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Unions Must Go Beyond Calling for a Cease-Fire in Gaza

By Jeff Schuhrke - Jacobin, February 13, 2024

Four months into Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza that has killed over twenty-eight thousand Palestinians, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) — the US labor federation whose member unions represent 12.5 million workers — issued a statement on February 8 urging a negotiated cease-fire to end the violence.

The move came after over two hundred US unions and labor bodies — including national unions like the United Electrical Workers (UE), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), United Auto Workers (UAW), International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), National Nurses United (NNU), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Education Association (NEA), Communications Workers of America (CWA), and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — had already made cease-fire calls of their own. Many unions, especially at the local level, have also expressed solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement.

With the backing of the AFL-CIO and the nation’s two largest unions (NEA and SEIU), support for a cease-fire is now the mainstream position of the American labor movement. Given US labor officialdom’s history of providing substantial political and material aid to the state of Israel — along with its frequent partnering with US empire (which I examine in my forthcoming book, Blue Collar Empire) — this is a remarkable development highlighting the power of rank-and-file organizing to push union leaders on critical issues, and signaling the possibility of building a more internationalist labor movement.

Now, the task for rank-and-file members who successfully organized to get their unions to issue cease-fire statements increasingly is to translate that commitment into concrete action to stop what the International Court of Justice considers Israel’s plausible acts of genocide. Across the US labor movement, networks of pro-Palestine workers are continuing to organize to get their unions to cut economic ties with Israel, put pressure on political candidates and elected officials, and interrupt the flow of union-made weapons and research to the Israeli military.

Labor unions are making unprecedented calls for a ceasefire in Gaza: Unions are figuring out what comes next after taking a public stand against the apartheid State of Israel’s genocide in Gaza

By Laura Weiss - Prism, January 22, 2024

Before dawn broke on Jan. 14, hundreds of labor organizers and activists convened at the Port of Oakland for a protest to prevent ships carrying weapons bound for Israel from leaving the docks. Activists from the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which co-organized the event, kept the momentum going all day. In the afternoon, 200 workers reportedly refused to cross the picket line to help load the ships. 

“The labor movement has the power to disrupt supply chains,” said Zachary Valdez, a union steward with United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110 based in New York. “Workers can shut everything down.”

The action was an impressive show of solidarity between the labor movement and the Palestinian cause, one of a number of actions in the Bay Area and across the country co-organized or supported by unions in recent months, including teach-ins and other civil disobedience efforts.

Since the October attacks on the apartheid State of Israel by Hamas, the political and military organization that governs Gaza, Israel’s genocidal bombing campaign has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians in Gaza, and the Israel Defense Forces has destroyed critical infrastructure, including electricity, hospitals, and the internet, shut off access to water, and purposefully created famine conditions. This has prompted a sea change in public opinion on Israel, with two-thirds of Americans saying they support a ceasefire in Gaza, all while the U.S. government continues to send billions of U.S. military aid to Israel. 

Within the labor movement, hundreds of unions and union locals have responded to a call from Palestinian labor unions and signed resolutions calling for a ceasefire, even those whose leadership has historically supported Israel. On Dec. 1, UAW, one of the largest unions in the country, made history when it released a ceasefire statement. Other influential unions, such as the United Electrical Workers, American Postal Workers Union, and 1199SEIU (United Healthcare Workers East), and countless other smaller unions have also released similar statements. On Jan. 22, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the second-largest public service employees union in the country, also released a call for a ceasefire. 

“We, members of the American labor movement, mourn the loss of life in Israel and Palestine. We express our solidarity with all workers and our common desire for peace in Palestine and Israel, and we call on President Joe Biden and Congress to push for an immediate ceasefire and end to the siege of Gaza,” reads the petition signed by UAW and hundreds of other union locals.

Labor activists say the increasing number of unions supporting this call is a big deal. 

UAW Calls for Cease-Fire in Gaza

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, December 1, 2023

The United Auto Workers international, which represents 400,000 workers and 580,000 retirees, called on December 1 for a cease-fire in Israel and Palestine. UAW President Sean Fain posted:

I am proud that the UAW International Union is calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine. From opposing fascism in WWII to mobilizing against apartheid South Africa and the CONTRA war, the UAW has consistently stood for justice across the globe.

