Last month, the United Auto Workers (UAW) joined calls for a ceasefire in Israel’s bloody siege on Gaza. On Wednesday, the union leadership endorsed a key ally in the Zionist state’s genocide of Palestinians: Joe Biden. The decision is an affront to the movement for Palestinian liberation, and to all the UAW members and workers who reject the endorsement of a candidate who unwaveringly supports Israel.
The 400,000-member UAW joined calls for a ceasefire in December thanks to the movement in the streets and rank-and-file organizing. The union even announced it would form a working group to explore the union’s ties to the conflict and how to divest from Israel. UAW president Shawn Fain himself has repeatedly spoken out about Gaza, emphasizing, “We don’t stop our fight for justice at the workplace.”
Several UAW locals have gone even further, demanding not just a ceasefire but to a complete end to “all forms of settler colonialism and violence.” During Wednesday’s conference announcing the Biden endorsement, over a dozen UAW members chanted against the move and were dragged out of the venue and threatened with arrest.
The endorsement was a top-down decision from the UAW’s International Executive Board (IEB) — it wasn’t debated or put up for a vote, as the 2023 strike was. It violated the most basic democratic norms of unionism. And the endorsement isn’t merely symbolic: UAW members’ union dues will go to supporting this genocidal president’s reelection campaign.
The IEB’s endorsement is unconscionable. Biden has unflinchingly supported Israel’s genocide against Gaza, and as Israeli leaders themselves have noted, these atrocities are possible only because of U.S. military support. Endorsing Biden is a betrayal of workers everywhere: it means supporting Israel’s genocidal offensive and dividing the international working class and its power, which would be stronger if it could cross borders and confront the hegemonic bloc of the U.S. and Israel together.
And, of course, the violent tactics that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) use to repress Palestinians come back to the United States: many U.S. police forces train in Israel and use these murderous techniques and technologies to surveil and kill Black and Brown people, break strikes, and repress the working class. After all, Biden, like all U.S. presidents, is an enemy of the workers both abroad and in the United States — like in 2022, when he broke the rail workers’ strike and imposed a contract on these workers to protect U.S. business interests.
So why did the UAW IEB betray the rank and file and the movement on the streets? How can it support a call for ceasefire while endorsing a genocide enabler?
There is a long history of collaboration between the Democratic Party and union bureaucracies. In exchange for crumbs for workers and protection in the face of growing monopoly power under capitalism, labor leaders have rallied behind Democratic politicians. Rather than wielding the power of union members and the working class, these leaders view their role as pressuring politicians. UAW Region 9A director Brandon Mancilla, for example, claimed that the endorsement “means that our union must do even more to Pressure Biden and other representatives on our domestic policy and international solidarity agenda.”
In other words, the UAW’s endorsement isn’t due to one bad leader or one bad decision, nor is the labor bureaucracy imperialist by accident. In fact, as Jason Koslowski points out, the material base of union bureaucracies is increasingly dependent on the benefits that flow into the U.S. due to the country’s imperialist policies.
Biden’s endorsement from unions, meanwhile, makes him look pro-labor, even though his administration is far from it. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are parties of capital who govern for the ruling class. In this sense, the UAW shouldn’t just break with Biden for his support for Israel — it should completely break with the whole capitalist, imperialist bipartisan regime, for good.
Breaking with Genocide Joe — and the Democrats
There can be no powerful labor movement in the United States as long as it is chained to the Democratic Party, imperialism, and genocide. Appealing to Democrats means confining ourselves to union struggle within the legal boundaries of the state, which make unionizing, solidarity, and working-class victories much harder. Now more than ever, rank-and-file activists need to put forward a struggle to break their unions from the interests of the Democratic Party rather than give Genocide Joe their political support.
Beyond the political struggle against their pro-capital, pro-imperialist bureaucracies, labor has a strategic role to play because it can shut it down not only on the streets but also at the point production. 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. The past year of strike activity in the labor movement and the current pro-Palestine movement on the streets shows that we are not powerless.
The U.S. bipartisan regime will do everything possible to make it seem like we can’t organize ourselves politically as workers. Against a perspective of despair or conciliation, we fight for a party of our own that fights for an end to a system that’s on the path to barbarism.