Hammer, Sickle and Four logo
The Internationalist
October 2023

Italian Unions Call to Stop
Arms to Israel and Ukraine

Demonstrators at October 21 protest call to “Block Everything: Factories, Trains, Ports.” The mobilization against the Ukraine and Gaza wars was called by S.I. Cobas at the Italian/U.S. Ghedi air force base outside Brescia, Italy.  (Photo: Gironale di Brescia)

For International Workers Action Against Zionist Genocidal Attack on Gaza

On October 16, as Israel ramped up its genocidal attack on Gaza – which as of this writing (October 19) has killed more than 8,000 Palestinians, including 3,195 children, according to the Gaza health ministry – Palestinian trade unions issued an urgent call on fellow unions and workers worldwide to “End All Complicity, Stop Arming Israel.” The appeal, signed by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) as well as its affiliate in Gaza and other independent labor federation, called in particular to stop building weapons for Israel, to “refuse to transport weapons to Israel,” and to get their unions to pass motions to that effect.

The League for the Fourth International urges unions and class-conscious workers to respond to the emergency appeal and to take action against the monstrous slaughter being jointly carried out daily in Gaza by Israel and the U.S. In many Western countries the Palestinian unions’ call has fallen on deaf ears, notably in the United States and Germany, where leaders of major unions are in bed with the Zionist state. In Canada, the public employees union CUPE called on the government to end sales of arms to Israel. In Britain, the RMT rail and transport workers union called on members to join Palestine solidarity protests and called to stop arms sales to Israel, while workers in Unite, Unison and other unions have blocked the entrance to the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems in Kent. But these are modest and isolated initiatives.

In Italy the situation is notably different, as a militant sector of the labor movement has long called for Palestinian solidarity. On Friday, October 20, some of these unions, led by S.I. Cobas (for comitati di base – “rank and file committees”) called a “general strike” against the attacks on workers’ living standards by the fascist-led government of Giorgia Meloni, and against the production and shipping of arms. The following day, the same unions and their allies protested at the Italy/U.S. military base in Ghedi, outside Brescia in northern Italy. Since 1963, this base has held dozens of U.S. atomic bombs and has been used for NATO imperialist wars against Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. A call by the S.I. Cobas for the two days of action included:

“We will demonstrate in Ghedi against military spending, to close the military bases that are used for imperialist aggression and to stop the sending of Western arms to the Ukraine and Israel….”

The combative demonstration of some 5,000 protesters in Ghedi was heavily proletarian in character, reflecting the union’s base among immigrant workers in the logistics industry.

On the same day, October 21, there was a smaller demonstration called by the USB “rank-and-file” union and its allies in San Pietro Grado, outside of Pisa, against plans to expand a carabinieri (paramilitary police) center there into a much larger military base. Again, one of the demands was against sending arms to Ukraine and Israel. The forces that organized this demonstration, along with others, are now organizing a national anti-militarist demonstration in Rome on the “Day of the Armed Forces,” November 4, with a central demand of “Stop the sending of arms to the Ukraine,” along with slogans in defense of the Palestinians.

In the past, these labor groups have on several occasions carried out actions blocking cargo bound for wars in the Middle East. This was the case in June 2019, when the Autonomous Collective of Port Workers (CALP) in Genova refused to load military cargo on a Saudi Arabian ship which was destined to be used in the bloody war against the Houthi population in Yemen.1 In May 2021, in the midst of the last Israeli war on Gaza, dock workers in Livorno affiliated with the USB refused to load containers with arms and explosives bound for the Israeli port of Ashdod.2 That same month in Ravenna, the port unions of the three main labor confederations (CGIL/ CISL/UIL), alerted to the approach of an Israeli ship, announced they would refuse to move containers with arms that were waiting on the docks there.3

Action by Italian workers against arms shipments to the Zionist military can have an important impact. Italy is the third-largest exporter of arms to Israel, including of Leopard tanks and aircraft.4 It is also the only European producer of F-35 fighter-bomber aircraft, which NATO countries are purchasing in large numbers as they prepare to hand over their used F-16s to Ukraine. This multibillion-euro trade is an important reason why the Meloni government is not about to halt weapons shipments, either to Israel or to the fascist-infested NATO puppet regime in Kiev. That is why workers action is key. Now it is reported that there will soon be another attempt to ship military cargo to the Saudi air force through the port of Genova, this time by a subsidiary of the U.S. military contractor DSX Technology. This must be blocked!

Blocking individual shipments of war material to Israel and Ukraine can be deemed symbolic, but it has tremendous importance as an example of mobilizing the power of the working class against imperialist (and Zionist) war. There are notable political differences between the different mainstream and “rank-and-file” unions in Italy, with some explicitly opposing NATO’s war in Ukraine while others refuse to defend any capitalist country under attack by imperialism (such as Russia in the U.S./NATO Ukraine proxy war). Reflecting this, and traditional organizational enmity, worker actions against arms shipments that have occurred have been by each union acting separately. This undercuts the tremendous potential of united proletarian action to defeat imperialist war. (See our article, “Italy: Workers Action Key to Defeating Imperialist War Drive Against Russia, China.”)

So far, since the beginning of U.S./Israeli murderous assault on Gaza, the calls to “stop” arms shipments to Israel have been by the different “rank-and-file” unions acting separately. The Nucleo Internazionalista d’Italia has pushed for united workers action to block NATO arms shipments to Ukraine, and now to Israel as well. At a meeting of S.I. Cobas held in the CALP office in Genova on October 14, one of several in preparation for its demonstration at Ghedi, when a NId’I supporter called for joining forces to stop weapons shipments, this was warmly applauded. But it’s necessary to turn this sentiment into concrete action. To actually mobilize workers in powerful class struggle against imperialism requires one thing above all: revolutionary leadership fighting for international socialist revolution. That is the program of the NId’I, Italian section of the League for the Fourth International. ■