Monthly Archives: April 2016

“Defining political issue of our time”: NYU grad student union overwhelmingly votes to boycott Israel over violations of Palestinian human rights (Salon)

Salon

“Defining political issue of our time”: NYU grad student union overwhelmingly votes to boycott Israel over violations of Palestinian human rights

NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee is first private university labor union to support BDS, as movement grows

nyu_gsoc_bds-620x412(Credit: NYU GSOC)

Graduate students at New York University have overwhelmingly voted to boycott Israel in protest of its violation of Palestinian human rights.

Exactly two-thirds of voting members of the graduate student union the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, or GSOC-UAW 2110, supported a referendum on Friday that calls for New York University and United Auto Workers International to withdraw their investments from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in violations of Palestinian human and civil rights.

At least 645 union members participated in the vote. An additional 57 percent of voting members pledged to uphold the academic boycott of Israel, refraining from participating in research and academic programs sponsored by institutions funded by the Israeli government.

The union says this “was an unusually large membership turnout, a testament to union democracy.” It explained in a statement that the vote took place after a period of “vigorous debate and engagement with the union among wide layers of graduate workers.”

“After months of mass mobilization and a four-day election, GSOC members have taken a clear stand for justice in Palestine,” explained Shafeka Hashash, a member of the union’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, caucus.

“This historic endorsement of BDS by GSOC at NYU occurs in the wake of growing momentum for the movement across university campuses and labor unions nationwide,” she added.

BDS is an international grassroots movement that uses peaceful economic means to pressure Israel into complying with international law and respecting Palestinian human rights. The campaign was called for by Palestinian civil society and by major trade unions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Graduate Student Organizing Committee is a labor union representing more than 2,000 teaching assistants, adjunct instructors, research assistants and other graduate workers at New York University, or NYU. It is the first recognized graduate worker union at a private university in the U.S.

The union says its referendum vote it sets “an important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy.”

“In addition to bringing material gains for their members, NYU graduate students are reclaiming the union as a political platform for social justice causes,” explained Maya Wind, an Israeli activist and Ph.D. student at NYU who is a member of the union.

“Through the recent mass mobilization for justice in Palestine we have taken a stand on one of the defining political issues of our time,” she added. “The referendum success is indicative of the traction the movement is gaining across university campuses, and increasingly among graduate students.”

The referendum also calls on NYU to close its sister program in Israel’s Tel Aviv University, which the union says violates its own non-discrimination policy.

A recent U.S. State Department report acknowledged the “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel,” as well as the unlawful killings, excessive force and torture people endure at the hands of the Israeli military in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

The BDS movement is growing rapidly throughout the U.S. and the world.

In the past week, at least two major graduate student unions voted to endorse a boycott of Israel. The Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Massachusetts Amherst passed a BDS resolution by referendum, as well as the City University of New York Doctoral Students Council, which approved an academic boycott measure overwhelmingly via vote.

“The impact of NYU’s referendum will not only reverberate across private academic institutions where unionization efforts have gained momentum, but across the American academy more broadly,” GSOC said in a statement.

At least eight major U.S. academic associations have voted to boycott Israel in protest of its violation of Palestinian human rights, including the American Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies. Many of these votes had resounding majorities in favor.

Several national unions have also made similar votes, including the United Electrical Workers union.

Despite the democratic nature of these votes, the efforts have faced huge backlash.

Legislators around the U.S. are proposing bans on boycotts of Israel, which legal experts say is unconstitutional.

When the University of California system’s graduate student union voted to endorse the BDS movement by a landslide in 2014, Salon exposed how the small pro-Israel opposition derailed the democratic process with the help of a prominent law firm that has defended powerful multinational corporations like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and Chevron. Under this pressure, the United Auto Workers International Executive Board nullified the vote, even while admitting that it was thoroughly democratic.

NYU’s graduate student union also says the UAW Local 2110 Executive Board “attempted to interfere with democratic elections to union leadership bodies.” GSOC condemned union executives for having “cracked down on their own membership” in an undemocratic manner.

Ph.D. student and union member Sean Larson told Salon the local executive executive board has disqualified a large number of candidates for the leadership election, “disputing our membership criteria eligibility and the eligibility for candidates to run in both elections.”

GSOC is pushing back against the backlash. “In the fight for social justice and against repression, the BDS movement and union democracy are natural allies,” the union affirmed in a statement.

“By empowering the members themselves to speak, the emerging movement for union democracy among graduate students is helping to lead these efforts. Rank-and-file democracy is the future of the labor movement, and the labor movement can secure a vigorous future for BDS in the United States.”

 

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.

Historic: NYU’s Graduate Employee Union Becomes First Private University Labor Union to Support Divestment From Israel (GSOC-UAW 2110)

GSOC

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 22, 2016

Contact:
Maya Wind: mayou22@gmail.com, (917) 913-7820
Sean Larson: larson14.21@gmail.com, (386) 882-8738

HISTORIC: NYU’s GRADUATE EMPLOYEE UNION BECOMES FIRST PRIVATE UNIVERSITY LABOR UNION TO SUPPORT DIVESTMENT FROM ISRAEL

IN SOLIDARITY WITH PALESTINIAN WORKERS AND STUDENTS, VOTING MEMBERS OF GSOC-UAW 2110 APPROVE CALL FOR DIVESTMENT by 66.5%; 57.6% pledged to uphold the academic boycott

In response to the call for solidarity from all major Palestinian trade unions, New York University graduate students voted to join the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights. The Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC-UAW 2110) is a labor union representing over 2,000 teaching assistants, adjunct instructors, research assistants and other graduate workers at New York University, and the first recognized graduate worker union at a private university in the US. 645 union members participated in a referendum that resulted in a call for NYU and UAW international to withdraw their investments from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights. The referendum also calls on NYU to close its program in Tel Aviv University, which continues to violate NYU’s own Non-Discrimination policy.

