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The Labor Movement Is Key for Palestinian Liberation

As part of the global movement in solidarity with Palestine and against the genocidal policies of the Israeli government, labor unions are taking action and demanding a ceasefire. This is not only a welcomed addition to the movement, but a necessary one that concretely shows the power of the working class.

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Photo: David McAllister

Before Israel launched its offensive on Gaza in October, the U.S. labor movement was experiencing an important resurgence. This resurgence challenged the neoliberal offensive that, over the decades, has eaten away at historical benefits won by the labor movement of the 1930s, like pensions, a system that ensured wages kept up with inflation, and even the right to unionize. From the entertainment industry, to healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing, labor has been fighting hard against concessionary contracts.

The most important expression of this insurgent labor movement was the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) strike across the Big Three; GM, Ford, and Stellantis. The strike of a workforce in an industry that is responsible for three percent of U.S. GDP proved to be so powerful that both President Biden and former president Donald Trump had to address it. On the first day of the strike, every major news publication, station, and broadcast featured the strike. 

The impact of the UAW strike on the economy was noticeable, so much so that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy put his position on the line to keep the government from shutting down. MSNBC published an article that warned that a “massive auto workers strike, the resumption of student loan payments and a possible government shutdown” would mean “less money for millions.” McCarthy’s decision not only cost him his job, but led to a standstill in the House that lasted nearly three weeks. 

For the global movement in solidarity with Palestine, this Congressional paralysis opened up space for the movement on the streets to build its forces. 

The labor movement has mobilized for Palestine in important ways. In Palestine, a list of labor unions released a statement asking for solidarity and making a direct appeal to the international labor movement to take direct action to “stop arming Israel.”

Immediately following the statement, an Italian dockworkers union responded to the Palestinian trade unions’ call, releasing a statement expressing solidarity with Palestine and refusing to handle any weapons shipments to Israel. At the end of October, Belgian workers refused to handle arm shipments to Israel. Earlier this month, thousands of protesters in Oakland, California blocked a ship with equipment destined for Israel for several hours, with port workers refusing to go against the protesters. Likewise, dockworkers in Barcelona refused to ship weapons to Israel two weeks ago. The Oakland port workers union, ILWU Local 10, also openly refused to unload weapons cargo destined for Israel in 2019

In the UK, union leaders Mick Lynch, Secretary General of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT); Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU); and Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), posted a video on social media pledging to attend a march for Palestine. This announcement is a major pushback against the UK government, which asked the organizers to postpone the march because it was scheduled to take place on Remembrance Day, a national holiday marking the end of World War I.

Workers at Airbus in Spain, who make military equipment and weaponry, as well as aircraft and space equipment, held a rally at the factory with a banner that said, “Airbus workers stand in solidarity with Palestine, No to arms sales to Israel.”

About three weeks ago, roughly 400 people attended a meeting organized by U.S. Labor Against Racism and War to discuss the atrocities happening in Palestine and why the labor movement must speak out against it. That meeting circulated a letter demanding top union officials to call for a ceasefire; so far, it has collected more than 30,000 signatures. 

United Electrical (UE) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000 initiated a call for a ceasefire that has been endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, the New Jersey Industrial Union Council, UAW Region 6, and others. 

Graduate student worker unions across the country and Starbucks Workers United have released statements in solidarity with Palestine and opposition to the genocidal policies of the Israeli state, alongside other individual workers, union members, and locals. 

In New York City, Healthcare Workers for Palestine organized a rally of around 300 people to demand, among other things, an immediate end to the military assault against Palestine; the end of U.S. aid to Israel; access to medical care to Gaza; and no institutional retaliation against healthcare workers, students, and other workers for their support to Palestine.

In Michigan, healthcare workers participated in an action called by the Michigan chapter of the National Arab-American Medical Association “Against Gaza Genocide.” 

The executive board of SEIU Local 1021 released a statement calling for a ceasefire, and the American Postal Workers Union released a statement calling for a ceasefire.

The Working Class Has the Firepower to Make A Revolution 

More of the labor movement needs to take up the struggle for Palestine and fight against the genocidal policies of the Israeli government. Concretely, that means labor taking up the immediate demands of the movement for Palestine, which includes opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and to any retaliation against people criticizing Israel. It includes the demand for a ceasefire, which, in the context of the lopsided military offensive of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and widening criticism of the Israeli government use of military force, is a progressive demand. 

The actions of the working class in the U.S. could tip the scales and impose, on the Biden administration, the demands of the movement in the same way the UAW strike did, when the president was forced to publicly admonish the Big Three and agree that “record profits mean a record contract.” This means workers taking more direct action in workplaces, disrupting and actually shutting down weapons shipments and manufacturing, as well as the companies that fund the Israeli war machine, like Starbucks and McDonalds. They can participate in the mobilizations like unions in the UK to build a deeper alliance between labor and the mass movement for Palestine. 

The actions of the labor movement are not only significant, but necessary for the success of the liberation of Palestine and any struggle for liberation. 

There has been important and widespread solidarity with Palestine among other oppressed groups. People have highlighted historical examples that tie the different struggles together, like racism and Jim Crow in the United States, with the Israeli apartheid regime’s treatment of Palestinians in Israel and in Gaza. The significance of the labor movement joining this expression and understanding of solidarity with the Palestinian people cannot be overstated.

