Most U.S. union bureaucracies emphatically support Democratic Party candidates. The leadership of the huge SEIU service workers’ union, for example, endorsed President Biden on the day he announced his reelection campaign. In contrast, the UAW leadership has withheld any endorsement of Biden and said he will not get it until he supports unionization and UAW contract wages and benefits for workers in electric vehicle and battery factories.
Biden has heavily subsidized the building up of this industry, in which the Big 3 U.S. auto companies are directly involved, and many workers have been hired into these new plants at only $16 an hour. In a letter to his staff, UAW union president, Shawn Fain wrote that he hoped for “a pro-worker, pro-climate, and pro-democracy political program” and a “just transition” for the auto industry and the earth. In other words, he argued that the union should pressure Biden for decent policies in a second term.
But this is not the only reason the UAW has been slow to endorse Biden. On December 1, the UAW, along with several smaller unions, signed on to a statement calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. This was a crack in the wall of U.S. political backing and normalization of Israel’s genocidal war, putting one of the nation’s biggest unions in direct confrontation with Biden’s policy of unequivocal support for Israel. To date, the Israeli military has killed more than 25,000 Gazans in just 100 days, and left 85 percent of the population homeless and many others on the brink of starvation.
Now the UAW leadership is meeting to discuss whether to finally endorse Biden’s reelection campaign, and so far it is unclear whether they will. While it is obvious that the UAW should not endorse Biden’s rival, former president Donald Trump, an endorsement of Biden would be a betrayal of all of the rank-and-file members who supported the call for a ceasefire. Instead of endorsing bourgeois candidates, the UAW needs to assert its independence from both parties of capital, and work to organize a real resistance to the war on Gaza.
The UAW leadership signed onto the Gaza ceasefire letter launched by the UE (United Electrical) union and Local 3000 UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers). The letter calls for an end to the war; for food, water, fuel, and medicine to Gaza; for Hamas to release its remaining Israeli hostages; and for all armed groups to obey the Geneva Conventions and refrain from war crimes. “We call on President Biden to immediately call for a ceasefire,” it says, adding that the U.S. labor movement should “demand a ceasefire.” This is a contradiction. Either the U.S. working class together learn about the truth of this unjust war and strive to force an end to it, or we request understanding and kindness, and expect a 180-degree about-face by the war’s primary sponsor, the current U.S. president.
Expecting Biden to suddenly overturn decades of support for Israel is a fantasy. It won’t happen simply because unions and protesters ask him to. Since the UAW called for a ceasefire, Israel has continued to bomb and occupy Gaza, and the Biden administration has provided both the bombs and the international political defense of this genocidal war of conquest.
In fact, on the same day that the UAW called for a ceasefire, Israel ended the one-week truce and resumed the war. In 24 hours, the IDF killed more than 700 Gaza Palestinians — overwhelmingly women and children.
One week later, Biden sidestepped congressional approval and ordered an “emergency” delivery to Israel of 14,000 tank rounds — with 31,000 more pending congressional approval. Each such shell can destroy a house. The IDF systematically used tanks in invading first the north and then the south of Gaza and in besieging hospitals. Palestinians possess no tanks; Israel has 2,200.
That same week, the U.S. government cast the sole no vote on the UN Security Council resolution for a Gaza ceasefire, killing the resolution with its veto. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken argued that Israel’s killing of civilians was unintentional and that a halt to the war was unacceptable unless Hamas surrendered. By this time, the IDF had killed about 18,000 people in Gaza.
Demands Mean Nothing without Action
When it announced its support for the labor movement call for a ceasefire, the UAW Executive Board also promised “to form a Divestment and Just Transition Working Group to study the history of Israel and Palestine,” and to discuss how to move U.S. workers out of war industries and into useful, peaceful technologies. This was an important step in the right direction, one that challenges the very idea that only the bourgeoisie have the right to decide what is made and when. Unfortunately, the proposal does nothing to stop the U.S. war machine’s support for Israel, because it commits only to doing something sometime in the future, and not now, when millions of Gazans are under attack. The “history of Israel and Palestine” is clear: the Zionist state, and the Zionist settlements that came before it, have been colonizing and conquering the Palestinians for a century, since Palestine was taken as a spoil of war by Britain in World War I. Creating (or promising to create) a discussion committee can sometimes be a way of burying an issue.
The UAW should not only call for an end to the war, but it should also oppose U.S. arming of Israel. First, the union can facilitate far-reaching meetings, education, and organizing in solidarity with Palestinians by UAW members in their local unions, plants, and communities. Second, a substantial number of UAW-represented workers are employed by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and other U.S. arms manufacturers that sell weapons to the Israeli state. Other UAW members are university graduate assistants. The labor movement should support a defense campaign for Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other solidarity organizations that have been banned by university administrators and targeted by politicians for speaking out against the ongoing genocide.
Ultimately, strike action is needed by workers in the arms industry and the transportation industry against the production and shipment of weapons to Israel. This will require massive organizing. The UAW bureaucracy should stop interfering with and repressing activist UAW members who have tried to meet and speak with the UAW workers at a Connecticut Colt factory that makes M-16s and other guns supplied to the IDF and Israeli settler militias.
Every politically conscious pro-union worker needs to study and emulate — bigger and better as soon as we can — the pro-labor, pro-union community activists who have formed rallies and pickets targeting the arms industry, including the Israeli Elbit arms company factory in England and at port facilities in Australia receiving container ships of the Israeli ZIM company. The actions have urged workers to down tools against the genocide. Millions of workers and youth around the world have marched in solidarity with Palestinians. This political will needs to be shaped and encouraged in more powerful directions: tied to labor organization and not tied to Joe Biden, one of the main perpetrators of the genocide.
Autoworkers and all workers need an anti-imperialist and pro-Palestinian movement that brings us into independent, working-class political action — not an official endorsement for Biden, who has forced Palestinians born into a ghetto to live in tents without access to doctors, food, or anesthetic in a war of David and Goliath.