On Wednesday 17 January 2024, Stop Arming Israel France was invited by the Collectif Solidarité Palestine 69 to the Bourse du Travail in Lyon. Patrice Bouveret, founder of the Observatoire des Armements, presented the military and industrial links between France and Israel. An activist from Stop Arming Israel France presented the Palestinian trade unions’ appeal, its worldwide repercussions and the actions already taken in France, including Émancipation’s activities within the trade union framework and in action. The first action took place on 15 November 2023, so this is an assessment of two months of international campaigning.
The Stop Arming Israel France collective has set itself the objective of circulating and publicising the Palestinian trade unions’ appeal, publicising and promoting actions related to the arming of Israel that are taking place around the world and in France, and informing and raising awareness about the military links between France and Israel. It is also, in fact, a gathering of activists and trade union militants who take part in actions linked to the armament issue.
The Palestinian trade unions’ appeal
On 16 October 2023, the Palestinian trade unions launched a worldwide appeal for help: « End all complicity. Stop Arming Israel ». The appeal came from the « Workers in Palestine » collective, which brings together more than 30 trade unions and professional associations. The various trade union confederations are represented, as well as independent unions from both Gaza and the West Bank (The appeal can be consulted on the workersinpalestine.org website).
In this joint appeal, Palestinians themselves are asking us to:
- Refuse to build weapons for Israel.
- Refuse to transport weapons to Israel.
- Adopt motions to this effect within the trade unions.
- Take action against companies that are complicit in Israel’s brutal and illegal siege of Gaza.
- Put pressure on governments to stop all military trade with Israel.
The appeal is addressed first and foremost to trade union organisations, and more generally to workers throughout the world. It is part of the tradition of international solidarity, anti-imperialism and anti-militarism central to the trade union and workers’ movement.
More broadly, it is not necessary to be a trade unionist to respond to their call: as residents of major imperialist powers that support the Israeli war machine, we are all well placed to respond.
We know that without the military support of our Western countries, Israel would simply not be able to carry out the current genocidal offensive. Boycotts of food and clothing brands may bring economic pressure to bear, but it is weapons that are being used to kill Palestinian children.
If Western countries had not sent weapons, technology and spare parts, we know that the bombing would have stopped after three days. In demonstrations, on social networks and by calling on our elected representatives, we implore our governments day after day to call for a ceasefire. This is no longer enough. It is clear that neither Netanyahu nor our heads of state are listening to us. We can impose this ceasefire by cutting off supplies to the Israeli army and cutting off arms shipments.
Responses to the international call
To date, 39 unions and organisations are listed as supporting the campaign on the Workers in Palestine website. They include sectoral unions, such as the dockers in Barcelona, the coalminers in Colombia and the train drivers in Chiba, Japan; national unions such as the CGT in Spain and the SI Cobas in Italy; and international trade union organisations (IAATW – International Alliance of App-Based Transport Workers, Public Services International, etc.).
The appeal was also published by the International Labour Network for Solidarity and Struggle (ILNSS), which brings together nearly 200 trade union organisations and movements.
In Spain, a major united campaign, « Fin del commercio de armas con israel », brings together hundreds of trade union organisations, associations, political parties and individuals.
An international forum, also entitled « Stop arming Israel », « to put an end to complicity with international crimes and calling for a bilateral embargo on arms destined for Israel », has been signed by over a hundred organisations, including ATTAC, the UJFP and the AFPS in France. Without always mentioning the Palestinian trade unions’ appeal, many organisations and groups around the world are leading this campaign and taking up the slogan « Stop arming Israel ».
This has led to actions in many countries, some of which have been publicised on social networks or in press articles.
Some examples of actions in various countries
In England, the Workers for a Free Palestine collective organised several blockades involving hundreds of activists, workers, trade unionists and activists, notably at Elbit factories, the main Israeli arms company, or BAE systems, which sells missiles to Tsahal. The Palestine Action group regularly organises hit-and-run actions, blockades and occupations of head offices, forcing factories to close by breaking into sites or carrying out sabotage.
In the United States and Australia, demonstrations and blockades of ports have delayed ships belonging to the Israeli company ZIM, which transports arms among other things. In Oakland, the ship was invaded by activists. In Seattle, the departure of a ship was delayed by 8 days. In Australia, demonstrators were able to disrupt the convoy by circling the ship on jet skis.
Dockworkers also joined the campaign, blockading ports: in Italy, port workers went on strike to block the ports of Salermo and Ravenna, while Greek dockworkers organised a one-day strike at Mediterranean ports.
On Thursday 10 December, coordinated actions took place in several European countries.
Rallies, blockades, raids on head offices: activist groups are organising actions all over the world, with and without trade unions.
