On the picketline

Labor solidarity with Palestine

On May 18, a general strike of Palestinian workers was held to protest the killing of civilians in Gaza, the displacement of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli Defense Forces. The strike helped to pressure the oppressive apartheid state of Israel to call off their genocidal bombing attacks.

The labor movement in the U.S. must ally with Palestinian workers and adopt Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) resolutions to end Israel’s apartheid stranglehold on Palestine. Currently the AFL-CIO still sides with the Jewish Labor Committee, which opposes the BDS movement and supports Israel’s war crimes against the Palestinians. The AFL-CIO and many national labor organizations hold Israeli bonds invested from union members’ pension funds, but are not transparent about the amounts invested, estimated to be in the billions. Leaders of both the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the American Federation of Teachers belong to the JLC.

Historically, it has been rank-and-file members who have shown support for a free Palestine. In 1973, 2,000 autoworkers with UAW’s Arab Workers Caucus held a wildcat strike in Detroit and other protests to demand United Auto Workers divest from Israel. Multiple UAW locals did liquidate their Israeli bonds and assets by 1975.

In 2010, a Connecticut AFL-CIO campaign was successful in divesting $25,000 worth of Israeli bonds.

University of California graduate student workers of UAW Local 2865 passed a resolution in 2015 calling on the union and the university to divest from Israeli banks and major companies which profit from business with Israel — such as Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar. In 2016, similar resolutions were passed by UAW Local 2322 graduate student workers at the University of Massachusetts and UAW Local 2110 grad student workers at New York University. But the UAW International Executive Board under the leadership of now-disgraced former President Dennis Williams declared these resolutions a violation of the union’s constitution.

Members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 refused to cross the picket line when activists protested the docking of an Israeli ship in Oakland harbor in 2014. The ILWU has a decades-long history of solidarity actions, and their contracts contain language prohibiting members from crossing picket lines.

The International Dockworkers Council issued a strong statement supporting  the Palestinian workers’ May 18 general strike and condemning the massacre of Palestinian civilians and children. Both the ILWU on the West Coast and the separate International Longshoremen’s Association on the East Coast are affiliates of the IDC.

Unfortunately only one national U.S. union, so far, has taken action to support the BDS movement. The United Electrical Workers adopted a resolution endorsing BDS at their national convention in 2015. UE General President Bruce Klipple said, “The widespread abuse of workers under the occupation (of Palestine by Israel) is a concern for the global labor movement.” (ueunion.org)

Many union leaders and activists have penned their names to a recent Labor for Palestine statement. (laborforpalestine.net)

Labor unions align with LGBTQ+ rights

As we commemorate Pride Month and the victories won against anti-LGBTQ2S+ oppression, let’s take a moment to recall the protections that belonging to a union provide. Labor activists defend the working class against the bourgeois owners of industry. Oppressed groups are guaranteed rights as union members in the workplace, even if this does not extend to society in general. Many union contracts contain language banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/gender expression.

LGBTQ+ workers who fought against workplace injustice played a prominent role in the history of the labor movement in this country. Helen Marot was a lesbian labor activist who organized working women into trade unions and fought for reforms to limit child labor in the 19th and 20th centuries. She was one of the leaders of the first shirtwaist workers’ strike in 1909.

In the 1930s heyday of labor militancy, the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union elected Stephen Blair, an openly gay man, as vice president. His partner, Frank McCormick, worked with communist, gay-rights activist Harry Hay to help organizers of the 83-day San Francisco dockworkers’ strike in 1934.

In the 1970s, the American Federation of Teachers spoke out in opposition to discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers, and the AFL-CIO joined the boycott of Coors beer over Coors’ union busting and anti-LGBTQ+ and racist hiring practices.

Workers World Party leader Leslie Feinberg, a revolutionary communist transgender lesbian, said “Like racism and all forms of prejudice, bigotry against transgendered people is a deadly carcinogen. We are pitted against each other in order to keep us from seeing each other as allies. Genuine bonds of solidarity can be forged between people who respect each other’s differences and are willing to fight their enemy together. We are the class that does the work of the world and can revolutionize it. We can win true liberation.”

Feinberg was a member of the National Writers Union and of Pride at Work. Founded in 1994 on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, PAW is an AFL-CIO constituency group representing LGBTQ+ union members. The group organizes mutual support between organized labor and the LGBTQ+ community to further social and economic justice.

Leslie Feinberg ¡presente!

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