International Workers’ Day: Palestinian workers on the front lines of resistance

Palestinian poster for 1 May. Artist: Hafez Omar

On 1 May 2021, International Workers’ Day, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network stands with the working class and popular classes of Palestine and the world on this day of struggle for liberation from exploitation, capitalism, imperialism, racism and Zionism. Samidoun organizers are taking to the streets today with their comrades in cities around the world to celebrate and advance our collective struggle.

As we march and organize for the global liberation of workers — including the workers of Palestine — we urge all international workers’ movements to join the struggle for Palestinian liberation, including by participating in the Week of Palestinian Struggle, 15-22 May 2021, marking 73 years of ongoing Nakba and 73 years of Palestinian resistance and revolutionary struggle. 

Within Palestine, 1 May is a day of struggle highlighting the leading role of Palestinian workers in the liberation movement. The prisoners’ movement is no exception; indeed, the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners come from the working and popular classes, the refugee camps and the villages, and it is these workers who put their bodies and lives on the line for freedom.

As imprisoned Palestinian leader Kamil Abu Hanish wrote in 2017, “The sons and daughters of the popular classes of Palestine, the workers, the farmers in the villages, the refugees of the camps, have always been the leaders and the driving force of our Palestinian national liberation movement. The Palestinian popular classes have been the freedom fighters, the strugglers and the resisters on the front lines, confronting the occupation and Zionist colonization in Palestine. And so it is the case that the popular classes of Palestine fill the ranks of the Israeli prisons, the builders of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement continuing on the front lines of resistance, building the ongoing Palestinian revolution.”


Classic Palestinian revolutionary poster for 1 May. Artist Marc Rudin

General strikes have always been a key mechanism of Palestinian resistance, from the earliest revolts of the Palestinian people against British and then Zionist colonialism. In the 1936 revolution, Palestinian workers’ six-month general strike was at that time the longest in the world. This continued over the years, as Palestinian workers in exile built the Palestinian liberation movement and its organizations, and as Palestinian workers and labor unions led in the organizing of the first intifada. UNRWA workers and others in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon paved the way for the modern revolution, as revolutionary leaders like Abu Maher al-Yamani organized refugees for liberation and return on the basis of their trade union work before the Nakba in Palestine.

In the 1950s, Palestinian labor organizers in occupied Palestine ’48 were jailed as they attempted to keep their organizations intact under martial law. At least seven Palestinian trade union leaders were deported from the West Bank between 1969 and 1979. These attacks happened as Palestinians inside Israeli jails fought to end forced labor, a victory that was achieved only through great sacrifice. Omar Shalabi, a Syrian prisoner, was killed under torture in October 1973 during the protests against Israeli forced labor.

Palestinian workers are regularly subject to colonial forms of imprisonment, from the political targeting of workers’ organizations to the mass criminalization of Palestinians seeking employment inside occupied Palestine ’48. Palestinian workers are frequently arrested for “entering Israel without a permit,” despite the fact that many of these same workers are Palestinian refugees denied their right to return to their original homes and lands for the past 71 years. The systematic siege and subjugation of the Palestinian economy, from the texts of the Paris Protocols to the latest attacks by the U.S. government under Donald Trump, has forced thousands of Palestinians to seek work with or without permits as day laborers, often in construction.

Classic Palestinian revolutionary poster for 1 May. Artist Marc Rudin

At any given time, there are approximately 1000 Palestinians arrested, detained or fined for seeking to work in their own homeland; they are not classified in the Israeli colonial system as “security” prisoners and are thus missing from the statistics related to Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. However, it is clear that everything about these workers’ situation is deeply political – they are imprisoned for their Palestinian existence on Palestinian land, specifically as Palestinian workers.

The drive to exclude Palestinian workers has always been part of the Zionist colonial project. This has been reflected in the founding principles and continued operation of the Israeli Histadrut, a trade union federation founded with the explicit purpose of promoting Zionist colonization of Palestinian land and excluding Palestinian labor. Despite having a fraternal relationship with the AFL-CIO and other major labor unions worldwide, it actually exploits Palestinian workers inside Israel by deducting fees from their salaries while denying them benefits. Its role predates the Nakba and continues to reflect this colonial relationship, which is why Palestinian workers and labor union solidarity activists have urged a boycott of the Histadrut by international labor federations.

