Category Archives: Academic Boycott

Letter: Resolution affirms human rights (Daily Collegian)

Daily Collegian

Letter: Resolution affirms human rights

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)GEO

To the Editor:

On April 14, the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO/UAW Local 2322) at the University of Massachusetts adopted a resolution to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). The resolution calls on the graduate students’ employer and their union to divest from and boycott companies that fuel and profit from the military occupation and repression of Palestinians. BDS is a global grassroots movement that uses peaceful economic means to pressure Israel to comply with international law and respect the human rights of Palestinians. The BDS campaign was called for by Palestinian civil society and by major trade unions within the occupied Palestinian territories.

It is encouraging to us as faculty that GEO, the largest collective bargaining unit within UAW Local 2322, and representing over 2,000 graduate student workers at our flagship campus, voted overwhelmingly (95 percent) in favor of the resolution to stand in solidarity with Palestinian civil society. In doing so it became the second major body of unionized workers in the U.S. to formally join the BDS movement by membership vote.

The graduate students faced pressure from individuals outside their union, including a small number of faculty, to reject the resolution. As evidenced by the 95 percent vote in favor of the resolution, the graduate students were not intimidated. We commend the graduate students for conducting their campaign for the resolution in a democratic manner, for following the process outlined in their union bylaws, and for engaging the maximum number of members possible.

Before the vote, GEO organized forums open to its membership and the public, to educate members and to debate the resolution. During a period of open dialogue when all members were encouraged to express diverse views, the GEO Black Caucus and Jewish GEO members publicly endorsed the resolution. The resolution states clearly that it does not seek to discourage association with individual Israeli scholars, and reaffirms GEO’s strong commitment to the principles of academic freedom for all in the UMass community. The methods by which this pro-BDS resolution was adopted represent the best practices of union democracy. We congratulate the graduate students on their principled and democratic vote for social justice.

Signed,

Prof. Louise Antony, Department of Philosophy

Prof. Kiran Asher, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Lecturer, Abigail Boggs, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Prof. Laura Briggs, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Prof. David R. Buchanan, Department of Health Promotion & Policy

Prof. Dan Clawson, Department of Sociology

Prof. Suzanne Daly, Department of English

Prof. Laura A. Doyle, Department of English

Prof. Mwangi wa Gĩthĩnji, Department of Economics

Prof. Peter A. Graham, Department of Philosophy

Prof. Aline C. Gubrium, Department of Health Promotion & Policy

Prof. Ruth Jennison, Department of English

Prof. Sut Jhally, Department of Communication

Prof. Miliann Kang, Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Prof. Emeritus Arthur S. Keene, Department of Anthropology

Prof. David Kotz, Department of Economics

Prof. Elizabeth L. Krause, Department of Anthropology

Prof. Agustin Lao-Montes, Department of Sociology

Prof. Joseph Levine, Department of Philosophy

Prof. Asha Nadkarni, Department of English

Prof. Hoang Gia Phan, Department of English

Prof. Jordy Rosenberg, Department of English

Prof. Sigrid Schmalzer, Department of History

Prof. James Smethurst, W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies

Prof. Mary C. Wilson, Department of History

Prof. Emeritus H. Martin Wobst, Department of Anthropology

Prof. Kevin A. Young, Department of History

Solidarity Rising: Two More UAW Graduate Employee Units Endorse BDS!

Screenshot 2016-03-23 17.48.25Solidarity Rising: Two More UAW
Graduate Employee Units Endorse BDS!

 

Screenshot 2016-04-26 18.30.03Joint Statement GSOC-UAW 2110 and GEO-UAW 2322 are Latest Unions to Vote for Divestment
This past week the NYU Graduate Employee Union (GSOC-UAW 2110) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Graduate Employee Union (GEO-UAW 2322), both representing 2,000 members each, endorsed by full membership vote the call from all major Palestinian trade unions and civil society groups to impose Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. . . . In December 2014, the 14,000 student-worker union at the University of California (UAW Local 2865) system passed a similar resolution supporting BDS with 65% in favor.

 

JWJContext: America’s Labor Unions Are Increasingly Standing with Palestine (Alternet)
Following a well-attended panel hosted by Western Mass Labor for Palestine at the April 16 Jobs With Justice Conference in Springfield, MA, author Vijay Prashad extensively reviews the rise of Labor for Palestine and U.S. trade union support for BDS. Panelists included Prashad, LFP Co-Conveners Suzanne Adely and Michael Letwin, Carol Lambiase (United Electrical Workers), Bill Shortell (International Association of Machinists), and was moderated by WMLFP members Jordy Rosenberg and Ruth Jennison. Prashad’s article concludes by quoting Adely: “Ultimately, building labor solidarity with Palestine and with all anti-racist struggles is part of the fight to build a stronger, democratic union movement.”

