Fred Hahn, the President of CUPE Ontario, is under attack from all quarters for expressing support for Palestinian human rights. The pretext for this attack is some tweets Hahn sent out on Thanksgiving weekend, but the real goal of these attacks is to silence voices critical of Israel, weaken the confidence of labour, and embolden the forces of the far-right.
Let’s not forget that Fred Hahn has also been on the receiving end of the most vile homophobic and transphobic vitriol for standing up to protect trans kids. The same organization targeting Fred Hahn has also been calling for all unions to be defunded. This is not a coincidence.
As we have seen with Sarah Jama, who issued a tweet to make it even more clear that she opposes the targeting of all innocents whether Israeli or Palestinian, her clarification did nothing to stop the attacks from the far right. As a young, Black, Muslim woman, she has received an onslaught of sickening anti-Black racism, sexism, and more. She is facing a motion to censure in the Ontario Legislature and, most recently, TVO’s Steve Paikin wrote a disgraceful piece denouncing Jama and Hahn, while erasing entirely the pain and suffering of Palestinians.
And despite Fred Hahn issuing a clarification of his own tweet, stating explicitly that he does not celebrate violence and pointing out the fact “he has spent his life fighting for justice for workers – building power & solidarity for working people to resist – to win a better world,” it hasn’t stopped the onslaught of right wing forces from attacking him.
Most of those attacks have been coming from the same people attacking trans rights and the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ people, and from the usual anti-union people involved in the so-called freedom convoy, who have now joined forces with people who are cheerleading Israel’s war on Gaza.
Sadly, some of these attacks are also coming from inside the labour movement, mainly from right-wing union leaders who don’t like Fred because he’s always pushing unions to do more to fight back.
But make no mistake: any take-down of Fred, including any labour-led public rebukes of him for speaking out for peace, will only hurt labour as a whole.
It would demoralize union members fighting to stop genocide and, as we have already seen, embolden the forces of the far-right, from Doug Ford and Pierre Poilievre in Canada, to Israel’s Benjamin Netenyahu and Italy’s Gorgia Meloni. It would intensify Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia making those marginalised groups even more vulnerable than they already are. It would also embolden transphobic and homophobic bigots who are using the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza to advance their own agenda of taking down leaders who resist their agenda. All of this only builds the confidence of right-wing politicians to pit workers against each other, to better attack wages and working conditions and privatise public services.
There would also be long-term implications in the electoral arena. Attacking Fred Hahn would undermine CUPE Ontario’s influence within the NDP. CUPE Ontario is one of the most progressive unions that still explicitly backs the NDP. As such, it plays an important role as a left-wing pole inside the NDP, pushing the party to take better positions on a wide range of issues and to speak to the concerns of working people.
If we allow Hahn to be discredited, we undermine that progressive influence inside the NDP and embolden the more conservative labour elements of the labour movement that operate within the NDP. By extension, this would weaken support for MPPs like Sarah Jama, who take principled positions despite their own experience of being targeted.
We simply cannot let this happen. If we fail to protect Jama and Hahn, we won’t be able to protect workers who are being victimised for speaking out or even wearing a keffiyeh. From York University to Mackenzie Health, firings, suspensions and reprisals are already underway.
That’s why it’s urgent for everyone, but especially for labour (rank-and-file members and union leaders alike), to speak up to defend Sarah Jama and Fred Hahn. And we need to defend them loudly, clearly, and without any reservation. Doing so will build the confidence of others to defend those being targeted in our workplaces.
Our movement needs more leaders like Sarah Jama and Fred Hahn, and unions like CUPE–which has done more than any other trade union in English Canada to support the rights of the Palestinian people.
There’s not a moment to lose. Here’s how all of us can help to support labour as it defends Sarah and Fred:
- Sign this petition from Labour for Palestine.
- Speak up on social media and amplify shareables that defend Jama and Hahn.
- If you’re in a union, talk to your co-workers about this issue and pass the Labour 4 Palestine resolution in your workplace (sample resolution below).
Defend free speech. Stop the attack on Palestine solidarity.
Our union will
- Defend Sarah Jama, Fred Hahn, and anyone being threatened for showing solidarity with the Palestinian people–including members of our union and other workers facing discipline at work;
- Support the call for an immediate ceasefire in Israel-Palestine, for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and for the restoration of aid and the basic necessities of life;
- Organize member education in our union about the long history of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, Canada’s complicity, and what trade unions can do to support a just and lasting peace.
- People are speaking out against the escalating violence in Israel-Palestine and calling for an immediate ceasefire and to lift Israel’s blockade of Gaza, where 2.3 million people–half of them children–are running out of water, food, and fuel.
- People calling for peace or for showing solidarity with Palestinians are facing smear campaigns, intimidation, and bullying, including ONDP MPP Sarah Jama and CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn.
- Workers have been targeted by their employers for supporting Palestinian human rights and many are facing discipline, suspension, or firings.
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