366 members also pledged to adhere to the academic boycott of Israel, and refrain from participating in research and programs sponsored by Israeli universities. There was an unusually large membership turnout, a testament to union democracy.

“After months of mass mobilization and a four day election, GSOC members have taken a clear stand for justice in Palestine.” says Shafeka Hashash, a member of the GSOC for BDS caucus. “This historic endorsement of BDS by GSOC at NYU occurs in the wake of growing momentum for the movement across university campuses and labor unions nationwide.”

Currently, over eight academic associations and several national unions have already endorsed BDS with a resounding majority. At the forefront of the graduate student unionization efforts in private institutions, NYU’s GSOC referendum set an important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy.

“In addition to bringing material gains for their members, NYU graduate students are reclaiming the union as a political platform for social justice causes. Through the recent mass mobilization for justice in Palestine we have taken a stand on one of the defining political issues of our time. The referendum success is indicative of the traction the movement is gaining across university campuses, and increasingly among graduate students” said Maya Wind, a member of GSOC for BDS.

 

Just last week, the Graduate Employee Organization at University of Massachusetts Amherst successfully passed a BDS resolution by referendum, followed by an academic boycott measure approved by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council. The impact of NYU’s referendum will not only reverberate across private academic institutions where unionization efforts have gained momentum, but across the American academy more broadly.

In response to the rapidly growing success of the BDS movement, incidents of intimidation and repression against BDS activists have intensified. While legislators propose at times  unconstitutional laws banning boycotts of Israel, university administrators have been cracking down on free speech when it comes to Palestine solidarity. Despite its vibrant history, today the labor movement is no different. After UAW Local 2865 passed a BDS referendum in late 2014, the UAW International Executive Board “nullified” the results on dubious grounds, a decision currently under appeal. In this case, the repression of the BDS movement coincides with the repression of union democracy in the labor movement.

 

In the fight for social justice and against repression, the BDS movement and union democracy are natural allies. At NYU, the successful BDS referendum went ahead as planned even while the Local 2110 Executive Board attempted to interfere with democratic elections to union leadership bodies. In the NYU case, as well as the UAW “nullification” of the UC system BDS referendum, union executives have cracked down on their own membership. Just as in the UC system, the victory for BDS at NYU indisputably reflects the democratic will of the rank and file members. Not only was the BDS question brought to a referendum from over 10 percent of the membership, it also generated vigorous debate and engagement with the union among wide layers of graduate workers. As the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union have most recently made known, such an engaged rank and file poses a challenge to business as usual in the unions. This is why the BDS campaign is part of the struggle for the soul of the union.


As an academic worker union, GSOC represents another promising bridge for the BDS movement to leap from its stunning success among academic organizations into the labor movement more broadly. Already, the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention and the United Electrical Workers in the U.S. have passed resolutions endorsing BDS. “Labor, with its ability to exert real pressure on employers through strikes and workplace actions, can lend significant weight to BDS is the United States. When incorporated into labor union demands, the call to divest from Israel advances from a symbolic display to a concrete reality,” said Ziad Dallal, a steward in GSOC. “Justice in Palestine depends upon the ability of the US labor movement to demonstrate its solidarity,” Dallal added. By empowering the members themselves to speak, the emerging movement for union democracy among graduate students is helping to lead these efforts. Rank and file democracy is the future of the labor movement, and the labor movement can secure a vigorous future for BDS in the United States.

For more information, please visit www.nooccupiedpalestine.org.

Univ. of Massachusetts Grad Student Workers Endorse BDS Against Israel (In These Times)

In These Times
THURSDAY, APR 21, 2016, 1:01 PM

Univ. of Massachusetts Grad Student Workers Endorse BDS Against Israel

BY JEFF SCHUHRKEITT

In a rebuke to their union’s top officials, graduate student workers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst overwhelmingly approved a measure aimed at supporting Palestinian human rights last week.

The 2,000-member Graduate Employee Organization (GEO), part of United Auto Workers Local 2322, passed a resolution endorsing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a global movement pressuring Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians and end its occupation of Palestinian territory. The vote—which organizers say passed with 95 percent approval—comes just months after the UAW International Executive Board (IEB) controversially overturned a similar BDS resolution passed by University of California graduate student workers with UAW Local 2865.

After Local 2865 became the first major U.S. union local to pass a BDS resolution in late 2014, UMass grad workers were inspired to form a Palestine Solidarity Caucus. “We believed that our fellow members in GEO-Local 2322 would be likely to stand in support of such a resolution as well,” says Alyssa Goldstein, a founding member of the caucus.

But last December, the UAW IEB nullified Local 2865’s resolution. As Mario Vasquez reported for In These Times, the IEB found no misconduct in the BDS resolution vote, but ruled that the measure—which called for the UAW to divest from companies tied to the Israeli occupation—would “interfere with the flow of commerce to and from earmarked companies,” including Boeing, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin and others. Local 2865 has appealed the decision to the UAW’s Public Review Board.

Calling the IEB nullification decision “cowardly and undemocratic,” Goldstein and other rank-and-file activists at UMass remained undeterred and moved forward with efforts to present a BDS resolution to the GEO membership. “The IEB has no power to stifle this movement. You can’t nullify an idea whose time has come,” Goldstein says.

Last week’s BDS resolution vote was “not just a show of hands,” says Anais Surkin, a Local 2322 union rep and GEO member. Surkin stresses that the effort was ultimately an exercise in rank-and-file democracy. “We went through the process outlined in our bylaws. It was important to do things in a formal way, to engage the maximum number of members possible, and to be able to stand up to scrutiny.”

In February, Local 2322’s Joint Council issued an open letter calling on the IEB to reverse the decision to overrule Local 2865’s resolution. Without taking a position on BDS, the Local protested on grounds that the nullification “looks like censorship” and undermines union democracy.

