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U.N. Strike Shows Convergence of Labor and Middle East Politics

1:24 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Cross-posted from In These Times

In the Kingdom of Jordan, conflict erupted in the Palestinian refugee community, but it’s not the kind of unrest you might expect in a society of survivors of war. The protesters were employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). They launched a strike to press for fairer wages and working conditions, which led to a sit-in at the agency’s Amman headquarters and affected a workforce of about 7,000 that provides health, education and social services to a Palestinian refugee population of about 1.5 million. The dispute was apparently just settled, following “mediation” by the Jordanian government, with a deal for a pay raise of about $70 (USD).

"Welcome," reads the artwork scrawled on the wall outside of an UNRWA girls school at the Jerash Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordan. (Photo by Omar Chatriwala via Flickr)

The local press reported earlier that the representatives of UNRWA workers’ councils had issued further demands, including “promotions for teachers, directors and supervisors and the filling of vacancies in all the agency’s sectors, as well as the improvement of UNRWA employees’ work conditions.”

In a way, this was a classic labor conflict between a public agency and workers in a relatively poor country. But UNRWA is a unique international bureaucracy, with a global budget crisis intertwined with the politics of the conflict-ridden regions it serves.

UNRWA in Jordan faced a similar strike over pay rates in 2008. In Gaza last fall, the agency was besieged by calls for a general strike by the Local Staff Union of UNRWA in Gaza City. More than 240 schools in Gaza were affected by protests against the  suspected politically motivated suspension of union head Suhail Al-Hindi. Teachers were among the most vocal protesters:

Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.

Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to “UNRWA political punishment of employees.”

“Death rather than humiliation” read a banner held by striking teachers. “Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA,” read another.

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As U.N. Debates Palestinian Statehood, Palestinian People Still Ignored

8:33 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

US Palestinian Community Network

Cross-posted from

Depending on which part of the world you occupy, the United Nations is either a well-meaning but inept political body, or a place where humanitarian ideals go to die. Either way, this week’s General Assembly gathering has revealed that the U.N.’s founding principles often ring hollow in the cavernous hall where officials convene to talk about the world’s problems—and do as little as possible to fix them. Still, this year could be a pivot point for one of the most intractable conflicts on the world stage.

In an unprecedented political gambit, the Palestinian Authority has sought full United Nations recognition and membership as a state. The Palestinians are, essentially, trying to use the same mechanism that established Israel back in 1947. Their own statehood bid, which could have not only symbolic but also legal implications for Palestine’s international standing, has support in the majority of the General Assembly.

It is nonetheless dead on arrival, since the U.S., as a member of the Security Council, has vowed to veto the measure if it comes up for a vote. The Obama administration is reportedly working frantically to convince Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to go through with plans to formally submit the request after his speech today. Israel has warned (with both diplomatic and military threats) that approving the bid would fatally disrupt the already moribund “peace process.”

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