It is a practical trade union idea that promises to transcend the political hotbed that exists between Palestine and Israel – a hotline for transport workers who are routinely delayed or harassed by the occupying Israeli military at 642 checkpoints throughout the region.
That was the hopeful message left by two trade unionists who met with CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Généreux and senior staff members on August 12 in Ottawa.
Naser Younes is president of the General Federation of Transport Workers (GFTW) in Palestine and Bilal Malkawi represents the International Transport Federation. The hotline project is co-sponsored by the ITF and the Canadian Auto Workers’ union represented at the meeting by Carol Phillips.
“Without your support we will not see the end of the Occupation,” said Younes, who has been detained by the Israeli military 25 times. “Until it ends, we need practical support.” That’s where the hotline comes in.
Truckers, bus and taxi drivers, ambulance drivers and firefighters – members of the 16,000-strong GFTW – are essential in the Gaza Strip and West Bank areas occupied by Israel against United Nations resolutions. But they are often stopped at checkpoints, forcing long delays on the delivery of the goods and services they carry to waiting communities.
The hotline will start as a pilot project at 13 checkpoints. A driver can call a well publicized hotline number to ask for assistance. The call will be registered at a central office in Ramallah, to open in September, and then tracked until the problem has been resolved. A project director and trained staff will process the calls and analyze the monthly record of incidents to identify trends.
“In Palestine, the life of the people depends on transport and the people want a normal way of life,” Younes said. “If we make the lives of 10 people better, this project will be a success,” Malkawi added.
The project has broader possibilities as well. Younes is secretary-treasurer of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. After many years of trying, the PGFTU recently signed an accord, brokered by the International Council of Trade Unions, which improves relations between the PGFTU and the Israeli union federation Histadrut. Both are ITUC affiliates.
The accord ensures that union dues will be repatriated to the PGFTU, but it also has implications for the hotline project which some say helped achieve the accord. With Histadrut’s help, the hotline has a chance to succeed partly because of the Israeli federation’s influence over the government and military.
Calling the project “courageous”, Généreux told the visitors that CUPE would assess the viability of providing assistance. Others agreed, noting that the accord could pave the way to future practical projects, such as health and safety training for public sector workers and literacy work among women workers.
CUPE has more than 10,000 members working in the transport sector, including flight attendants, municipal bus and ambulance drivers and dock workers.