Meanwhile, in another act of rank-and-file defiance against the UAW IEB, New York University graduate student workers with the Graduate School Organizing Committee (GSOC)-UAW Local 2110 are voting on their own BDS resolution this week. A group of graduate students released a statement today condemning what they say are undemocratic actions taken by their union’s leadership to prevent some students from assuming leadership positions in GSOC; some of those students support the BDS resolution. (A statement issued by Local 2210’s executive board called these allegations “completely untrue” and disputed the insinuation that students were excluded from leadership positions because of “caucus affiliation and an individual’s political beliefs.”)

From UC to UMass to NYU, the recent wave of Palestine solidarity activism is reflective of the coordinated efforts of Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), a reform caucus of UAW graduate workers pushing the union toward a broader vision of social justice.

“BDS has definitely been a topic of discussion among those of us in the AWDU national network,” says Anna Waltman, a GEO member and AWDU activist. “But our respective Palestine solidarity caucuses drafted these resolutions largely independently of one another and with attention to our individual unions’ practices, cultures and bylaws.”

GEO Co-Chair Santiago Vidales calls last week’s BDS vote “a testament to what social justice unionism looks like. We know that our principled stand will be criticized, scrutinized and challenged. But we know that we are building a movement for liberation.”

This is not the first time UAW members have rebelled against union leaders in opposition to the occupation of Palestine. In 1973, thousands of Arab American auto workers staged two wildcat strikes to protest the UAW’s close ties with Israel. A few years earlier, the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers—which included many UAW rank-and-filers—came out in support of Palestinian liberation.

Kevina King and Tiamba Wilkerson of GEO’s Black Caucus—whose support Palestine Solidarity Caucus members say was instrumental in getting the resolution passed—note that “international solidarity, particularly between Black and Palestinian people, is as important now as it has ever been, as both communities continue to fight state sanctioned terrorism and racist violence.”

“I’m deeply gratified to see that my union is committed to advocating for the fundamental dignity and equality of all workers and all people all over the world,” adds Ghazah Abbasi, a GEO member who voted for the resolution.

Unionized graduate student workers simultaneously inhabit the worlds of organized labor and academia, putting them in a unique position to connect student movements and the labor movement.

Although the United Electrical Workers and Connecticut AFL-CIO both endorsed BDS last year, U.S. labor trails far behind academic communities in supporting the global movement.

In recent years, student governments on campuses across the country have approved BDS resolutions, prompted by activist groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace Student Network. Several scholarly organizations—including the prominent American Studies Association—have also endorsed an academic boycott of Israeli universities.

“Speaking out about the occupation can be particularly risky for contingent faculty and grad employees,” says Waltman. “Supporters of Palestinian self-determination who teach on college campuses risk losing their jobs over something as simple asword choice in personal Twitter posts. Widespread union endorsements of BDS send a message that adjuncts, faculty and grad students in favor of BDS do not speak alone.”

Campus organizing around Palestinian rights is being met with increasing resistance, as criticisms of Israel are being equated with hate speech. Encouraged by pro-Israel opponents of BDS, last month, the University of California’s Board of Regentsadopted a new anti-discrimination policy that comes close to conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America recently alleged that pro-BDS groups and individuals at the City University of New York are promoting anti-Semitism, leading New York legislators to cut $485 million in state funding for the university as a way to “send a message.” (The funding cut was later rescinded by Governor Andrew Cuomo.)

Before UMass GEO members voted on their BDS resolution last week, six of the university’s faculty members wrote a letter to the editor in the student newspaper arguing that such a measure would be “discriminatory” because it “stigmatizes Israel.” Similarly, when the UAW IEB nullified Local 2865’s BDS resolution last year, it alleged “discriminatory labeling and disparagement” of Jewish and Israeli UAW members.

Even Hillary Clinton has attacked the BDS movement as an “alarming” effort “to malign and isolate the Jewish people.”

In a written statement in favor of the BDS resolution, Jewish GEO members countered that it is “anti-Semitic…to expect Jews to support Israel’s policies on the sole basis of their Jewishness.” They added that “as Jews, we feel an urgent need at the present moment to say ‘Not in our name’ as Israel commits human rights violations with impunity.”

Activists with the Palestine Solidarity Caucus tell In These Times that along with the BDS resolution last week, GEO members also overwhelmingly passed a measure reaffirming the union’s condemnation of all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism. Throughout the process, efforts were also made by the union to give BDS opponents a voice.

“In my role as union rep, I repeatedly reached out to people who I knew were in opposition to the resolution and let them know they were more than welcome—encouraged, in fact—to form their own caucus and to take advantage of union resources to organize a ‘No’ campaign,” Surkin says. “I think that kind of democratic engagement is healthy for a union and I respect it a lot, but nobody followed up, nobody responded to the offer.”

Instead, organizers say that a small number of opponents who allege BDS is discriminatory are making informal threats to file lawsuits against the union or go to the IEB, which is how the UC graduate workers’ resolution was eventually overturned.

“Opposition from within GEO has been extremely limited and without any grassroots support,” Goldstein says. “There were just a handful of people who came to the GEO open forum to speak out against the resolution, and most of them weren’t GEO members or grad students at all.”

Organizers say they will now urge the university and the UAW International to divest from Israeli state institutions and from companies that do business with Israel, as well as call on other labor organizations—including the Massachusetts AFL-CIO—to also endorse BDS.

The author was a GEO-UAW 2322 member at UMass-Amherst from 2012 to 2014. He never held an official position in the union and was in no way involved in their BDS efforts.

Jeff Schuhrke is a Summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.

Did New York union nix election because of BDS referendum? (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

Did New York union nix election because of BDS referendum?

gsoc-votes
NYU graduate workers’ union GSOC is proceeding with election and BDS referendum despite UAW’s pre-emptive declaration of result by “accalamation.” (via Facebook)

The unionized graduate student workers at New York University were supposed to be voting on their union representatives this week along with a referendum to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

But last Friday night, union members were stunned to discover that the executive board of United Auto Workers Local 2110 had selected their delegates and stewards for them, effectively canceling the election.

