other organizations to follow. (Churches have played a similar important role in popularizing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign.)
  4. Collective bargaining: What unions are able to win in negotiations with employers becomes part of a legally binding collective agreement. Usually this means increased wages, benefits, and protections on the job, but a number of unions have successfully bargained clauses on everything from climate action to affordable housing. We’re unlikely to see unions bargain over ending arms sales to Israel anytime soon, but unions have won international solidarity funds that are partly paid by the employer.

  5. Power: The most powerful weapon working people have is the ability to collectively withdraw our labour. Nothing else – no number of rallies or direct actions – even comes close. While most forms of advocacy amount to appealing to those in power to do the right thing, workers impose a real economic cost when we organize together and go on strike, applying pressure that can force our targets to meet our demands. 

Reversing the Canadian state’s support for Israel is no small task. It would mean not just a break in Canada’s relationship with the United States, but also a fundamental break with imperialism. Israel is not only an ally of the United States (and Canada); Israel is also a client state of the United States, advancing the latter’s interests across the Middle East. Israel is a strategic lynchpin of the international economic order. That’s why US President Joe Biden talks about Israel being “a smart investment that’s going to pay dividends.”

Forcing Canada to break with the logic of the global capitalist system and sanction Israel will require tremendous power. Labour-led actions that shut down parts of the economy and impose economic costs on Canada and Israel have that power. That’s what’s made the Block the Boat actions so powerful: community members and union activists have set up picket lines and prevented Israeli-owned ZIM container ships from unloading at west coast ports. We need to support those actions and expand them to other strategic industries.

The labour movement used to lead militant strikes and job actions like that – and it could again. We need to build towards that goal by educating millions of workers, connecting them to radicals within and across unions, and supporting them to mobilize in big, powerful ways. It won’t be easy or quick, but Labour for Palestine is laying the groundwork to do just that.

James Hutt is a labour organizer and writer on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabeg territory (Ottawa). He is a member of Labour for Palestine’s Coordinating Committee. He is also a proud father to the most amazing Palestinian daughter.