 

delegation-birzeitLabor to Palestine: We Stand with Palestine in the Spirit of “Sumud”: The U.S. Prisoner, Labor and Academic Solidarity Delegation to Palestine
On April 16, the nineteen-member March 2016 delegation to Palestine, which included LFP Co-convener Jaime Veve and several other trade unionists, issued a powerful report stating, in part: “We join hands with our comrades in the Palestinian labor movement and salute the struggle of striking teachers, labor organizers and workers demanding economic justice, independence and national self-determination from colonial structures. We further pledge to campaign in the ranks of U.S. labor to divest from Israeli bonds and sever ties between the AFL-CIO and the Histadrut.” To host a local event with delegation members, contact palestine.prison.delegation16@gmail.com

 

socialsecstrike-maanLabor in Palestine: Mass Rally Against Approval of New “Social Security” Law (IMEMC)
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. . . . Weeks earlier, a teachers’ strike brought the largest public demonstrations against the PA in years.

Analysis: Eric Lee: The Online Labour Solidarity Whiz who’s ‘Proud to be a Zionist’
In a new article, British BDS activists Peter Waterman discusses the hypocrisy of Zionist anti-BDS spokesperson Eric Lee, owner of the widely-read website, LabourStart.

Download: New Labor for Palestine Pamphlet
Key background documents from Labor for Palestine, prepared for 2016 Labor Notes conference.

Donate

National Wave of Labor Support for Justice for Palestinians as Unions Vote to Divest from Israeli Apartheid: GSOC-UAW 2110 and GEO-UAW 2322 are Latest Unions to Vote for Divestment (GSOC-UAW 2110, GEO-UAW 2322, UAW 2865)

Screenshot 2016-04-26 18.30.03Issued by the BDS Caucuses of UAW 2110 (NYU), UAW 2322 (UMass), and UAW 2865 (UC)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2016

Media contacts
NYU – gsocmembersforbds@gmail.com
UMass Amherst – Anna Waltman: anna.waltman@gmail.com UCs – uaw2865bds@gmail.com | Jennifer Mogannam: jennifer.mogannam@gmail.com

National Wave of Labor Support for Justice for Palestinians as Unions Vote to Divest from Israeli Apartheid

GSOC-UAW 2110 and GEO-UAW 2322 are Latest Unions to Vote for Divestment

This past week the NYU Graduate Employee Union (GSOC-UAW 2110) and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Graduate Employee Union (GEO-UAW 2322), both representing 2,000 members each, endorsed by full membership vote the call from all major Palestinian trade unions and civil society groups to impose Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

On April 22, GSOC-UAW 2110 endorsed a resolution calling for BDS against Israel with a 66.5 % member vote in favor. This endorsement came on the heels of the landslide vote of GEO-UAW 2322 member vote with 95% of voters in support. The resolutions calls on their respective employers–NYU and UMass–and their parent union, UAW International, to divest pension funds and other investments from Israeli institutions complicit in human rights violations of Palestinians. GSOC members also called on NYU to close its campus at Tel Aviv University, and 57% pledged to adhere to the academic boycott of Israel until they respect Palestinian rights.

These resolutions by aspiring educators of future generations significantly contribute to the already evolving discourse on justice for Palestinians. Growing momentum in U.S. labor movements adds to over eight academic associations which have endorsed BDS with resounding majorities. Last year, the Connecticut AFL-CIO (200,000 members) and the United Electrical Workers (35,000 members) also endorsed BDS.

“We are seeing growing momentum among grassroots labor in support for justice and equality for Palestinians. This wave of successive victories for BDS among labor groups representing hundreds of thousands of workers across the country is empowering and in line with the rich histories labor unions have in supporting justice movements.”–Beezer De Martelly, UAW 2865 member

As the movement for Palestinian freedom and equality continues to grow across the U.S., so too have concerted efforts to silence those critical of Israeli policies. In December 2014, the 14,000 student-worker union at the University of California (UAW Local 2865) system passed a similar resolution supporting BDS with 65% in favor. While admitting the vote was democratic, UAW International went on to “nullify” the results on dubious grounds, a decision that is currently under appeal. The decision clearly did not deter other locals from putting BDS to vote, a testament that movements for and by the people will persist despite undemocratic mechanisms of sanctioning political speech and grassroots commitments to local and global social justice.

“This surge of BDS campaigns by rank-and-file union members is an example of how workers are engaging in union democracy to reclaim the labor movement as a platform to take a stand on important social struggles of our time. Despite attempts by the UAW International Executive Board to quell BDS activism in the ranks, the fact that workers from coast to coast have democratically expressed solidarity with Palestinians shows that movements for justice cannot be silenced.” Anna Waltman, GEO-UAW 2322 member

Numerous unions, labor groups, and human rights organizations supported the integrity of UAW 2865’s BDS stand. A statement by the Autoworker Caravan, a coalition of industrial workers within the UAW committed to social justice unionism, commended Local 2865 on continuing UAW’s tradition of anti-South African apartheid and civil rights activism. These resolutions reflect the will of rank and file members and have engaged wide segments of workers in vigorous debate and conversation. Members have learned that Palestinian labor unions are not recognized by Israel, creating especially dire conditions for the 92,000 Palestinian workers who cross into Israel and its settlements. Historically, the labor movement has exerted real pressure on employers through strikes and workplace actions, and BDS campaigns have played a major role in the democratic awakening among labor unions in the U.S. These new votes of U.S. labor union endorsements for Palestinian freedom and equality adds additional weight to the voices who have already spoken out against Israeli human rights violations, and in support of BDS. U.S labor unions have a rich history of standing in solidarity with struggles for justice, and members will continue to mobilize so that all workers matter, not just some.