Unilaterally, the leaders of UAW Local 2110 had disqualified more than half of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee’s (GSOC) nominated candidates.

Leaving just enough candidates to fill the open positions, the leadership announced the results of an election by acclamation.

GSOC was formally recognized by NYU in December 2013. It is a unit within UAW Local 2110, which represents a variety of professional workers in Manhattan.

Now, GSOC is telling its members to disregard the edict from the parent union and vote this week in an election that will include all the disqualified candidates.

Attempt to interfere

Those who had been disqualified overwhelmingly represented the left-leaning Academic Workers for a Democratic Union caucus, who were also integral to organizing the union’s referendum on whether to back BDS.

UAW Local 2110 leaders also tried to persuade GSOC to postpone the BDS referendum, raising further concerns among members.

“The local seems to have unilaterally hand-selected specific candidates in an opaque process that has arbitrarily excluded several members with particular political affiliations and caucus memberships,” the GSOC communications committee and votes committee wrote in a letter to the union’s more than 2,000 members.

“We are very disappointed by this attempt of the local to interfere with our right to elect our own unit representatives via democratic ballot,” the letter adds.

In a follow-up email, the local’s leadership explained that the candidates had been disqualified because they did not meet eligibility requirements to run. The email explained that in order to be eligible to serve as a union steward or delegate, a candidate must have worked the previous two semesters.

But what constitutes “work” as a graduate student is not so clear cut. Shelly Ronen, who serves on the GSOC’s votes committee, told The Electronic Intifada that narrow eligibility criteria of what qualifies as work do not make sense for graduate students, whose work is not limited to their salaried employment as teaching and research assistants.

Moreover, the leadership had been inconsistent and had refused to clarify the eligibility requirements in the lead up to the election, Ronen said.

Emails seen by The Electronic Intifada did not relate specifically to candidate eligibility requirements but did show that Ronen had repeatedly requested a current membership list for GSOC from UAW Local 2110, but that this was not forthcoming.

In her emails to officials, Ronen explained that an up-to-date membership list was needed so that GSOC could administer a fair and secure secret ballot on the BDS question.

Disqualifying BDS organizers

As for the election, the UAW Local 2110 leadership disqualified at least 14 candidates, 10 of whom were organizing the union’s referendum on BDS.

In a petition to the president of UAW Local 2110, GSOC notes that several members of the GSOC’s anti-BDS caucus, which calls itself the Open Dialogue caucus, were installed as representatives.

In an email to all members of UAW Local 2110 sent on Wednesday, the leadership denied any partisan reasons for the disqualifications.

“The stewards and delegates elected were eligible members from both opposing caucuses,” the local stated. “Caucus affiliation and an individual’s political beliefs had absolutely nothing to do with what is a fundamental qualification for election – working under the contract and paying dues.”

But some GSOC members are not convinced.

“We don’t see it as a coincidence that suddenly they changed the eligibility requirements for people who want to run for official positions in our unit, at the time when we have the BDS referendum,” Maya Wind, a disqualified candidate for a steward position and a member of the GSOC for BDS Caucus, told The Electronic Intifada.

“This is a political attempt to silence the left students and those who care about justice in Palestine,” Wind added.

Ronen says that while the UAW Local 2110 leadership and GSOC have an ongoing disagreement about eligibility requirements for graduate student delegates to the union, the local assured the votes committee that stewards, who work within GSOC, did not need to meet the stringent employment requirements.

“They applied different eligibility requirements last election and did not warn us that their most stringent eligibility requirements would be applied for this steward election,” Ronen said. “In fact, they said in person they intended on allowing us to use whatever eligibility requirements we preferred for the steward elections.”

GSOC wrote an open letter to the local’s leadership, rejecting their announcement of an election by acclamation and insisting on reinstating the ballot election.Screenshot 2016-04-20 23.27.32

BDS vote

Across four days this week, GSOC members will also cast their vote on a boycott referendum, which calls on NYU and UAW International to divest from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in violations of Palestinian human and civil rights.

The referendum was able to reach a general membership vote after the GSOC for BDS Caucus secured more than 10 percent of members’ signatures.

In the run-up to the ballot, the caucus held two townhalls and one general membership meeting.

“It has been a completely transparent and democratic process, this is what we wanted to make sure from the start,” Ziad Dallal, a member of the GSOC for BDS Caucus, told The Electronic Intifada.

Dallal was left off the list of delegates elected by acclamation, despite meeting the eligibility requirements. Calling it an error, the UAW Local 2110 leadership reinstated him after he contested his exclusion.

But Dallal says the mistake “gives credence to our worries that they were mishandling our election.”

UAW Local 2865, which represents 13,000 graduate student workers across theUniversity of California system, passed a similar resolution in 2014.

But that resolution was nullified by international executive officials of the union in December 2015, overturning a vote by rank and file members to back the boycott of Israel.

The rank and file and executive officers of Local 2865 have filed an appeal to the UAW Public Review Board to rescind the nullification.

At the beginning of April, the president of New York’s UAW Local 2110, Maida Rosenstein, wrote an email to Ronen urging GSOC to postpone their vote on the BDS referendum until after the review board had made its decision in the California case.

“Why not wait until the Public Review Board rules before conducting this referendum? If the PRB does not reverse the UAW, the GSOC BDS resolution as it has been drafted will almost certainly be thrown out if someone appeals,” Rosenstein wrote.

But Dallal says the UC example inspired trade unionists at NYU to push forward their BDS referendum. “We wanted to follow their lead in this great effort.”

Also following the lead of UC students, the Graduate Employee Organization of UAW Local 2322 adopted a BDS resolution last week with 95 percent of the votes.

GEO represents over 2,000 graduate student workers at the the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Results of NYU’s BDS referendum are expected to be announced Thursday night.

Maida Rosenstein did not respond to an email requesting comment.

