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Our Unions Need to Join the Fight for Palestinian Liberation — Right Now

Israel’s brutal attack on the Palestinian people is about to escalate. It’s being funded by U.S. dollars and armed with U.S. weapons. But our unions have a chance to help grind this war machine to a halt. 

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Photo: AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The brutal assault on Palestinians by the state of Israel shows no signs of slowing. Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is calling Palestinians “human animals.” The zionist state is backing up those words with white phosphorus dropped on civilians. It seems that earlier this week, Israel bombed a Gaza hospital — though the zionists are now trying to claim that this attack was actually the result of “friendly fire.” Hundreds are dead, and thousands more are dead and injured from the wider bombings. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are displaced. Israel is enacting a “total siege” to stop the flow of water, medical supplies and electricity into, and a relentless bombing campaign on, Gaza — including on the few evacuation routes they ordered Gazans to take. But the worst may be yet to come. The Israeli Defence Force is gathering its forces at the Gaza border for an all-out ground assault — funded by U.S. aid and using the best weapons the U.S. could supply.

In the United States, Israel’s ethnic cleansing has always had bipartisan support. Biden said the other day that he saw children beheaded by Hamas — but had to walk that back as a lie a few hours later. Now, Biden is calling half-heartedly for restraint by Israel, while also visiting the zionist state to pledge his support. But the State Department forbids U.S. diplomats from using the words “end to violence” or “de-escalation.” And the U.S. just vetoed a resolution in the United Nations that called for “humanitarian pauses” in the killing. Meanwhile, across the world, states and institutions are attempting to silence dissent and criticism of Israel, criminalizing or otherwise punishing pro-Palestine activists and protesters. 

But the millions of union members here in the U.S. haven’t had their say yet. They could help bring the slaughter of Palestinians to a halt. We already know that workers are on the move and making their power felt across the United States: the number of strikes is surging. The weight of those workers needs to be thrown into the battle to demand an immediate end to the attacks on Gaza, and not one more cent, or one more bullet, for Israel and its campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. U.S. unions must stand with their labor siblings in Palestine and do all they can to halt their slaughter. 

From Palestine, a Call to Unions Around the Globe

Palestinian unions have already called out to unions across the globe

As Israel escalates its military campaign, palestinian trade unions call on our counterparts internationally and all people of conscience to end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes — most urgently halting the arms trade with Israel, as well as all funding and military research.  The time for action is now — Palestinian lives hang in the balance.

For its part, United Electric (UE), a union representing 35,000 workers, is demanding an end to military aid to Israel. “U.S. military aid going in is pouring gasoline onto a fire,” said UE official Andrew Dinkelaker. UE members already passed a resolution earlier this year demanding that the U.S. stop its military aid to Israel. The newly formed Starbucks Workers United also issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and called on other unions to stand with them. In response, Starbucks corporation, which has yet to bargain with the union, responded with a lawsuit. 

In New York City, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC CUNY), which represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York, issued a statement in 2021 condemning the massacre of Palestinians and calling for an end to US aid to Israel. More recently, chapters of the PSC have issued or are considering statements sending their support to the people of Palestine. Members of the union also organized a rally in front of the CUNY Graduate Center on Wednesday to denounce Israel’s campaign, U.S. support for the violence, and the CUNY administration’s support of Israel and repression of student protests for Palestine. 

Some workers in Italy have gone further. S.I. Cobas, a union of dock workers in Naples, announced it’s refusing to help ship any weapons to Israel. They’ve done it before, like in 2021.

But the heads of the AFL-CIO, the biggest union federation in the U.S., are being far more ambiguous. They condemned Hamas’s offensive breaching the walls of Gaza. And they called for “a swift resolution to the current conflict,” saying they’re “concerned about the emerging humanitarian crisis that is affecting Palestinians in Gaza and throughout the region.” Missing here, though, is any mention of the cause of that crisis: the apartheid regime of Israel, its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and the bombs landing on houses, hospitals, and refugee camps. The federation’s leaders have long been supporters of the state of Israel’s colonization of Palestine. Indeed, they’ve used union dues to purchase “hundreds of millions of dollars” in Israeli State Bonds over the last few decades, meaning that the leadership of the union is literally profiting off of Israel’s occupation.

It’s Time to Strike for Palestine 

If we’re going to answer the call of our union siblings in Palestine, we’re going to need far more than the kind of statements coming from the top of the AFL-CIO. UE’s call for an end to all military aid for Israel is an important start. And S.I. Cobas in Naples is pointing the way toward the need for direct action to stop military and economic aid to Israel.

Unions have the power to stop the provision of military aid and weapons to Israel. There are more than 14 million union members in the United States, with over 10 million in the AFL-CIO alone. And the United Auto Workers and Screen Actors Guild strikes now, like the Writers Guild of America strike and other smaller ones currently being fought, are reminding us of something crucial: Workers create all profits, and we can refuse to keep those profits, and the businesses they fuel, from moving. 

Joining the fight means organizing our unions to join the protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people in the streets, as thousands are doing already, and to issue strong statements of support for Palestinian liberation and an end to U.S. aid to Israel. But joining the fight also means organizing ourselves and our unions to strike for Palestine — to withhold our labor in order to stop the building, shipping, or funding of any weapon, any bullet, or any missile for the imperialist agendas of Israel or other U.S. allies, including Ukraine

Unfortunately, many of our union leaders, particularly in the AFL-CIO, have long supported Israel. So organizing is going to have to come from us, from the rank-and-file organizing ourselves and pushing our leaders to take real action alongside us, in the streets, and on strike. That kind of organizing is starting to bubble up. The group U.S. Labor Against Racism and War is circulating a petition to pressure U.S. labor leaders, pushing them to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and we should work to force our union leaderships to endorse that statement.

It’s time to organize our rank-and-file siblings to cut all union investments in the state of Israel, and to make unequivocal statements of solidarity with Palestine and its right for liberation. We’ll need to organize our unions to throw their full weight into this fight — walking off our jobs and into the streets, with the protests happening across the world, to say: stop the attack on Gaza, and not one more cent, not one more bullet, for Israel. 

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Jason Koslowski

Jason is a contingent college teacher and union organizer who lives in Philadelphia.

Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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