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“The period of 1940 to 1946 witnessed unprecedented solidarity between Arab and Jewish workers, not only among the railwaymen but in many other mixed enterprises as well. This may seem ironic in retrospect, since by the end of 1947 Palestine was engulfed in a full-scale civil war. But during the Second World War and immediately after it, a short-lived conjuncture created new possibilities for militant joint action, though they were eventually eclipsed by escalating political tensions.

The Palestinian working class, Arab and Jewish, expanded very dramatically during the war. Disruption of the usual sources of supply stimulated development of the country’s industrial base, as did the demand created by the enormously swollen British and Allied military presence. Military bases and related service enterprises proliferated, drawing tens of thousands of Arab peasants and townspeople into wage labor at work sites which also employed Jews.

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Labor shortages in many sectors strengthened the workers’ bargaining position, while high inflation pushes them toward action. […] In these circumstances there ensued an unprecedented wave of unionization and militancy which affected Arab workers most dramatically because they had hitherto been less active and less organized. [redmensch: This is mostly because the Jews had been strongly influenced by working-class politics in the European diaspora already.] […] This upsurge was encouraged by, and in turn benefited, newly reinvigorated left-wing forces in both the Arab community and the Yishuv which implicitly challenged nationalist leaderships on both sides by advocating class solidarity and political compromise between Arabs and Jews.

During the war a new Arab left emerged in Palestine, organized in the communist-led National Liberation League (’Usbat al-Taharrur al-Watani’, NLL). […] In the Yishuv, the initially kibbutz-based socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatza’ir (Young Guard) movement, which advocated a bi-national Palestine and Arab-Jewish class solidarity and was trying to extend its influence among Jewish urban workers … and it won significant support among militant Jewish workers, including railway workers in what had become known as Red Haifa. The Jewish communist movement also resurfaced during and after the war. […] It now sought to gain legitimacy and support from the wartime popularity of the Soviet Union, whose Red Army the Yishuv hailed as the main force fighting the Nazis, and by trying to ride of the wave of worker activism.

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A series of job actions and short strikes culminated … in a three-day occupation of the Haifa workshops in February 1944. Unrest continued after the end of the war in Europe, manifested during 1945 in a number of brief wildcat strikes by railway and postal workers, now among the most militant and experienced (and of course most integrated) segments of the Palestinian working class. The NLL’s newspaper, al-Ittihad, hailed these incidents as “clear proof of the possibility of joint action in every workplace,” provided that the workers steered clear of interference by both Zionism and “Arab reaction.”

The Arab communists’ prescription seemed to find confirmation in April 1946 when a planned strike by Jewish and Arab postal workers in Tel Aviv spontaneously expanded to encompass some 13,000 Arab and Jewish postal, telegraph, railway, port and public workers department workers, along with 10,000 lower- and middle-level white-collar government employees. This general strike paralyzed the British colonial administration and won the support of much of Jewish and Arab public opinion. The Arab and Jewish communists naturally saw in it a wonderful manifestation of class solidarity, “a blow against the ‘divide and rule’ policy of imperialism, a slap in the face of those who chauvinist ideologies and propagate national division,” but warned the strikes against “defeatist and reactionary elements, Arab and Jewish.”

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The strikers ultimately won many of their demands, and … the following year witnessed the rapid growth of unions and the spread of worker activism, especially in the army camps and at the oil refinery and the Iraq Petroleum Company’s pipeline terminal in Haifa. In these workplaces Arab and Jewish workers often cooperated in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions.”

– Zachary Lockman, “Railway workers and relational history: Arabs and Jews in British-ruled Palestine.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Volume 35, Issue 3, July 1993. pp. 601-627

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