NYU grad union says parent union disqualified candidates who back Israel boycott (Politico New York)

Politico NewYork

NYU grad union says parent union disqualified candidates who back Israel boycott

a-NYU campus_0
New York University. (Jonathan71)

New York University graduate students said their union’s parent local improperly disqualified candidates for union offices, many of whom support an ongoing “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” referendum regarding Israel.

The vote committee of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee said in a letter that the parent union, United Auto Workers Local 2110, gave “confusing and contradictory claims” about eligibility for office and disqualified several candidates without notice. The union then declared “certain candidates elected by acclamation … without our review and approval,” the letter says.

The candidates were seeking positions with the union’s assembly of stewards and its joint council of delegates.

“Nominations were last week, and nominations closed on Friday at 5 [p.m.],” votes committee member Chris Nickell said.

“Friday at 9 p.m., 1,300 to 1,400 [members] got an email [from the local] that a number of people had been elected by acclamation,” he said.

“We were dumbfounded,” he said.

Nickell said that GSOC has delayed planned elections until Wednesday and Thursday in order to discuss the situation with the local. The BDS vote began Tuesday at noon and will continue through Thursday, as planned.

Nickel said that Local 2110 has not yet responded to the letter.

In response to a query from POLITICO New York, local president Maida Rosenstein promised to call back.

Members of GSOC’s BDS caucus suspect that Local 2110 may have deliberately disqualified members known to back BDS in favor of anti-BDS members.

“Ten of the 14 members were known proponents of the BDS referendum,” said Sean Larson, a graduate student. “Several people who were just installed were members of the Zionist caucus.”

“I’m not saying this for sure was an anti-BDS coup, but it definitely disproportionately affected BDS supporters,” he said.

“Yes, on face value, the Local disqualified more pro-BDS than anti-BDS candidates, but they also ‘accepted’ more pro-BDS than anti-BDS candidates, because there were twice as many pro-BDS candidates as there were anti-BDS candidates,” said caucus member Sam Zerin in an email. “BDS is tearing apart our membership. It is distracting our elected representatives from pursuing the essential job-related issues that brought our union into being.”

“Here’s what I think: I think there is widespread suppression of the BDS movement,” Maya Wind, a doctoral student and BDS supporter, said. “I don’t think it’s coincidental.”

Larson and Wind pointed to California, where the UAW International “nullified” a BDS vote by University of California graduate student unions.

Both said that hostility to BDS by the UAW could dissuade graduate students from joining the union. Local 2110 is also organizing graduate students at Columbia University, The New School, and other universities.

America’s Labor Unions Are Increasingly Standing with Palestine (Alternet)

Alternet

America’s Labor Unions Are Increasingly Standing with Palestine

The Israeli government and its American allies have spent millions of dollars to destroy the credibility of the BDS advocates. It does not seem to have succeeded.
JWJ

On March 28th, a “Stop the Boycott” conference was held in Jerusalem. Afraid of the support for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the participants lashed out against its advocates. Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz called upon his government to conduct “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders. Such an alarming statement is not unusual. Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information said that BDS activists must “pay the price” for their advocacy (he later said that he did not mean to provoke “physical harm”). Israel’s Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri has threatened to revoke the permanent residency of BDS leader Omar Barghouti–who says that he now fears for his life.

Such is the Israeli reaction to the peaceful BDS movement.

The United States Congress sometimes seems like a subsidiary of the Israeli Knesset. Senators Mark Kirk (Republican of Illinois) and Joe Manchin (Democrat of West Virginia) as well as Representatives Robert Dold (Republican of Illinois) and Juan Vargas (Democrat of California) tabled the ‘Combating BDS Act of 2016’ in both houses. This bill asks state and local governments to divest from any group that “engages in commerce or investment-related boycott, divestment or sanctions activity targeting Israel.” Republican donor and gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson held a secret anti-BDS gathering in Las Vegas, where mega-donors pledged to go after BDS activists – mainly the college campus activities of BDS activists and the Students for Justice in Palestine. Last year, Democratic presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton wrote to Democratic donor Haim Saban to pledge her support against BDS. “I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority,” she wrote. Clinton linked the BDS campaign, which targets Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, to anti-Semitism. It is the clichéd way to rebuke BDS campaigns and campaigners.

The Israeli government and its American allies have spent millions of dollars to destroy the credibility of the BDS advocates. It does not seem to have succeeded.

As if undaunted, a host of US labor unions have decided to endorse the BDS pledge. The United Electrical Workers (UE), a union of over thirty-five thousand members, debated the question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine at its August 2015 convention. “Our government is on the wrong side,” said Angaza Laughinghouse of Local 150 (North Carolina). “We have to stand on the right side of the Palestine struggle.” Laughinghouse’s union—UEdecided to unanimously endorse BDS and to actively work “to become engaged in BDS.” In October, the two hundred thousand members of the AFL-CIO of Connecticut passed a resolution that called upon the national AFL-CIO to endorse BDS “in connection with companies and investments profiting from or complicit in human rights violations arising from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the State of Israel.” There is no immediate sense that the national—which represents twelve and a half million workers – would follow suit.

A few years ago, the AFL-CIO—whose membership dwindled in the United States—turned to college campuses to organize adjunct professors and other campus teachers. This strategy has borne fruit, as many unions, especially the United Auto Workers (UAW)—found receptive campus workers (teachers, adjuncts, and graduate students) to fight for and form locals. A number of these campus unions have begun to push for BDS resolutions in their student and faculty organizations. Two affiliates of the UAW took the lead on this road – UAW Local 2865, the University of California’s graduate student union that represents thirteen thousand workers, and Graduate Employees Organization-UAW Local 2322 at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) that represents over two thousand workers.

It is little wonder that the labor movement for Palestine has a strong foundation on college campuses. Many scholarly bodies voted in favor of BDS—American Studies Association being the most prominent, while the American Anthropological Association is currently getting ready to vote on a resolution. Anti-BDS advocates are correct to point to the colleges as a hotbed of BDS activity, with bold Students for Justice with Palestine (SJP) units sprouting up across the country. Pressure to rein in the SJP groups runs up against moderate faculty support for these student initiatives, either on the grounds of free speech or of solidarity with Palestine.

