Building workplace solidarity – one conversation at a time

Posted on Friday, 15 December

Office worker, central Melbourne:

I started wearing my badge after October 7th. It’s a very conservative workplace, and initially no one said anything but looked at it very cautiously.

Then about a week or two in I started getting messages from people saying they go to the Sunday rallies too. I talked to those people in person about the Palestine rallies, and why they were important. More and more people would say they liked my badge.

Then this week one of my co-workers started wearing their keffiyeh. I ended up having a long conversation about Palestine’s occupation in my office room of 30 people. At our Christmas party today, I brought in badges and gave them to 3 other colleagues who wore them to the party, as well as one woman who wore her keffiyeh.

The mood has qualitatively changed, and now people feel comfortable to support Palestine in some small way.

One of the great things about this story is that this particular workplace – like so many today – has no union presence and a ground down workforce with major industrial issues. Previously, no-one much had talked about anything (“we all just sit at our desks slowly dying” is how this VS member put it).

The keffiyeh, the badge, and an attempt by management to discuss the evils of badge-wearing has sparked a more general discussion about workplace conditions. Who knows what comes next, but very many stories of organising in a workplace start in exactly this way – opening up a political discussion which can then lead anywhere. Just one more example of how standing up for Palestine actually helps us to collectively stand up for ourselves, everywhere.

Reaching out to workmates, a badge or a fundraiser at a time

A lot of people are highly motivated about Palestine, but unfortunately we’re still a minority of society. A much larger group of people – including many of our workmates – are shaken up, appalled by the scenes from Gaza, and up for a conversation.

Reaching out to workmates in the “shaken up/ appalled” category to initiate a conversation can require a bit of thought. Sometimes a soft touch is required, especially given the lack of union presence in many workplaces, and the amount of fear and repression around Palestine in public sector and some private sector workplaces.

Free badges
Badges are a handy way to start a conversation.
Fundraising lunch
A fundraising lunch for professional staff at Melbourne Uni – staff donated via QR code to Apheda’s Gaza appeal, Free Palestine Melbourne, APAN or Olive Kids.
Watermelon badges
If management won’t tolerate a “Free Palestine” badge, sometimes a watermelon badge or brooch can get under the radar – badges available from the VS shop.

The story above is one example of a successful approach. Another comes from a Victorian Socialists member who teaches in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Having a Red Flag newspaper on her staff room desk with “Stand With Palestine” on the front page made it easy for one workmate to stop and ask: “so… who are the good guys and who are the bad guys here?”

Our VS teacher comrade followed up by buying ten badges and putting them in a little bowl on her desk with a post-it note saying “please take one”. Apparently eight of these badges are now gone, each with a discussion about the situation in Palestine.

These are exactly the sort of discussions we need, in workplaces across the country. Vic Socialists members can’t fill all of that gap, but we can set an example. Some VS members have been able to get workmates along to the Sunday rallies, which can be an important and inspiring experience. Click on the “posters and leaflets” button on the VS Palestine Action Group page for a leaflet for the Sunday rallies.  

In some workplaces, a “Free Palestine” badge gets repression from management – work under capitalism is a dictatorship, it turns out. Some VS comrades have found that wearing a watermelon badge or brooch can work as a fallback, and still sparks discussion. So due to popular demand, we’ve ordered some.  A keffiyeh can also often get under management’s anti-free-speech radar.

In some workplaces with a core of pro-Palestine fellow workers, VS members have been able to initiate a fundraiser – for the Union Aid Abroad / Apheda Gaza appeal, or for the political advocacy of groups like Free Palestine Melbourne, or both. Again, this can be a valuable way of initiating some conversations – essential to winning support for Palestine, and providing a foundation for any other workplace organsing.