Elbit 7 sentenced in Bristol. Where is our ‘Hands off Palestine’ movement?

The leaders of the antiwar and trade union movements have refused to mobilise their members to prevent ongoing British complicity in a genocide.

The ‘Elbit 7’, a group of Palestine Action activists who forced their way into an Elbit Systems site – the self-described “backbone” of the Israeli ‘Defence’ Force – were handed down suspended sentences in March for their courageous occupation of the building. The seven had already been held on remand for over a year and were required to pay damages amounting to approximately £100,000.

Members of the CPGB-ML joined a rally outside the Bristol Crown Court on the day of sentencing.


Why aren’t people mobilising en masse?

A young man in the crowd asked why it is that the horrible atrocities in Gaza haven’t galvanised the British masses into meaningful action against our government’s complicity in the genocide.

He illustrated the frustration and powerlessness felt by many Britons in the face of these horrific crimes – crimes happening in the full glare of global publicity. It seems incredible that people are going about their daily lives when the evidence of this horrific genocide is reaching us in real time.

That frustration, that impotence, results from a situation in which the British working-class movement has been systematically dismantled and defanged. This has reached the point where many of us have forgotten that we’re members of a class. We have lost touch with the knowledge that we have power. We have forgotten that it is workers who make everything and do every important job. Nothing can happen without our participation.

Even the bombers don’t fly without working-class people. The newspapers aren’t printed and TV shows aren’t broadcast without working-class people. The munitions aren’t made or transported. No part of the war machine works without the efforts of huge numbers of workers.

The travesty of the situation we’re in is that both our trade union movement and our antiwar movement have been coopted by forces that don’t want us to realise these things. They don’t want us to experience the power that we have when we organise in a meaningful way.

One hundred years ago, the ruling class of Britain wanted to fight a war of intervention against Soviet Russia. As soon as the Russians had carried out their socialist revolution, 14 countries got together and did everything possible to crush the world’s first socialist state in its cradle. Britain was one of these 14 countries.

What was the force that pulled Britain out of that war against the Russian people? It was the organised working class. A huge campaign was organised inside and outside the trade unions, calling for “Hands off Russia”. This campaign was so successful, and had such deep popular roots, that it resulted in dock workers refusing to load munitions and soldiers onto ships that were bound for Russia.

And the TUC, which even in those days was not keen on workers’ action, had to reflect the anger of its members and threaten the government with a general strike if it continued its role in the war.

The government knew that the threat was real. It made our rulers so nervous that they didn’t just back out of the war, a major victory in and of itself, but they also implemented a raft of concessions to working people to pacify their movement. They were scared of the power of the organised working class; of where that power could lead if it continued to be mobilised in the streets against the capitalist state.

The ruling class knows what the working class has forgotten: that we have power. Our demand today must be for another mass campaign of non-cooperation with imperialist war. It’s not enough for us to declare as individuals that we won’t be complicit. We may salve our individual consciences, but the war will continue on.

As individuals we are essentially powerless, but as a collective we have the ability to change what is happening.

Palestine Action’s activities have brought to our attention the complicity of many companies here in Britain with the ethnic cleansing and mass murder of Palestinians. Elbit Systems, one of the group’s principal targets, is a subsidiary of Israel’s largest arms manufacturer and is actively involved in supplying Israel with unmanned drones.

Our trade union and antiwar leaders should be doing everything possible to bring the concerted efforts of the working-class movement to the support of Palestine Action in its courageous efforts. PA members are taking upon themselves enormous personal risk in their just actions against a company complicit in genocide, but they should not have to do so in such an isolated, exposed way.

Where is the modern day equivalent of the Hands off Russia campaign? There have been plenty of huge protests for Palestine, but where is the real antiwar work, organised by the unions, to make a meaningful difference to the outcomes? If organised in the right way, British complicity in the Gaza genocide could be ended tomorrow, and this would make a huge hole in the Israeli and US efforts to maintain imperialist domination in the middle east.

Yet the vast majority of unions have opted to do nothing that might actually help save Palestinian lives or bring a lasting peace to the region.

No time is better than now to revive the movement and rejuvenate the confidence of the masses in themselves. Together, arm-in-arm, organised, we can make a real difference. Our forebears, who forced the government’s hands in the Hands off Russia campaign, taught us that much.