Palestinian workers in exile also continue to struggle against exploitation and oppression. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees continue to be denied access to over 70 professions, leading to massive unemployment and frequent despair among the working class. Palestinian refugees forced to flee to Europe, North America and elsewhere from Lebanon, Syria and occupied Palestine confront racist, repressive policies that inhibit their right to work and threaten them with deportation, detention and exclusion.

Classic Palestinian revolutionary poster for 1 May.

They confront the racism of “Fortress Europe” and criminalization of refugee workers alongside fellow migrants and workers seeking safety and refuge from the military, social, environmental and economic disasters forced upon their home countries by the very imperialist states that then deny their rights. They face severe exploitation in black market labor. Still, these workers continue to struggle despite all odds not only to confront racism and exclusion in the imperialist countries but also to organize to confront imperialism and win their liberation.

Israeli occupation and oppression reflects the sharpest edge of capitalist exploitation for the Palestinian working class, backed up fully by the most powerful and dangerous imperialist powers, especially the United States. However, they also face Arab reactionary regimes that are complicit with the exploitation and marginalization of Palestinian workers even as they pursue normalization with the Israeli state. They also confront Palestinian capitalists and the Palestinian Authority, formed as a security subcontractor to the Israeli occupation. The Jordanian monarchy acted in the 1970s and 1980s to repress union organizing in the interests of Palestinian capitalists, while ultra-wealthy Palestinian capitalists like Bashar al-Masri are on the first lines promoting normalization and undermining the boycott of Israel.

Classic Palestinian revolutionary poster for 1 May. Artist Marc Rudin

Imperialism is on the attack around the world, using its military might and its weapons of siege and sanctions against peoples around the world. As always, it is workers and the impoverished classes who bear the heaviest brunt of these assaults, such as in Venezuela, where the people continue to resist imperialist attacks despite repeated coup attempts, the confiscation of the Venezuelan people’s resources, military threats from the United States and devastating, exploitative sanctions. Fighting back against imperialism, including U.S., Canadian and EU sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, Syria and indeed, nearly one-third of the world, in addition to its military interventions, warmongering and ongoing violent attacks on all forms of resistance to imperial domination, is essential to building the movement for Palestine.

On International Workers’ Day, we once again amplify the words of Kamil Abu Hanish, speaking from Israeli prison, urging the escalation of the boycott of Israel: “Today, we call upon you, the fighters for freedom and justice in the world, the workers’ movements, the strugglers for socialism, the movements of revolution, to escalate your support for our struggle, for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian prisoners. We urge you to act to isolate the occupation state, to hold it accountable for 70 years of crimes against the Palestinian people…The workers’ movements, the movements of the popular classes, the movements of the oppressed, can and must take part in this battle around the world, as part and parcel of the struggle against racism, imperialism and capitalism.”

We urge workers’ organizations around the world to continue to build and grow this solidarity with Palestinian workers, the leaders of the Palestinian liberation struggle. At the same time, we also express our solidarity with the struggling workers of the world, including the imprisoned labor union and workers’ movement leaders who are held behind bars or face death threats and repression for their role in defending oppressed workers. From India to the Philippines to France, from Colombia to Egypt and Morocco, we stand with these labor movements targeted for repression. We salute the imprisoned Turkish and Kurdish strugglers, not only in Turkish jails but also in European ones, often targeted for their role in workers’ organizations or even for defending them in court. The liberation of Palestine is fundamentally linked to the liberation of all from imperialism, exploitation and capitalism.

On International Workers’ Day, these struggles must become an occasion to escalate our work to support Palestinian workers, free the prisoners, and liberate Palestine, from the river to the sea. Labor action for Palestine, including the boycott of the Histadrut and of Israeli bonds, is one clear way for organized workers around the world to stand together with Palestinian workers in a collective struggle for liberation that confronts settler colonialism, Zionism, apartheid, capitalism, exploitation and oppression in all forms.

Join us on 15-22 May 2021 — the liberation of Palestine is part and parcel of the liberation of the working class of the world

* Note: Much of the statement above is republished from our earlier statement on 1 May