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Palestine Is a Worker Struggle: UAW Graduate Student Workers in California Show Solidarity with Palestine

UAW graduate students at the University of Southern California joined the walkout for Palestine during their picket line. U.S. labor must fight for Palestinian liberation!

Sal Roland

November 16, 2023
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Image: Tomoki Chien

On Thursday, November 9, at 1:15pm, University of Southern California (USC) undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff participated in a national walkout for Palestine. The event was co-organized by USC Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), S.C.A.L.E. at USC (Students Coalition Against Labor Exploitation), and USC Graduate Students for Palestine. The walkout was organized in response to the current genocide and ethnic cleansing taking place in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territory. The groups stated on Instagram, “Our universities are complicit in this violence. They invest in the weapons, bombs, and surveillance tech that enable Israel’s occupation and genocide of the Palestinian people.” Their demands are: 

  1. An Immediate end to Israel’s siege on Gaza and the occupation.
  2. No US Aid for Israel. No to normalization of genocide.
  3. USC protect & address Palestinian, SWANA, Muslim, Arab, and pro-Palestine students/staff/faculty/graduates/workers.
  4. USC cut ties with Israel & all companies complicit in facilitating the ongoing genocide and displacement of Palestinians.
  5. Re-allocate & reinvest into our community’s needs – housing, food insecurity, healthcare, etc.

The organizers started the event by laying out the list of victims of the current genocidal campaign from the Israeli state. Before the walkout really got going,  USC economics professor John Strauss, walked to the rally, stepped on the list of names of murdered Palestinians and said, “Israel forever.” Later, Professor Strauss continued his racist actions by yelling at students, “Hamas are murderers, that’s all they are.” A student responded by saying, “It’s just to pay respects to those who have been killed,” and Professor Strauss proudly retorted, “Everyone should be killed, and I hope they all are.”

This genocide supporter could’ve disrupted the event and demoralized the students and workers that were gathering to support Palestine, but instead, the organizers stuck to their plan and drew out hundreds of supporters. The successful walkout for Palestine and response to the reactionary professor isn’t the end of the story. 

The graduate student workers union, organized by UAW, who won in a landslide election earlier this year, held a last-chance picket the same day as the walkout. The graduate student workers’ union is fighting for livable wages, a union-shop, and non-discrimination. The USC administration’s backwards proposals are embarrassing for graduate student workers. Management has offered 0% immediate wage increase, forcing a right-to-work workplace, and keeping any case of harassment and discrimination not enforceable through the contract. The last-chance picket is the union’s escalation after graduate students overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike due to USC’s bargaining positions. The bosses of USC, who profit from the work of the graduate students, are the same bosses who profit from the university’s financial and institutional support for the apartheid state of Israel.

The walkout for Palestine marched towards Leavey Library, and the student organizers realized they were walking directly towards one of the UAW grad workers’ picket lines. Instead of keeping their walkout focused on the anti-colonial and anti-genocidal struggle, the supporters of a free Palestine decided to show their solidarity with the picket and invited the picketers to join them. A graduate student worker, already leading chants with a megaphone, began to chant towards the students gathered in front of the library. They called out the university for charging so much for tuition and funding genocide and occupation, and pointed out that the struggle for higher wages and union recognition is linked to a fight against all forms of oppression. Another chant leader from the union took the megaphone and read off the statement that Graduate Students for Palestine recently crafted, and identified the Palestinian general strike of 1936 as a direct link between Indigenous and worker struggles for freedom from occupation and exploitation.

The combination of the walkout and the picket led to hundreds of workers and students chanting for Palestine and workers rights. Some of the chants were, “What’s on my mind?Just free Palestine!,” “Stop the genocide, liberate the occupied!,”  “One struggle, one fight, workers of the world, unite!,” and “the workers united will never be defeated!.” The solidarity didn’t stop there either. The pro-Palestine organizers began more speeches about the current moment, and as they spoke, the graduate workers picketed silently so everyone could hear clearly. 

As the workers and protesters parted, both were bound together with solidarity and with the clarity that the workers’ struggle is a struggle for Palestine, and that the working class plays an essential role in the liberation of Palestine and therefore defeat of US imperialism. The UAW picket joining the Palestine walk out is a dialectical synthesis of the working class taking on the struggle against imperialism as a political struggle while also fighting for their economic interests. The fight for worker’s rights is never divorced from international solidarity, as the capitalists exploit locally and fund exploitation abroad. 

This organic act of solidarity between oppressed and exploited workers at USC is an alternative, not only to the genocidal supporters of Israel, but to the official union leaders as well. While most unions have been totally silent as far as statements from the top union leadership, SEIU has gone as far to force a staff-organizer to resign for speaking out against genocide. The workers at USC, who jumped to action to support the workers of Palestine give us an initial path towards organizing union support for Palestine. If Palestine is free, it is a closer step for the workers across the world to have control of their workplaces together in proletarian solidarity. 

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