At a press conference outside the White House where protesters had been on hunger strike, Brandon Mancilla, UAW director, said, “A labor movement that fights for social and economic justice for all workers must always stand against war and for peace.” He also announced,

Our international executive board will also be forming 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 US workers from war to peace.

The American Postal Workers Union, UE union, the California Nurses Association, the Chicago Teachers Union and several other local unions and worker groups have issued public calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire. You can view a roundup of unions calling for a ceasefire here.


Unions Rally for Ceasefire in Gaza as Climate Crisis Lurks

By Ted Franklin - Labor Rise, November 22, 2023

Labor Unions across the country are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, one of the most climate-challenged places on Earth. In the best of times, Gazans live on the frontline of climate change. Now they are living in a warzone rapidly turning to rubble.

U.N. experts say Israel’s bombing campaign has hit wells, water tanks, and other water supply infrastructure necessary to supply the minimum amounts of water needed to sustain human life. In early November, the UN reported that only 5% of Gaza’s water needs are now being met. The enclave lacks potable groundwater and depends on power and water supplies that have been cut off by the Israeli siege. UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, has warned that 70 percent of people in the Gaza Strip are now drinking contaminated water.

In mid-October, Palestinian trade unions issued an urgent global call to action, calling on workers everywhere to halt the sale and funding of arms to Israel and block related military research. The responses of the U.S. labor movement have varied. Some unions have aligned themselves with Palestinian calls for an end to Israeli occupation. Some have focused on ending U.S. support for the Israeli military effort. All are backing a ceasefire that President Biden and most U.S. politicians have so far refused to endorse.

Despite Intimidation, Union Voices Get Louder for Ceasefire in Gaza

By Keith Brower Brown and Caitlyn Clark - Labor Notes, October 31, 2023

Workers from three Chicago hospitals marched October 21. Photo: @lowisiana on X.

In the U.S. and across the world, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the streets to protest Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 8,300 Palestinians, including 3,300 children, since October 7. On October 27, the United Nations called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.”

In the U.S., those protesting Israel’s attacks have faced a wave of repression by employers.

Management retaliation has struck journalists and academics. Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the open-access science journal eLife, was fired after sharing a satirical article from The Onion that criticized media responses to the loss of Palestinian life. Jackson Frank, a sports writer for PhillyVoice, was fired after criticizing a pro-Israel post by the Philadelphia 76ers.

After publishing and signing a letter of prominent artists and critics for a ceasefire, to stop an “escalating genocide,” Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco was fired after 18 years at the magazine and six in that role. Three other editors resigned from the high-profile magazine in protest.

The National Writers Union is documenting such cases—both to connect writers with individual support, and to push for industry-wide reforms.

Meanwhile in Gaza, at least 25 journalists have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

The Big Strike in Pennsylvania That No One is Talking About

Ten-Week Strike Wins “Substantial Improvements” for Locals 506 and 618

By staff - United Electrical Workers, September 2, 2023

On June 22, after nearly two months of negotiations, the 1,400 members of UE Locals 506 and 618 voted down Wabtec’s last, best and final offer. Following the vote, second-shift workers marched out of the plant and UE members set up picket lines around the massive facility.

It was the second strike since Wabtec took over the facility from General Electric in 2019. Following a nine-day strike in 2019, the UE locals negotiated a first contract with the new company which preserved most of the conditions they had won over nearly eight decades of bargaining with GE. However, they reluctantly agreed to modifications in the grievance procedure and to lower wage rates for new hires, who would progress to the full “legacy” wage rates over ten years.

In their second contract, members sought to address both the inequities of the “progression” for new hires and the lack of accountability caused by Wabtec’s abuse of the grievance process over the past four years. The company simply refused to address issues in the plant, pushing everything to arbitration — a study by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that grievances per worker had almost doubled since Wabtec took over, and the company was less likely to settle disputes than GE. Members were also keen to make up for their loss of purchasing power as inflation soared in the past two years.

As soon as the UE members walked out, support poured in from the community and around the country. Major unions and labor leaders, including the UAW, Teamsters, and Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, who spoke to UE’s 2021 convention, tweeted support for the strike. Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, sent a solidarity photo, and UE locals around the country sent letters of support. Both of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators, Bob Casey and John Fetterman, issued statements backing the UE members. Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis visited the picket line in the first week of the strike and sent a letter to Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana, indicating that both he and Governor Josh Shapiro supported the workers’ demands for a fair contract.