Social movements across the United States—whether Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ struggles—have stretched out their arms towards Palestine. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization cleverly linked its struggle to that of the Vietnamese and the Algerians, building on global solidarity movements already in motion. This current solidarity is an echo of that era of “Palestine is Another Vietnam.” The 2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine and the many tours of Black Lives Matter activists to Palestine as well as the solidarity statements from Palestine to Ferguson provide the template for the new connections. The most powerful symbol of this was the visit to Palestine by activists from Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, Dream Defenders and Ferguson/Hands Up United. Standing in Nazareth, the young men and women sang a powerful song of solidarity, drawing a line between Ferguson and Palestine. This is the culture that moved the CUNY Doctoral Students Council to endorse BDS. “The repression of CUNY students,” said fourth year History student Jeremy Randall, “is connected to the same systems of power that uphold the Israeli state’s violation of Palestinian rights.” Comparisons and connections between the security state in the West Bank and in the United States embolden the solidarity.

In 2004, activists in al-Awda New York and New York City Labor Against the War formed Labor for Palestine. They did so, as Michael Letwin told me, “to honor the BDS picket line and fight for full inclusion of the Palestinian liberation struggle in the post-9/11 antiwar movement.” Letwin, who comes from a radical family and has been involved in most radical struggles in New York since the 1960s, understands that there has been a strand in the labor movement committed to Palestine. “There is a hidden tradition of US trade union solidarity with Palestine,” he told me. In 1969, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers took a position against Zionism, and in 1973 Black and Arab workers in the UAW “held wildcat strikes against the UAW.”

Labor for Palestine prods the US labor movement for good reason. Suzanne Adely, another leader in Labor for Palestine, tells me that the US labor unions have to disinvest from the Israel Bonds, which provide capital towards the occupation. Adely understands that the movement, however, has a history of complicity not only with the Israeli labor federation but also with the Israeli state. “Labor solidarity against apartheid and racism,” she says, “has always come from below.” The leadership has to be pushed by the union locals and by campaigns such as Labor for Palestine.

Western Massachusetts’ Labor for Palestine is one of these local chapters. It comes out of both the GEO-UAW Local 2322 struggle and the Western Mass Coalition for Palestine; the labor movement and the Palestine solidarity movement, in other words. The members of this chapter come out of union work, but also from Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ liberation groups. “We wanted to remain active in the Western Mass Coalition for Palestine,” says Ruth Jennison, an English professor at UMASS, “but we also wanted an organization that drew on the constant and permanent nature of union activism.” The chapter hosted a panel discussion last weekend at a Jobs with Justice conference in Springfield, MA, which was attended by representatives from Labor for Palestine and the Connecticut AFL-CIO. The Connecticut unionists – Carol Lambiase (UE) and Bill Shortell (Machinists union) – reported on a union trip to Palestine in 2015. In Palestine, Lambiase delivered a copy of the UE resolution for BDS to Shaher Sa’ed, the General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions. The panel in Springfield was well attended. Jennison told me, “Many union members and some leadership are excited about our organization, and want to help us build.”

Pressure against BDS will continue. Attempts to make it illegal remain on the table. The UAW leadership continues to attempt to nullify the resolutions of some of its locals. The fight inside the unions has now turned from the question of BDS to that of union democracy. These are conjoined issues. “Ultimately,” Adely says to me, “building labor solidarity with Palestine and with all anti-racist struggles is part of the fight to build a stronger, democratic union movement.”

Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He is the author of 18 books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter(AK Press, 2012), The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South(Verso, 2013) and the forthcoming The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday.

Mass Rally Against Approval of New “Social Security” Law (IMEMC)

IMEMC

Mass Rally Against Approval of New “Social Security” Law

April 19, 2016 11:21 PM

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Thousands of Palestinians, on Tuesday, demonstrated outside of a government building, in the occupied West Bank hub of Ramallah, against the Palestinian Authority’s approval of a new law many believe fails to provide adequate protection for workers.

Social Security Act No. 6 was ratified by PA Cabinet members in February and approved by defacto Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the following month.

The law has since brought a downpour of criticism from critics who say it disadvantages those with disabilities, retirees, and private sector workers.

The organizers of Tuesday’s rally demanded that the new law be suspended until discussions were held on a national level, in order to address concerns that the law acts as a detriment to employee savings without guaranteeing security from the state.

Organizers said that, under the new social security system, “expected retirement income won’t be enough to enable retired employees and workers to live in dignity.”

While the PA was expected to begin implementation at the beginning of this month, a number of political parties in parliament, civic organizations, and trade unions reportedly opposed the law.

Palestinian union officials, in approving the draft law under pressure from employers, called upon them to rescind their endorsements, Ma’an News Agency additionally reported..

A leader of Palestinian Progressive Labor Union Front (PLUF), Mohammad Jawabra, earlier this month said the law “failed to prioritize the interests and needs of workers,” creating “a social security system that ensures workers with disabilities and retirees will live in poverty.”

PLUF also criticized union officials for allegedly approving the draft law under pressure from employers, and called upon them to rescind their endorsements.

Tuesday’s rally marked the most recent amid an apparent increase in public demonstration against the PA in recent months.

A large group demonstrated in Ramallah earlier this week demanding the PA release three Palestinians detained on suspicions of planning an attack against Israel.

Weeks earlier, a teachers’ strike brought the largest public demonstrations against the PA in years.

See: 02/17/16 22 Striking Teachers Detained by PA Security

Ten thousand mobilize in Ramallah to fight for social rights (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-apartheid Wall Campaign)

Today, a first mass demonstration against the social security law that has been issued by president Abu Mazen and is supposed to come into force on April 21 has shown an overwhelming opposition among the Palestinian population to the policies of the Palestinian National Authority. After the mobilization of the teachers union at the beginning of this year, this is the second time Palestinian masses are out on the streets against the policies of the PNA.

