Britain  •  Industrial  •  UNISON union

Trade unionists campaign to divest pension funds from Israel

07 June 2024
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By Jeremy Dewar

A GROWING number of rank and file trade unionists are organising to demand their pension funds are taken out of Israeli companies and firms with links to the Zionist state. American students in the encampments have popularised the slogan, ‘Disclose, divest’. Now it is taking off in Britain.

Earlier this month 35 trade unionists and Gaza activists from seven London boroughs met to set up the campaign Rank & File Trade Unionists for Divestment from Israel. They plan to leaflet council workers, lobby council meetings and petition the wider public to force Labour local authorities to stop funding the genocide.

A follow-up meeting, called at less than 24 hours notice, by Lambeth Unison attracted 20 members and is going to send out a survey to educate the council workforce and call a public meeting in the next couple of weeks.

Hackney Unison found their membership survey raised awareness and anger among workers, who had no idea that their deferred wages (which is what pension contributions are) were being used to finance Elbit and other arms manufacturers. The Labour council, up to now immune to the union’s demands, have to explain themselves away or… back down.

Up to now no borough can report success. Lobbies of councils have not produced results, except in a few cases of principled Labour councillors being suspended for speaking out for Palestine. Whether these have been articulate deputations or noisy and disruptive crowds in the chamber gallery, right wing Labour leaders have so far held the line that divestment is too difficult or they have to safeguard people’s pensions.

Escalation

We aim to change all that by stepping up our campaign.

First we are going to Unison’s national conference in Brighton on 11 June to spread the word. Second we are going directly to the pensions committees and boards, which have the power to decide on divestment. Third we are reaching out to other groups, like the university lecturers and students, who also call for divestment.

If we are blocked all down the line, we are prepared to mobilise for strike action to demand divestment.
Despite recently visiting Palestinian union leaders in Ramallah and calling for an arms embargo, Unison general secretary Christine McAnea has done nothing to support the divestment campaign, organise walkouts or even mobilise members to go on the demos.

We need to demand that she uses her position to demand the next Labour government not only supports the right to divest from Israel but that it makes it government policy—no arms, no finances, no diplomacy for genocide.

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