Unionists take Palestine solidarity into schools and workplaces

Organising for Palestine in the unions continues to step up.

Union contingents at the Melbourne protests have drawn several hundred, including members of the ASU, health workers unions, AEU, PSA, NTEU, CFMEU and MUA. Cranes on many of city’s large construction sites are flying Palestinian flags.

Meetings for members of individual unions have included a Melbourne ASU meeting with 70 people, meetings at university campuses, and among teachers.

Healthcare workers have held vigils outside hospitals, including at Westmead in Sydney and a 200 strong protest in the Parkville hospital precinct in Melbourne. The NSW nurses union is now officially supporting a ceasefire and taking union flags to rallies.

Unionists for Palestine in Sydney is holding a protest at NSW Parliament, demanding Premier Chris Minns scrap the anti-protest laws that led to arrests at the Zim protest at Port Botany. ASU NSW Secretary Angus McFarland will address the rally.

Teachers and School Staff for Palestine in Sydney and Melbourne have held solidarity photos in schools and a vigil in Melbourne. Sixteen schools in Sydney have participated so far, and almost 200 teachers have now joined their Whatsapp organising group.

But the Victorian and NSW Education Departments sent circulars declaring schools were “neutral places” that could not be used to advance “controversial issues”.

The NSW government that imposed this policy on schools is not neutral. Premier Chris Minns lit the Opera House for Israel, and says Israel has a right to bomb Gaza. The policy is being used to suppress voices for Palestine and for peace. The Victorian Education Minister threatening teachers for being “inflammatory” flew to Israel earlier this year to promote weapons and development partnerships.

Gabby, a teacher at a school in Western Sydney, explained how she has pushed for action, “I mentioned that we’d be meeting and discussing rank-and-file action and ways of supporting the kids.

“I was told to go through the appropriate channels to get a meeting organised of Teachers Federation members, even though I tried to be clear that it was rank-and-file action.

“The meeting went ahead anyway, about ten teachers came, mainly concerned about how to approach the issue in the classroom.

“I work in a school where there’s heaps of Middle Eastern kids, and I’m frustrated with teachers shutting down conversations, saying it’s too political to talk about in a classroom.

“The way that it’s been shut down and the way that the school has chosen to address it is making teachers hesitant to say something out loud.”

Another teacher who works at a different school told Solidarity, “We’ve had some students wanting to draw flags or just write messages or letters, and one teacher who ripped up anything associated with Palestine, threw it in the bin and told the class off for even thinking about it during learning time. Everything has been blocked off.

“Everybody’s trying to stay neutral. Unfortunately to be able to do our jobs properly, we have to show compassion.

“Many of the students that we teach are of Palestinian background, very aware and very exposed to what is going on. Some students have family stuck in the West Bank and Gaza,” a colleague added.

For the week of action, “The principal told all the teachers wearing the Keffiyeh to remove it as she didn’t want it to become a political thing. There were quite a few teachers wearing it who were pretty upset.

“But we did take pictures and send them. There is fear because a lot of people need this job. So there only ended up being myself and three other ladies who went ahead to be in the photo.

Organising in schools has helped push the NSW Teachers Federation to take a stronger stand.

At its council meeting in November the executive proposed a motion on Palestine and education for peace in schools. There was overwhelming support and several amendments passed unanimously.

The union’s Senior Vice-President Natasha Watts argued that teachers should promote social justice and pointed to the union’s long anti-war history, including its support for teachers who wore “Vietnam War Moratorium” badges into classrooms against Department directives in the 1970s.

The motion committed the union to continue to encourage teacher contingents at the weekly Gaza rallies, where the union now regularly takes flags.

It also pledged to, “work with the Department to ensure that teachers will be free to work with, and show support to, their colleagues and students affected by the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza without fear of reprisal or code of conduct action” and “assert the right of members to wear the Palestinian scarf, the keffiyeh, at work”.

The same fight is taking place in unions across the country, as the rank-and-file takes the initiative to use our workers’ power for Palestinian liberation.

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