The Social Security Act No. 6 was ratified by PA Cabinet members in February and approved by President Mahmoud Abbas the following month. When the news about the new law and the details of it became public, a national committee composed of two Palestinian union confederations – the New Unions, the Independent Unions, the Palestinian Progressive Labour Union Front – and autonomous unions of private businesses as well as the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), has been formed in order to coordinate opposition to the law. The demand of today’s protest was an immediately freeze of the law.

The law would disadvantage those with disabilities, retirees, women and private sector workers. The minimum wage would be reduced to 726 NIS, retirement benefits reduced to 51% of the salary before retirement. Further, the law would allow the PNA to take over saving fund of Palestinian institutions and for a fund to be created, to which Israel supposedly should transfer the Palestinian workers dues it has collected since 1967. The National Committee against the Social Security Act n.6 argues that the takeover of the independent saving funds by the PNA will create insecurity for workers on the one hand, as the PNA is not a state and its stability is continuously at risk, and give the PNA a huge financial resource of billions of NIS without giving workers any guarantee about what the PNA will do with this fund.

Muhammad Bleidi, president of the New Unions Confederation explained:

“This law has been issued and decided upon without any consultation with the people affected by it. Abu Mazen and his cabinet have decided upon it when, legally speaking, it should be decided by the legislative council.

“It is only serving the interests of the business class and Israeli interests. We see it a capitalist project that is dismantling the Palestinian labour law. It further comes to legalize Israel’s and the Histadrut’s illegal appropriation of Palestinian workers dues.

“As the workers have not been included in the process, they will be the ones to be failed. We consider the workers rights, like the refugee rights, as inalienable rights. We will fight any law regarding our rights, in which we will not be consulted.

“We are struggling for social justice, and we are struggling for a social security law but this is not the law and not the way we will accept.”

The National Committee in opposition to the Social Security Act n.6 to freeze the law and to restart discussions that involve all parties in order to produce a consensus on such a law. Unfortunately, the PNA has rejected all those demands and insists on bringing the law into force on April 21. In response, the National Committee is preparing further mobilization and escalation of the protests.

This is the second major mass movement in the occupied West Bank in defense of social and labour rights against the neoliberal policies of the Palestinian National Authority, which put another layer of attacks on the Palestinian people.

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GEO joins the BDS movement: Press Release! (GEO-UAW 2322)

cropped-FINAL-GEO-LOGO-SMALLGEO joins the BDS movement: Press Release!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: APRIL 19, 2016

Media contact: Anais N. Surkin, Union Representative/Organizer: 917-940-0312, anais@uaw2322.org

UMass Amherst Union of Graduate Student Workers Endorses BDS!

Members of the Graduate Employee Organization at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst voteoverwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to  join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement!

During a three day (April 12-14) vote, by secret ballot, the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO/UAW2322) at University of Massachusetts in Amherst voted overwhelmingly (95%) in favor of adopting a resolution to stand in solidarity with Palestinian civil society and join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. The largest collective bargaining unit within UAW Local Amalgamated 2322 (UAW 2322), GEO represents over 2,000 graduate student workers at the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. This makes GEO the second major body of unionized workers in the U.S. to formally join the BDS movement by membership vote.

This resolution renews and furthers a 2003 GEO resolution to divest from the Israeli occupation, and honors the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society– including trade unions, university faculty, and student groups– to embrace BDS worldwide as a tactic to put political and economic pressure on the Israeli state until it complies with international law and respects the human rights of Palestinians in the occupied territories. The resolution also calls on our employer, UMass, and our union, the UAW, to divest from and boycott companies that fuel and profit from the military occupation and repression of Palestinians.  During a period of open dialogue when all members were encouraged to express diverse views, engage and organize, both the GEO Black Caucus and Jewish GEO members publicly endorsed the resolution.

A similar resolution passed in December 2014 by UAW 2865, the student-worker union at the University of California (UC) was later nullified by the International Executive Board of the UAW. That nullification is currently under appeal.  GEO and our local, UAW2322, stand with the UC union’s decision to appeal the nullification of their democratic vote to embrace BDS. We urge the UAW International to respect the democratic membership vote to endorse BDS, and in doing so we invite them to join us on the right side of history.

Quotes from GEO/UAW Members:

Santiago Vidales, GEO Co-Chair  “The fact that an overwhelming majority of our union voted for BDS is a testament to what social justice unionism looks like. Over and over again we were asked why GEO was getting involved in world politics. The reality is that Palestinian workers on our campus are entitled to their basic human and civil rights when they travel back home. By answering the call of the BDS Movement in Palestine, GEO members join other graduate worker unions across the country in demanding that our universities, our unions, and our communities boycott and divest from Israel’s violent occupation of Palestinian territories. We know that our principled stand will be criticized, scrutinized and challenged. But we know that we are building a movement for liberation. The liberation of Palestinian people is inherently connected to our own.”

Kevina King and Tiamba Wilkerson, GEO Black Caucus Executive Board  “The Black Caucus is immensely proud that our union put its proverbial “money where its mouth is” and voted in support of justice for the Palestinian people. It is especially meaningful for the Black Caucus, as we recognize the historical links between the liberation struggles of Black and Palestinian people, and how our traditions of resistance continue to inspire other oppressed and marginalized peoples across the world. International solidarity, particularly between Black and Palestinian people, is as important now as it has ever been, as both communities continue to fight state sanctioned terrorism and racist violence.”

