On Thursday, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY) became the first public sector union in New York State to support a call for a ceasefire in Gaza. In a vote of 117 in favor, 32 opposed, and 10 abstentions, the union’s delegate assembly agreed to endorse a statement calling for a “Ceasefire in Israel and Palestine,” which has already been endorsed by more than 75 unions, including several locals of the U.S. Postal Workers Union, United Electrical, several other locals of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the 400,000 member strong United Auto Workers, which added their endorsement earlier this month. Among other things, the statement calls for “an immediate ceasefire” and “an end to the siege on Gaza,” including the restoration of electricity, water, and humanitarian aid shipments into the territory.
Though better late than never, this call for a ceasefire comes almost three months into a brutal genocide in Gaza, where over 21,000 people, mostly women and children, have been murdered and 90% of the population has been displaced by Israel’s ground and air assault. Many Gazans now have no choice but to drink brackish and contaminated water, and the UN World Food Program says more than half of the 2 million people in Gaza are now facing starvation. This statement falls far short of the resounding support for Palestine that is needed from the labor movement: it does not call to release the estimated 10,000 Palestinian hostages, for the end of U.S. aid to Israel, or for an end to the occupation. With that said, it is a step forward in a context in which no major NYC public sector union has called for a ceasefire (although the social work chapter of DC 37 Local 768 voted for a ceasefire on Wednesday), and in a context of strong repression against pro-Palestine voices.
The vote also follows months of pressure from rank and file activists calling on the PSC to take a stand on Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, as well as to defend students and academic workers from repression at the hands of the administration, Zionists on and off campus, and police. Within the first week after the October 7 attacks and the start of non-stop bombing in Gaza, the Graduate Center PSC chapter voted a resolution condemning the violence in Gaza and calling to defend students and academic workers who were facing attacks for speaking out for Palestine. Last month, the Borough of Manhattan Community College chapter of the PSC passed a similar resolution condemning the CUNY administration’s political persecution of Palestinian students, including CUNY Law School commencement speaker Fatima Mousa Mohammed, and on Wednesday, graduate students in CUNY 4 Palestine interrupted the Graduate Center’s Grad Council meeting to speak out for Palestine and to demand that the council support a ceasefire.
With this vote, the PSC joins hundreds of other unions across the country, like Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), which have signed onto similar statements or issued statements of their own condemning the most recent invasion and expressing support for “Palestinian’s right to self-determination”
A Ceasefire is the Floor, Not the Ceiling
This is not the first time the PSC-CUNY union has expressed its solidarity with Palestine. In 2021, the PSC passed a “Resolution in Support of the Palestinian People,” which not only condemned Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinian population, but also called on Biden to stop funding aid to Israel to engage in human rights violations. The ceasefire resolution the PSC passed today is less explicit in its criticism of Israel, and lacks a crucial call to end military aid. Nonetheless, like this earlier resolution, it is a call upon all the members of our union to do more to stop the genocide happening in Palestine.
Although several other AFT locals have already signed onto the statement, the ceasefire resolution passed by the PSC goes directly against the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which the PSC is affiliated with. Randi Wiengarten, the President of the AFT, recently returned from her Thanksgiving vacation in Israel and has affirmed that she does not support a ceasefire resolution.
Thursday’s resolution in the context of the PSC’s previous condemnations of Israeli violence is yet another important step forward for the union and the labor movement in New York City. We believe, however, that this step must be followed by more action from our university, our students, our union, and other city unions, including the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the Transit Workers Union (TWU), District Council 37 (DC 37), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), all of whom should join the PSC in calling for an immediate ceasefire. But to follow through on the spirit of this resolution, we must also organize contingents of PSC members and other city labor union members to join the marches in New York City and across the country in order to help to massify the movement for Palestine and lay the ground for greater cross-union solidarity.
Following the example of the UAW, which is currently investigating “its economic ties to the conflict,” we must demand that the PSC, the AFT, and CUNY also investigate its ties to Israel. And we must go further and demand that CUNY divest from all of its academic and financial ties to the country.
Some union members have argued that the fight for Palestine would weaken our union’s ability to fight for a contract. Already, our union has been without a contract for nine months. Students and faculty protesting and mobilizing for Palestine have increased class struggle at CUNY and has coincided with the launch of a rank-and-file strike campaign. Rather than seeing Palestine as a distraction, the movement for Palestine affirms our unions’ support for social justice and for workers around the world. Rather than seeing Palestine as a distraction, we should understand that when our union stands up for justice, we can unite students and faculty and bring more energy towards a fighting union, a union that fights for justice in the United States, Palestine and around the world.