Over 200 workers and union members held a spirited rally and demonstration of international solidarity on April 13 in a “Which side are you on? Workers March for Palestine.” The march began in West Philadelphia’s Clark Park, crowded with farmers market shoppers and a weekly community flea market. It ended outside Ghost Robotics, a facility hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, responsible for producing robotic weapons used in Gaza and on the U.S./Mexico border.

Workers for Palestine march through Clark Park farmers market. Philadelphia, April 13, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

The historic march, initiated by the Philadelphia Palestine Coalition (PPC), was endorsed by Healthcare Workers for Palestine – Philadelphia, Labor for Black Lives, The News Guild of Philadelphia Local 10/Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 38010, Philadelphia Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Philadelphia Tenants Union, Philly Industrial Workers of the World, Unity Caucus, Service Employees Union (SEIU) Healthcare Pennsylvania and Workers World Party. 

Teachers, artists, truck drivers, theater performers, municipal workers, health care workers, concession workers and baristas joined forces to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine. 

 

Workers United March for Palestine in West Philadelphia. April 13, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Flan, with the PPC, opened by reading demands from Palestinian unions. On October 16 over 30 Palestinian unions and worker organizations called for concrete solidarity from workers around the world. A May Day appeal from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions reiterated this message. 

Retired postal worker Joe, representing Workers World Party, noted that this rally would not have been possible a year ago: “It was only after the October 7 intifada that many of us paid a lot more attention to the struggle for a free Palestine. There are now more opportunities and potential to build greater worker solidarity with Palestine.”

He noted: “Polls say the majority of people want a ceasefire — and the majority of the population are workers, likely many of your co-workers. Many may want an end to the occupation and a free Palestine, but we need to organize that awareness into collective action — the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement or persuading your union locals to be the first to call on its members to vote ‘uncommitted’ in the Pennsylvania primary. As workers united, in unions or not, we can do a lot to disrupt Zionist propaganda and the U.S. war machine, paid for by our taxes.” 

Representing the Unity Caucus, composed of members of various city unions, Sunita, a librarian, and member of District Council 47, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 2187, said: “The last 75 years have been full of historical ‘untruths.’ Anti-Muslim propaganda by the rich and powerful is used not only against the people of Palestine but against the working class as a whole.

“They act as if all we have earned, what we have fought for, is theirs. They use our tax money for wars, while we need services like libraries, schools and more. Why are the University of Pennsylvania’s tax-free endowments funding military technology like Ghost Robotics?”

Workers’ March for Palestine crossing Grays Ferry bridge. Philadelphia, April 13, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

Concessions workers employed by Aramark at local sports arenas have been on strike since April 9. Carlton, with UNITE HERE Local 274, Stadium Workers Union, told those gathered: “We are experiencing our power as workers, very much like Palestinian workers experience theirs.”  

Following the opening rally, demonstrators marched around Clark Park and eventually onto Woodland Avenue, stopping at 46th Street for a second rally. Nayla, with Healthcare Workers for Palestine, spoke of being in Gaza and seeing doctors operating in the dark and surgical procedures done without anesthesia. “When is it justifiable to bomb entire hospitals, to strip doctors down to their underwear for the world to see? These are heinous war crimes and violations of international law.

“Israeli genocide is targeting those who care for others, who shine light on problems, in effect to silence opposition,” she stated. “This is the reason we unionize — so our community has collective power not just over working conditions but for our patients. Since October 7, I have worn a pin for Palestine on my uniform every day.”

Hannah, with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and Jax, a labor and tenants organizer with Philly IWW, also spoke before the march proceeded over the Grays Ferry Bridge to Pennovation, Ghost Robotics’ headquarters.

Strong show of public support

As the marchers turned onto the Grays Ferry Bridge, oncoming traffic was blocked and backed up quickly, so organizers went over the lane barriers to distribute fliers to drivers in stopped cars. The response was tremendously positive, with almost every driver opening their windows to get leaflets. Many gave smiles and fists of solidarity, while the marchers kept chanting for Palestine. The experience revealed how much support there is for the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

Health care workers for Palestine in Philadelphia march. April 13, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

Outside Pennovation on Grays Ferry, Cindy Lou read a prepared statement from Maddy with the campaign to Shut Down Ghost Robotics. “The tools used to dispose, displace and destroy homes in Gaza were produced 6,000 miles away, right here at Pennovation,” they explained. “Ghost Robotics produces the robotic dogs used there, at the cost of $165,000 each.”

“This has been a powerful display of unity today and, as a health care worker and union member, I’m proud to be a part,” said Karim with SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.  “The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been targeting health care workers since October 7, with over 400 attacks on Gaza’s health care system. Gazans can’t access lifesaving care — something I experienced at a rural hospital in Pennsylvania after it was bought by a big corporation and eventually closed.

Banners hung on Pennovation fence target Ghost Robotics. Philadelphia, April 13, 2024. (WW Photo: Joe Piette)

“Why do Black and Brown people have to die trying to access lifesaving care, while the U.S. spends billions every year paying for free, universal health care for Israelis? Why doesn’t this government pay for free health care for people in Pennsylvania?

“They don’t fix the roads, our neighborhoods are stripped of good paying jobs, but somehow money is always available to build the war machine being used in Gaza.  If we stick together, as workers we have the power to stop this genocide,” Karim concluded.

Maijoi, a member of Starbucks Workers United and the PPC stated: “The fact that Starbucks finally agreed to meet with our union was not due to their ‘good will’ but the result of the boycott of Starbucks over Palestine and the threat to their bottom line. We won’t let Starbucks bully us into submission to not wear signs of solidarity with Palestine, where workers are demanding justice, demanding accountability. Our solidarity goes beyond our workplace. It reaches across borders in solidarity with Palestine.”

Kim, with the Philadelphia Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, wrapped up the program addressing the similarities between the U.S. war in Vietnam and the weapons it provides to Israel today. “Vietnamese people are still living with the lifelong impact of Agent Orange and white phosphorus. Today, loved ones are dying at the hands of the U.S. underfunded, understaffed health care system.

“Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the U.S., yet there is always money for war. Martin Luther King Jr. made the connection that every bomb dropped in Vietnam impacted cities at home. Today the U.S. deliberately made the decision to support Israel when people here lack food, health care and more. Biden pushes the idea that wars abroad are made in America and therefore are good for American jobs. We reject that working-class jobs come at the cost of our working-class brothers and sisters abroad.”

Organizers and participants expressed high spirits with the turnout. Many have expressed interest in continuing the Philly Palestine Coalition’s Workers Committee which organized the event.

Betsey Piette

Betsey.Piette@workers.org

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Betsey Piette

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