Ghazah Abbasi, GEO member, Department of Sociology Global capitalism is a colonial, white-supremacist, heteropatriarchal system that alienates us deeply and multiply. A key part of overcoming our alienation is understanding our common humanity with other workers and peoples within and outside the US. It would be deeply contradictory for graduate student workers of UMass Amherst to campaign for our own rights while being complacent about the atrocious rights-violations taking place in Israel with the ideological and financial backing of the United States government. As a GEO member, I am deeply gratified to see that my union is committed to advocating for the fundamental dignity and equality of all workers, and all people, throughout the world. Peoples’ rights as workers are ‘legal’ rights dependent on the security of their other ‘natural’ inalienable rights – such as the right to food, physical security, physical mobility, and freedom from violence. Yet these basic rights are consistently denied to the Palestinian peoples by the state of Israel. Because there can be no conditions for fair and equitable work under colonialism and military siege, it is imperative to demand the immediate and unqualified decolonization of Palestine.”

Alyssa Goldstein, GEO/UAW2322 Palestine Solidarity Caucus Member As a Jewish GEO member and one of the drafters of the “Jews Support BDS” letter, I am so proud to see this resolution pass with overwhelming support. The state of Israel does not stand for or represent the Jewish people, and we must not allow its oppression of the Palestinians to continue in our name. The Jewish activists, in my union and elsewhere, who speak out for Palestinian equality uphold the tradition of the Jewish commitment to justice.

Union officials attempt to cancel elections and silence support for BDS (GSOC-UAW 2110)

GSOC

Click here to tell UAW 2110 leadership: Respect Union Democracy and BDS in GSOC-UAW

Updated version:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 18, 2016

Press Contacts:
Maya Wind: mayou22@gmail.com, (917) 913-7820
Sean Larson: larson14.21@gmail.com,  (386) 882-8738

Academic Workers for a Democratic Union and GSOC for BDS:
Union officials attempt to cancel elections and silence support for BDS

NEW YORK: Late Friday night, graduate student workers at New York University were shocked to receive notice from UAW Local 2110 Executive Board that the Local was cancelling the scheduled elections and installing a slate of members to the executive body of the graduate union, GSOC, by default. The incident in Local 2110 could cause major setbacks for UAW efforts to organize graduate workers at other universities. This sudden suspension of union democracy coincides with a much-publicized GSOC referendum on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, scheduled to take place during elections this week. The news also comes after months of preparation for the elections to GSOC’s Assembly of Stewards and Local 2110’s Joint Council, long scheduled to take place from Monday, April 18, to Thursday, April 21.

The announcement by the Local President was followed by individual emails to many candidates stating that they had been disqualified on shaky — and now contested — grounds. The GSOC Votes Committee has issued an open letter to the Local challenging their right to determine internal unit matters and disenfranchise GSOC members. Notably, Local 2110 Executive Board disqualified supporters of the GSOC for BDS caucus, leaving several leaders of the GSOC for Open Dialogue to automatically take the seats without contest. Members of GSOC for Open Dialogue have publicly opposed the BDS resolution. Over the last eight months, members of the GSOC for BDS caucus have been waging an educational and organizing campaign within the union, gathering hundreds of signatures to put the question of joining the BDS movement to referendum.

“I find it too much of a coincidence that AWDU and BDS supporters and advocates have been denied the chance to be voted for, especially given an unclear enforcement over eligibility criteria, which remain ambiguous until now,” said Ziad Dallal, one of the candidates originally disqualified. “The local’s intransigence on this view is undemocratic and disheartens and betrays the trust of the GSOC rank and file,” he added.

Such strong-armed interference in the election process is unprecedented in the union. In previous elections, Local 2110 collaborated with the GSOC unit Votes Committee to carry out elections at NYU, and members were eligible to run based on GSOC bylaws. For the April 2016 elections in conjunction with the BDS vote, however, repeated requests for clarification and collaboration by the GSOC Votes Committee were ignored by the Local president, Maida Rosenstein, and previously unused and long-contested eligibility requirements were unilaterally imposed by the Local. Of the fourteen candidates originally disqualified at the last minute, ten were known supporters of the BDS caucus and nine were members of the democratic reform caucus, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU).

Sean Larson, a member of the GSOC for BDS caucus and a disqualified candidate said: “The Local has shown it is afraid of democracy, and are willing to upend all precedents to interfere with internal GSOC matters. This undermines the very claims of the UAW to be able to organize academic workers with our unique workplace structure, and puts our entire project in jeopardy.”

The Local 2110 intervention bodes very poorly for UAW prospects of continuing to expand in the academic worker sector. As Local officials have admitted, the membership definition in Local Bylaws, which requires workers to be employed for six months in order to receive full rights is incompatible with the contingent and non-consecutive work situation of NYU graduate workers. The arbitrary application of Local Bylaw requirements on internal GSOC unit affairs therefore disenfranchises the bulk of graduate student workers and prevents them from serving as stewards for their union. Other universities, whose graduate students are organized under UAW, have resolved these issues to allow for comprehensive graduate worker membership.

As divestment campaigns sweep campuses across the nation, New York University graduate students are still voting on whether to join the BDS movement. GSOC-UAW 2110, a labor union representing over 2,000 teaching assistants, adjunct instructors, research assistants and other graduate workers at New York University, is the first graduate employee union at a private university to hold a membership vote on boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli occupation and for Palestinian self-determination. If passed, GSOC-UAW 2110 will join the University of California Student-Worker union UAW local 2865, as well as University of Massachusetts Amherst and CUNY’s doctoral students council, who voted to endorse BDS just last week.

The proposed measure calls on NYU and UAW International to divest their investments, including pension funds, from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights. It also calls on NYU to close its study abroad program at Tel Aviv University and asks that members pledge to adhere to the academic boycott of Israel and refrain from participating in research and programs sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights.

This historic vote on BDS occurs in the wake of a growing momentum for the BDS movement across university campuses and labor unions nationwide. Over eight academic associations and countless university student councils have already joined the movement. Major unions internationally have also joined, including the National Union of Students in the UK, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, as well as the United Electrical Workers Union and Connecticut AFL-CIO here in the US.

Between legislation banning BDS organizing and threatening to defund student groups who support the movement, it seems like Israel supporters will stop at nothing to silence activists seeking justice for the Palestinians.