Responses in France
Here, it was primarily teachers’ unions that took a stand. Émancipation, an inter-union group, was the first to join the call. The FSU, SNES and Sud Éducation followed at national level. Locally, the CGT Éduc’action 95, Sud Éducation 35, the CNT Finistère 29 and the Syndicat des Travailleurs Autogestionnaires du Finistère (STAF) supported the call.
Other unions have published the text of the appeal on their websites, without taking an active position for the moment: Union Syndicale Solidaires, CNT-SO, UL CGT de Guimgamp and UL CGT de Paris 18ème.
Solidaires Industrie, the armaments branch, also issued a press release on 10 November 2023 addressed to workers in the sector denouncing the use of weapons in Gaza and in other wars. They put forward a perspective: « let’s get ready to give ourselves the power to decide what we produce ».
The Marseille dockers’ unions brought the port to a standstill for a symbolic one-hour strike « for peace » on 1 December, as part of the coordination led by the Greek dockers.
The trade union repercussions are still insufficient. Given the urgency of the moment, and the obviousness of this campaign, we would like to see more and clearer positions taken by the major trade union forces at national level.
As trade unionists, it is up to us to push in this direction in our union structures, to submit proposals for motions, to propose actions… at local, sectoral and national level.
This is why the Stop Arming Israel France collective was set up, with trade union activists at its core, including members of Emancipation, and other activists, to better relay the appeal, the campaign and the actions that can be taken in France.
A wide range of actions
On 15 November, a rally was held in Villepinte (93), in front of MILIPOL, the international arms fair, which was showcasing 52 Israeli companies. Although the prefecture of police immediately banned the rally on spurious grounds, around thirty people nevertheless gathered behind a Stop Arming Israel banner. They were confronted by around a hundred police officers who had come to defend the death-sellers’ party. Despite the repression, the action raised the national profile of the event and helped launch the campaign.
Thereafter, one action followed another: in La Défense, in front of the headquarters of Thalès, a company that collaborates with the Israeli company Elbit in the manufacture of drones; in front of a laboratory at the University of Paris-Saclay, also co-managed by Thalès; in Paris, in front of the headquarters of Exxelia, whose components were found among the debris of a missile that killed 3 children in Gaza in 2014; again in Paris, in front of the offices of Barclays Bank, which invests in many arms companies that are complicit in the genocide…
Actions to highlight the campaign also took place in public places, with banners and flags displayed at the Gare du Nord and Gare Saint Lazare in Paris, in front of the Christmas tree at the Forum des Halles, on a bridge over the Paris ring road, on the steps of the Sacré-cœur in Montmartre, etc. These actions, sometimes carried out in collaboration with other collectives, were all very well received by passers-by, who took up the slogans and applauded the activists.
Stop Arming Israel France activists are also working to raise awareness of the campaign by organising stands, leafleting and marching during demonstrations for Palestine, with the participation of members of Émancipation in Paris.
Fly posting took place in several French towns, particularly around the premises of complicit companies such as Safran and Thalès, in partnership with groups of feminist activists both in Paris and in the regions.
Finally, leafleting workers at arms companies has become a key activity. A leaflet specifically aimed at them has been drawn up. The aims are many: to raise their awareness of the subject of Palestine; to inform them about their company’s complicity with Israel, of which they are often unaware; to encourage them to talk about it in their workplace and ask questions; to encourage them to send us information if they have any; and finally, to encourage them to organise themselves to express their disagreement with their employer’s choices, in particular by going on strike. Several leafleting operations have already taken place at Safran, Thalès and Nexter sites in the Paris region, and a regular rhythm is being set up.
Various groups of activists have formed to organise and take part in actions in recent weeks and months. Stop Arming Israel France relays, supports and encourages each of these initiatives. The aim of the campaign is for all these forms of action to multiply in order to highlight the military collaboration between France and Israel, to make companies face up to their responsibilities, and to disrupt their activities as much as possible.
For the time being, actions specifically targeting the arms industry in France have mainly taken place in the Paris region. The meeting in Lyon was an opportunity to help build the mobilisation on the ground. This mobilisation is set to grow and spread to all regions.
To help the campaign spread, Stop Arming Israel France has started to put in place tools so that everyone can get involved: an open-access resources page
(https://padlet.com/stoparmingisraelfrance/ressources) offers posters and leaflets to download and print. An interactive map has also been created to list all the locations of arms companies with links to Israel. The map is still under construction, and anyone with suggestions for new sites is invited to write to email@example.com. Information sheets for each company are being drawn up to list their links with the Israeli army.
The aim is for everyone to be able to join the campaign and for groups to be formed all over France to go out and leaflet workers or organise actions. 7 February has already been announced as an international day of action against complicit arms companies. Let’s hope it will be widely followed, and that the campaign will continue to grow.
More than ever, solidarity is our strength.