Paris, 16 October 2022
Mr Philippe Martinez, Secretary General of the CGT,
It may appear that many of your 650,000 members of the CGT (General Confederation of Labour) cannot believe that you could abandon critical union rights negotiations in Paris, to go with a CGT delegation to pay homage at Yasser Arafat’s flashy Mausoleum in Ramallah.
In World War Two, your Confederation, CGT, was banned by Vichy and many members served in the Resistance. In 1945, Léon Jouhaux returned from a German concentration camp to rebuild a post-war CGT, with support from the American Federation of Labor. He helped to create the “International Confederation of Free Trade Unions”. In 1951, Jouhaux received the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Mr. Martinez, you can hardly fit in his shoes.
In 1936, the British Trade Unions stood up against Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Its paramilitary wing, Fascist Defence Force, or “Black Shirts”, were sent into London’s heavily Jewish East End, escorted by complicit Police... They were met by anti-fascist counter-demonstrators, mostly trade unionist Jewish workers. The “Battle of Cable Street” is remembered on a plaque bearing the words “They Shall Not Pass!”
My great uncle, Simon, would always bring to family events the spoils of that battle, a torn black shirt and a battered Police helmet, telling us how his Tailor’s Union had “beat the hell out of the Fascist bastards!”
Mr. Martinez, would you have had similar courage? But of course, in your heroic television interview, you claim: “I had to run from the Israeli bullets in Nablus!” Whereas, in truth, you simply passed a military security check on one of the roads between Palestinian Nablus and Israel!
Nevertheless, apparently, you did stop at the duty-free shop in Ben Gurion Airport. Now, this at least shows you are against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign targeting Israel.
The “Histadrut” trade union (General Organization of Workers in Israel) – founded and led by David Ben Gurion from 1921 to 1935 – holds regular programmes on the “kibbutz” way of life, hi-tech research and development, workers’ rehabilitation, etc.
Last week, the trade union participated in the Fifth Congress of BWI (International Building and Wood Workers) in Madrid. The discussions put forward by Histadrut include:
- the protection of Palestinian construction and hotel workers’ rights;
- gender equality and women’s empowerment;
- building a fair and safe future and globalizing workers’ rights...
Mr. Martinez, back in Paris, your French constituency views your “escapade” to Ramallah and Nablus as “a betrayal of your responsibility towards Trade Unions’ priorities at home!”
Perhaps, next time, as a private citizen, you will visit the less pretentious tomb of Ben Gurion in the Negev Desert. You may discover that he was much more a trade unionist than Yasser Arafat.
Recognizing equal rights for Jews and Arabs alike, Ben Gurion also reminded all of us that “This is our native land; it is not as birds of passage that we return to it.”
Dr Shimon Samuels
Director for International Relations
Simon Wiesenthal Centre
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