Abbas Attacks Palestinian Trade Unions on Behalf of Israel and Palestinian client capitalists
confrontation between the Palestinian Authority and
organized labor will come to a head on Monday when the high court in Ramallah
hears an appeal to a decision by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to declare a major
crackdown on the Union of Public Employees escalated last November amid a
series of strikes by public sector workers over wages and conditions.
arrival, both Bassam Zakarneh and his deputy, Muin Ansawi, were detained and
transferred to the Palestinian public prosecutor for further interrogation.
Their detention was extended for 48 more hours.
after the detentions, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas declared the
Abbas’ presidential office declared
that the decision was based on a 2012 legal memo drafted by a presidential
committee he had commissioned to investigate the legality of the union and
which had found it null and void.
before the arrests, a coalition of public sector unions issued a
statement condemning the PA’s plan to cut employees’ wages for
days they go on strike. The statement claimed that this was a violation of
workers’ right to organize and cited a number of simmering grievances against
the statement ended with the unions declaring their support for the
“legitimate” leadership of Abbas, even though his elected mandate expired in 2009.
days after the arrests, the PA continued its crackdown with another arrest
warrant. The head of the health workers’ union, Dr. Osama al-Najjar,
subsequently handed himself over to the police. Al-Najjar had called the unions
to an emergency meeting to discuss the PA’s crackdown.
his arrest, the health workers’ union declared a partial strike for the
following week. This call was rescinded after al-Najjar was released only hours
evening of 12 November, the PLC, in a statement made by its secretary general,
Ibrahim Khraisheh, held Rami Hamdallah, the
Palestinian Authority’s latest unelected prime minister, responsible for all
the measures taken against the unions, deeming them illegal.
statement also declared an open-ended strike and sit-in by PLC employees in
solidarity with the arrested trade unionists. It called on all those who wanted
to stand with the strike to join them in the solidarity tent in the yard
outside the PLC building in Ramallah.
to former PLC deputy speaker Hassan Khraisheh, Ibrahim Khraisheh received a
phone call from Abbas ordering him to hand himself over to the Palestinian
security forces just hours after the statement was made.
Public Employees president Bassam Zakarneh is a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, the executive body of the
political faction that is headed by Abbas.
of its history, the union has carefully avoided doing anything that would upset
Abbas and other senior players in the PA. After calling a number of strikes
since 2013, however, the relationship between the PA and the union has soured.
latest in a series of strikes was called on 6 November, the day of the arrests,
to protest a decision by the PA to withhold wages for the time workers were off
a week earlier was over delays by the PA in implementing various promises,
including that public servants’ pay would be increased in line with inflation.
Wednesday, Zakarneh took part in a protest in solidarity with nine finance ministry workers who were
transferred to regional offices in retaliation for their union organizing.
Their case is due to be heard by the high court in February.
and other trade unionists have disseminated a call for public
workers to stay off the job when the union’s case is heard on Monday and to
rally in front of the court in Ramallah.
Serving the people
unions have served the Palestinian people before and since the first intifada began in 1987.
On occasion, they have caused significant problems for Israel’s colonial
of thousands of Palestinian workers went on strike at the beginning of the
first intifada, halting production in Israeli factories and businesses for days
before the Israeli authorities cracked down on the organizers, splitting the
unions and creating divisions.
unions played a major role in organizing Palestinian communities across the
occupied West Bank and Gaza during the intifada’s early days.
the foundation for the different local committees that would later work in
serving communities in various sectors, such as health, education, safety and
Since the Oslo accords and the
establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, however, the unions have
tended to be more eager to serve the elite than to defend workers.
most of their influence on the people, unions became organizations in which Fatah and Hamas, the two dominant political parties, fought for
to some, the main reason the Union of Public Employees was established in the
first place was to make it harder for Hamas to govern after its legislative
elections victory in 2006.
deputy speaker of the PLC Hassan Khraisheh said recently: “The union was established with support
from PA leaders to bicker with the Hamas led-government. It looks like they
have made a decision to get rid of it, after it was used for a while. This
should not happen.”
attempts to control trade union activists deprives the Palestinian people of
yet another opportunity to rise above the rivalries between political parties.
unions have a good opportunity to regain their solid connections with the
Palestinian public by becoming more democratic and holding elections once every
two years (not based on party affiliation).
unions also need to break any unnecessary relations with PA figures, starting
unions gain their legitimacy from the workers and the people — by serving
workers’ interests, not through their relations to a certain political party or
number of months, Gaza workers have been denied pay because of the ongoing
conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Declaring a strike in solidarity with them
would be an important step towards restoring the independence of Palestinian labor
Nimer is a freelance photographer currently living and working in Ramallah.