Unity among the oppressed is crucial too, but the working class is not simply another group oppressed by capitalism. The working class, which is composed of different races, ethnicities, and genders, is a group whose labor is crucial for the daily functioning of society and the source of wealth for the capitalists. Oppressed groups, like Black people, immigrant populations, the LGBTQ+ community, and ethnicities whose regions are largely controlled by imperialism, are multi-class. So while they have a shared interest in fighting against oppression, those interests are not consistent in fighting the source of that oppression, which is capitalism. This is because some within oppressed groups are capitalists themselves, and directly benefit from the exploitation of workers. 

Only the working class has the objective interest in consistently opposing capitalist exploitation. If the working class wants to secure even the unity of the working class — let alone unity between itself and the oppressed — then it must take up the issues of oppression. This is particularly important because the capitalists use oppression to deepen the level of exploitation experienced by oppressed groups within the working class, and sustain divisions that make it possible to continue capitalists’ reign.

This is why Lenin believed that revolutionary organizations dedicated to the emancipation of the working class and the overthrow of capitalism had to be the

“tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

Towards the Revolutionary Unity of the Working Class

For revolutionary unity against capitalism to occur between the workers and the oppressed — a unity that is necessary in order to overthrow capitalism — the workers must become a political and ideological hegemonic force, providing a political alternative to capitalism that the oppressed can be won to, participate in, and shape. Doing this not only requires challenging capitalist institutions like the Democratic and Republican Parties, but the agents of capitalism in the labor movement and the social movements, such as the bureaucratic leaderships of the unions, NGOs, and mainstream social justice organizations like the Women’s March or the NAACP (which are, in fact, NGOs with a grassroots history). 

Within the labor movement, the union bureaucracy inside the AFL-CIO, the United States’ largest union federation, squashed a resolution calling for a ceasefire and an end of U.S. aid to Israel that was passed by the AFL-CIO affiliate Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council representing workers in Washington state. The AFL-CIO bureaucrats ruled it “out of order” and forced the affiliate to rescind the resolution. In doing this, the union bureaucracy is both protecting the Biden administration against growing popular criticism of his refusal to call for a ceasefire, and maintaining the divide between workers of different countries.

This is how the bureaucracy in the U.S. has been able to stop more direct action by the labor movement that we have seen internationally, particularly in Europe. They are an obstacle to workers in their efforts to stop the carnage taking place in Gaza, which has killed over 11,000 Palestinians. 

Confronting the bureaucracies that block international working-class unity requires a revolutionary organization that promotes the development of institutions of self-organization within the working class and the unions so that the actions and policies of the labor movement are decided and controlled from below. It also requires an explicitly anti-imperialist and internationalist perspective that points to international proletarian revolution as the solution to the capitalist crises — from mass unemployment to genocide.

Imperialism Has Never Liberated or Protected the Oppressed

The State of Israel is an artificially created nation state established by Zionists in collaboration with British and U.S. imperialism. The United States doesn’t support Israel out of an abiding love for Jewish people, but because Israel is its foothold in the most oil-rich corner of the globe and a linchpin of U.S. global hegemony. This has been compounded recently by the discovery of huge deposits of natural gas in the Mediterranean at a time when Western Europe is looking to reduce dependence on Russian fuel. Similarly, the Zionist state oppresses and exploits the working class of Israel — both Jewish and Arab, though to different extents — and crushes with particular ferocity left-wing activists who oppose Israeli apartheid.

The working class is not bound by nation states; it is international. Even Shawn Fain, President of the UAW, acknowledged this during his Facebook live addresses where he said that Toyota workers or workers in Mexico are not the enemy — the capitalists are. Hundreds of union activists and members in the U.S. have recognized that the people in Palestine, including the working class, are their siblings and that they must stand with them. Revolutionaries should not only uplift these instances of international solidarity, but raise the need for the construction of an international revolutionary organization that actively fights for the unity of the working class and oppressed for a socialist program of expropriation and socialization of the means of production. In Palestine, this means a unified, secular, socialist Palestine where Jews and Arabs can live in peace, alongside other groups and religions.

Our Revolutionary Tasks in the Imperialist Core

For revolutionaries in the United States, the liberation of Palestine means building a revolutionary organization, promoting the self-organization of the working class and the oppressed, and fighting against chauvinist attitudes, particularly against the propaganda depicting the Palestinian resistance as terrorists, or the anti-China rhetoric of Biden and Trump that has been raised around electric vehicle (EV) production. 

This is essential in a context in which many are growing increasingly disillusioned with Biden and the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to oppose the Israeli military’s slaughter of Palestinians. If there was ever an experience that makes clear why the Left must abandon the notion that the Democratic Party can be a vehicle for change and progress, this experience must be that wake-up call.

As part of the fight to create a revolutionary alternative, the U.S. Left needs to agitate for a working-class party that fights for socialism. To start, we need to create a network that can facilitate discussions on how such a party would be formed, and what its program would be. Elaborating our strategy through discussion and debate will help us form the building blocks of such a party.

Let the injustice taking place inspire us to move forward with revolutionary vigor in our fight for justice and liberation. 

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