Union solidarity with Palestine grows

As the U.S.-backed genocide against the Palestinian people continues to escalate, numerous trade unions from around the world have released public statements condemning the racist, Zionist attacks. Workers World has covered some of the unions that have come out in support of Palestine. (workers.org/2023/10/74274)

Unionists join demonstration against Israeli-owned arms manufacturer Elbit in Sandwich, England, Oct. 26, 2023. (Photo: Novara Media)

Additional labor organizations – such as the Pacific Media Workers Guild (CWA Local 39521), San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, NEA/AFT Local 67 and UAW Region 6 – have now signed a petition initiated by the United Electrical Workers (UE) and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000 calling for a ceasefire. 

Much of the union support for Palestine has been initiated by militant and multinational youth, both organized and unorganized.

The Oakland Education Association — one of the largest education worker locals in the U.S. — released a statement on Oct. 27 that states: “We unequivocally condemn the 75-year-long illegal military occupation of Palestine. The Israeli government created an apartheid state and the Israeli government leaders have espoused genocidal rhetoric and policies against the people of Palestine.” 

OEA continued by affirming: “As educators of a diverse community here in Oakland [California], including those with family and friends directly impacted, our conscience demands that we say clearly that OEA calls for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation of Palestine. … There is no place in our community for anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.” (OEA Facebook)

OEA’s statement was both a defense of the Palestinian people and a show of support by teachers for their students. Oakland students packed a school board meeting on Oct. 25 and strongly urged the Oakland Unified School District to take a public stand in support of Palestine.  

The Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition – American Federation of Teachers Local 6403, at the University of Kansas, published a declaration stating: “We condemn the ongoing settler colonial project, known as the nation-state of Israel, which does not represent all Jewish people and is not synonymous with biblical Israel.” (gtacunion.org, Oct. 18)

The Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a militant, member-led caucus within the United Federation of Teachers, issued a proclamation mourning the loss of Palestinian lives. MORE co-sponsored an event at Bryant Park in New York City alongside other peace organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, “demanding Congress call for an immediate cease-fire, full access to Gaza from humanitarian aid organizations, and no U.S. military aid for war crimes.” (morecaucusnyc.org, Oct. 18)

Other unions in the U.S. have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people in the past. The left-leaning and social justice-driven National Nurses United released a statement on Aug. 9, 2022, condemning Israel for airstrikes over Gaza that were confirmed to have murdered at least 15 children. “We stand with Palestinian nurses, doctors, and other health care workers and their unions who have valiantly worked to save human lives during this recent escalation of violence. We call for an end to military aggression, to occupation, and an end to the illegal blockade of Gaza,” said Secretary Treasurer Martha Kuhl, RN. (nationalnursesunited.org, Aug. 9, 2022)

In 2021, several unions publicly took a stand against the brutal occupation of Palestine. UNITE HERE Local 23 in Denver, Teamsters Local 804 in New York City and Roofers Local 36 in Los Angeles all made social media posts endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the apartheid, settler-colonial state of Israel. 

Global union solidarity with Palestine

Many unions around the world have communicated sympathy with the Palestinian people. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) released a statement on Oct. 11 that pledged “unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian people.” (publicnow.com, Oct. 11)

The South African Municipal Workers’ Union, a COSATU affiliate, posted a remarkably strong message on its website on Oct. 21: “We acknowledge the century-old oppression endured by the Palestinian people, initially under the Colonial British Government and subsequently under the rule of the Zionist and Apartheid state of Israel. 

The union firmly believes that the path to resolving the current situation in the Middle East lies in the freedom of Palestine and its people. SAMWU stands in solidarity with those striving for justice and the realization of Palestinian self-determination.” (mediadon.co.za Oct. 21)

On Oct. 17, Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas), a rank-and-file-led union in Italy, put out a letter addressed to the people of Palestine that makes a commitment to stop any weapons from being shipped to Israel. Cobas represents many immigrant workers from the Middle East and North Africa. Images on social media also show Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL) Secretary General Maurizio Landini at a pro-Palestinian rally at Esquilino Square in Rome.

French unions called for a protest in Paris to condemn Israeli atrocities, despite hostility from French President Emmanuel Macron. (radiohc.cu, Oct.25).

Unions in other countries are more class-conscious and less hesitant to criticize capitalism than unions in the U.S. As a result, they tend to have a better grasp on how imperialism and colonial occupation are a detriment to the material interests of the whole global working class.

Division within U.S. organized labor

Despite the growing support for Palestine among youthful trade unionists and young worker activists, there are still some leaders in the U.S. labor movement who are on the wrong side of history.      

The AFL-CIO released an official statement in which they scolded the Palestinian people and blamed Hamas for the recent deaths in the region — despite Hamas being democratically elected to represent Gaza. (dailycaller, Oct. 27) 

Sadly, the AFL-CIO has a history of taking pro-imperialist positions, including working with the CIA-backed “American Institute for Free Labor Development.” AIFLD sided with undemocratic company “unions” against socialist-led unions and progressive governments in other countries, most notably in Latin America.  The AIFLD, now defunct, has since morphed into the misnamed “Solidarity Center,” which works closely with the pro-imperialist National Endowment for Democracy.

The Oct. 11 statement prompted many leaders within the AFL-CIO Executive Council to debate the issue. One of the biggest defenders of Palestinian rights from the Executive Council, who immediately rejected the AFL-CIO statement, is Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, on strike for over 100 days, disappointingly made a one-sided statement regarding the onslaught following the Al-Aqsa Flood. SAG-AFTRA publicly declared that it “deplores and condemns the horrific acts of aggression against the Israeli people on October 7,” ignoring the plight of the Palestinian people and letting the imperialist and racist-Zionist forces off the hook. (sagaftra.org Oct 13)

The top leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, including President Randi Weingarten, has taken the most reactionary, anti-Palestinian position. Like the AFL-CIO — of which the AFT is one of its largest affiliates — the union blamed Hamas solely for the mass deaths. But the AFT took it one step further by welcoming “Biden’s swift response” in “supporting Israel,” and went so far as to argue that “Israel has every right to defend itself as it will now do.” (aft.org, Oct. 9)  

Many union members pro-Palestine, defy leaders

Despite the right-wing position of the AFT leadership, there are many rank-and-file members who are not in agreement with the national line, and they are defiantly making that known. For instance, GTAC is affiliated with AFT, while MORE belongs to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which is a merged union associated with both AFT and the National Education Association (NEA).  

The same goes for members of other unions that have an anti-Palestine line or that have no position. United Auto Workers members in New York City have organized contingents with union signs in multiple pro-Palestine marches, for example.

It is important for advanced workers who are knowledgeable about Palestine to talk to workers who are less informed. Education on the matter can help push more unions into not only supporting Palestinian liberation, but also in passing other resolutions that will help improve material conditions for working-class and oppressed peoples around the world. 

To successfully push unions forward, it is important to be constructive, and avoid potentially destructive approaches. It must be remembered that unions are organizations that help workers fight their bosses in the most elementary way and they must be defended.

The labor movement as a whole can and must be swayed on Palestine. There is precedent for changing reactionary positions taken by unions. When much of the U.S. labor movement, under the chauvinist leadership of the American Federation of Labor, excluded women, people of color and immigrants, revolutionaries and anti-capitalist militants helped break through the bigoted barriers. That later helped unions become inclusive. 

Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries have and will be on the correct side of labor history. 

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