Labor Calls for Ceasefire Now!

Dianne Feeley

At A NOVEMBER 29 news conference held in front of the White House, as hunger strikers called for permanent ceasefire in Gaza, UAW Region 9A Director Brandon Mancilla announced that the UAW had endorsed the ceasefire. The million-strong union joined with the American Postal Workers Union, California Nurses Association, Chicago Teachers Union and the UE, shortly before Israel resumed its military operation in Gaza. Mancilla spoke about the UAW leadership’s decision as in the tradition of earlier UAW positions of global solidarity: “We opposed fascism in World War II, we opposed the Vietnam war, we opposed apartheid South Africa, and we mobilized union resources in that fight.”

In addition to support to an immediate and permanent ceasefire, he announced that the union’s leadership body would set up a working group “to study the history of Israel and Palestine and the UAW’s economic ties to the conflict and explore how we can have a just transition for workers from war to peace.” In a Facebook post, UAW President Shawn Fain indicated his support. Subsequently Fain joined Mancilla in speaking at a Washington, DC press conference and rally.

Unions are becoming more willing to take on seemingly controversial social justice issues and examine their past practices. Although the UAW has taken generally progressive positions, previous UAW International Executive Boards have uncritically supported the state of Israel even when members demanded change. In two important campaigns by UAW members, the IEB used its power to oppose those demands.

• By 1973, many Lebanese, Palestinian and Yemeni workers had been hired into the Big Three plants. At the time of the October 1973 war, they discovered that UAW Local 600 had recently purchased $300,000 of Israeli bonds with members’ dues money. Using their community-based organizations, they pulled together a 3,000-person demonstration at the UAW Local 600 office, demanding that the local rescind its decision. Shortly afterward, about 70 Arab workers from nearly every auto factory in the area founded the Arab Workers Caucus. They raised money for war relief and demanded an end to the million-dollar investment in pension funds that UAW leadership held in Israeli bonds. Discovering that the following month UAW President Leonard Woodcock would receive a humanitarian award from the Zionist B’nai B’rith International, they called for wildcat strikes in the plants and mobilized 1,000 picketers to confront Woodcock at the $100 a plate dinner. While Woodcock ducked in by a back door, they chanted “Dispose of the Bonds” and “Jewish People Yes, Zionism No.”

Of the 2000 Arab workers who skipped work that day at Dodge Main, at least a quarter were fired. Well-known progressive UAW secretary treasurer Emil Mazey claimed that the Israel Bonds investment was solid and called the demonstrators “communists.” At the 1974 UAW Convention the caucus attempted to pass a resolution for divestment and protection against discriminatory practices by the union and companies, but the resolution went nowhere. Eventually the caucus disbanded. Few Arab workers work in Detroit area plants these days.

• In 2014 UAW Local 2865, representing graduate students in the California university system, passed a motion in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS); the following year the UAW IEB ruled against the resolution.

The new reform leadership, who represent the majority on the IEB, are interested in revisiting many of the previous UAW positions. This represents a new day. (See Jeff Schuhrke’s “When Arab-American Detroit Auto Workers Struck for Palestinian Liberation,” in Jacobin, 8/3/20, for more details and links.

Just the week before Christmas the executive council of 1199SEIU, representing more than 450,000 health care workers, added their voices to the ceasefire demand.

January-February 2024, ATC 228

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