On Dec. 1, the last day of a five-day hunger strike calling for a cease-fire in Palestine, unions that have supported that call held a press conference outside the White House. Among those speaking there were United Auto Workers Region 9A Director Brandon Mancilla, who announced that the UAW was joining the United Electrical Workers (UE), the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), and many local and regional labor bodies in raising that demand. The UAW, with 400,000 members, is the largest U.S. union to demand a cease-fire.
“We opposed fascism in World War II.” said Mancilla. “We ended up opposing the Vietnam War. We opposed apartheid South Africa and we mobilized union resources and the entire labor movement to join us in that fight. We opposed the contra war in Central America and Nicaragua that the Reagan administration with our tax dollars, with our resources, was mobilizing. We opposed the killing of Mexican trade unionists down South where so much of our work has been outsourced …
“The UAW International is calling for an immediate permanent cease-fire in Israel and Palestine so that we can get to the work of building a lasting peace, building social justice and building a community, a global community, of solidarity. That is what we’ve committed ourselves to and that is as important as anything else that we’re doing in this country in order to ensure that workers and oppressed people and poor people across the world are on the path to winning the justice they so deserve.” (UAW Facebook)
The UAW International Executive Board voted to form “a Divestment and Just Transition working group to study the history of Israel and Palestine, our union’s economic ties to the conflict, and explore how we can have a just transition for U.S. workers from war to peace.”
Big first step, more needed
Unfortunately, UAW President Shawn Fain, in an interview with the Detroit News after the IEB vote, said, “We’re not picking a side between Israel and Palestine.” Yet if ever there was a “Which Side Are You On?” moment for U.S. labor, that moment is now. The best thing for unions in the “belly of the beast” to do is to heed the call of unions in Palestine “to end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes.” (workers.org/2023/10/74027/)
Nevertheless, for any union to move away from the pro-Zionist stance of organized labor, including the AFL-CIO, is extremely significant. Not only does it help the cause of Palestine, it represents a break with the Democratic Party. When Mancilla spoke in Washington, it was behind a sign reading “Biden, you are starving Gaza.”
Hopefully, the UAW’s new working group will do its homework and convince the union to divest from Israeli bonds and companies that are bolstering Zionist apartheid. Hopefully, the “just transition” will be one that enables UAW members employed by war profiteers to stop building weapons for Israel and U.S. imperialism and instead produce for human needs.
Global working-class solidarity has to include solidarity with Palestine.