The Working Class Stake in the Fight Against Global Warming

By Tom Wetzel - Workers' Solidarity, August 22, 2023

I’m going to suggest here that the working class has a unique role to play in the fight against global warming because the owning and managing classes have interests that are tied to an economic system that has an inherent tendency towards ecological devastation whereas the working class does not.

In its “Code Red for Humanity” warning in 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth…” With wreckage from intensifying storms and people dying from heat waves, it might seem that everyone has a stake in the project of ecological sustainability, and bringing a rapid end to the burning of fossil fuels. As we know, however, various sectors of the owning and managing classes pursue profits from fossil fuel extraction, refining, and burning fossil fuels. They protect sunk investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure (like gas burning power plants) or propose highly implausible strategies (like carbon capture and storage). Thus many sectors of the top classes in our society are a roadblock to ecological sustainability.

The working class, on the other hand, have a stake in the fight for a livable future, and also have the potential power to do something about it. The working class is a large majority of the society, and thus has the numbers to be a major force. Their position in the workplace means workers have the potential to organize and resist environmentally destructive behaviors of the employers.

In a Summer of Record Heat, These Striking Workers Are Making Climate Demands

By Sarah Lazare - Workday Magazine, August 8, 2023

July was the hottest month on record, and possibly the hottest in the history of human civilization, and August is bringing more scorching temperatures and supercharged storms. On July 16, the heat index at the Persian Gulf International Airport weather station in Iran climbed to 152 degrees Fahrenheit, a level that tests humanity’s ability to survive. Meanwhile, in vast swaths of the United States, people watched smoke from Canadian wildfires turn their skies noxious hues of orange and gray, only to then be hit with storms and heat waves. The scientific consensus has long held that climate change is human-made and real. But this summer, it seems a threshold has been crossed.

Amid this climate crisis, 1,400 locomotive builders and clerical workers on strike in Erie, Penn. are modeling how unions—and workers walking off the job—can make climate justice demands of an employer. 

Locals 506 and 618 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) have been on strike since late June. One of their demands has already captured nationwide attention for its centrality to building labor’s overall power. They are insisting on the right to strike over non-discipline grievances—things like subcontracting work, or forcing someone to take vacation they don’t want to. Such language, the workers hope, will build more accountability into the grievance process, as well as protect the union’s strongest tool: the strike. Workers are also asking for the guarantee that their employer will not make unilateral changes to their healthcare benefits throughout the duration of the contract, and they are asking for improved pay to keep pace with inflation. Their employer is the Fortune 500 company Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corporation (or Wabtec), which is valued at some $20 billion and manufactures railway locomotives. The mammoth company acquired GE Transportation for $11.1 billion in 2019.

The union’s demands are also aimed at improving society as a whole. There is another stipulation that workers put forward in the bargaining process: They want the company to help the union win a green overhaul of the rail locomotive industry, with the overall goal of drastically reducing emissions that spew carbon and pollution into the atmosphere.

This is not the first time that a union has pushed for environmental improvements. Unions threw their support behind an Illinois law passed in 2021 aimed at creating clean energy jobs and retraining fossil fuel workers. And the United Auto Workers, under the leadership of reformer Shawn Fain, are calling for the growing electric vehicle industry to provide dignified union jobs. But UE general president Carl Rosen says that the fact that UE is “directly challenging a private-sector major employer on this has made environmental justice groups very excited.”

Train Builders Strike, Demand to Build Green Locomotives

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 30, 2023

In what may be the first strike in US history to demand green jobs, 1400 striking members of UE Locals 506 and 618 who build locomotives for Wabtec in Erie, PA are demanding that their employers start producing green locomotives. Their proposals grow out of UE’s “Green Locomotive Project,” which aims to “build the worker and community power necessary to compel the railroads to upgrade their locomotive stock and adopt green technology, and to ensure that new technologies lead to jobs at existing union factories.” A recent report from the University of Massachusetts Amherst finds that building such locomotives would create between 2,600 and 4,300 jobs in the Lawrence Park plant, as well as three to five thousand additional jobs in Erie County.

For more on the strike: Wabtec Workers Walk Out for Grievance Strikes and Green Locomotives | Labor Notes

For background on the Green Locomotive Project: The Filthy Emissions of Railroad Locomotives—and the Rail Unions Sounding the Alarm | The American Prospect

To contribute to the strike solidarity fund:


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