Attempts to Stifle BDS Support Within UAW Local Backfires (Shadow Proof)

Shadow Proof

ATTEMPTS TO STIFLE BDS SUPPORT WITHIN UAW LOCAL BACKFIRES

BDSposter

Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) have been fighting to protect a resolution passed in 2014 to support Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) call.

According to an official press release, in December 2014, UAW Local 2865, a student-workers union representing some 13,000 tutors, teaching assistants, and other student-workers at the University of California, became the first major U.S. labor union to demand that their union and employer divest from companies that have been complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians.

UAW Local 2865 members voted to endorse the BDS call for divestment in a landslide—by 65%—with 52% of voting members pledging to support an academic boycott, and over 2,100 voting.

In a letter endorsed by union leadership in the run-up to the vote:

We believe that as student and labor organizers, we have a duty to stand by principles of anti­-oppression organizing. As we stand in solidarity with Palestinian self­-determination, we also recognize that here in the United States we have our own systems of structural racism and settler colonialism to resist and dismantle. In the university system in which we both learn and labor, the disparity in access to people of color and working ­class people as well as the existence of our universities on stolen indigenous land alerts us to the importance of making these connections in our movements.

The measures that were called for were, according to the official statement released by UAW Local 2865:

“[That] the University of California divest from companies involved in the occupation of Palestine; that UAW International to divest from these same entities; the US government to end military aid to Israel. 52% of voting members pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel” until such time as these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.”

Since this historic vote, pressure on members who supported the resolution has mounted. Stephen Brumbaugh, a member of the union’s anti-BDS caucus known as Informed Grads, appealed the results of the vote to UAW Local 2865 in December 2014.

In 2015, the UAW 2865 vote in support of BDS was nullified by the International Executive Board. The IEB did not find any issues with the vote itself and went out of their way to defend the integrity of the process and make clear that the results represented the will of voting members. Instead, the IEB nullified the vote on constitutional grounds, claiming the vote interfered with the flow of commerce and could hurt UAW employers, as well as claiming that, by targeting Israeli policies, the resolutions discriminated against Israeli and even Jewish UAW members.

This claim of vilification, unsupported by evidence in the official record provided to Shadowproof, was upheld by the IEB despite the fact that the same records show significant numbers of Jewish and Israeli members and officers supported the resolution.

According to briefs provided to Shadowproof, UAW Local 2865 went on to appeal the IEB decision, stating in part that “the IEB improperly ignored the UAW constitutional mandate to solidify the labor movement and build solidarities with other unions, such as the Palestinian labor unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers who issued the call for BDS in 2005.”

The Local has appealed the IEB ruling to the UAW Public Review Board, a panel of labor lawyers with no affiliation to the UAW, who are empowered to review decisions of the IEB if they are appealed. Gibson Dunn and the UAW IEB have filed their own responses, and the Public Review Board has started its review of the case, with a final ruling expected in the next few months.

While the fate of UAW 2865’s resolution remains uncertain, the campaign to erase the Local’s Palestine solidarity work through undemocratic means has only backfired on those seeking to shield Israeli policy from criticism.

While major unions like the United Electrical Workers and the Connecticut AFL-CIO endorsed BDS resolutions following UAW 2865’s vote, there has been a greater increase in U.S. labor movement support for BDS following the nullification of their resolution.

Following nullification, rank-and-file activists in Local 2865 gathered nearly 18,000 signatures, including over 11,000 from the pro-BDS Jewish group Jewish Voice For Peace, and close to 500 signatures from US trade unionists. Activists also collected letters of support from a long list of prominent individuals, community groups, labor caucuses, as well as other unions.

Three UAW Locals—UAW 4121, UAW 2322, and GSOC-UAW 2110, which represent academic and other workers at the University of Washington, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and NYU, respectively—each wrote strong letters supporting UAW 2865’s right to local autonomy and democracy, demanding that the UAW IEB reinstate UAW 2865’s vote.

The Autoworkers Caravan, a progressive caucus of auto workers who are members of several different UAW Locals, also joined the chorus of voices demanding the IEB reverse course, showing that support for BDS extends beyond academic workers represented by UAW.

In addition to this outpouring of support for UAW 2865, BDS within the U.S. labor movement has also seen more concrete gains, fueled in part by anger over UAW 2865’s resolution nullification. Just this April, two unions within the UAW overwhelmingly endorsed BDS by member vote. GEO-UAW 2322, which represents 1,700 student workers at University of Massachusetts Amherst, announced on April 15 that they had passed a BDS resolution with a whopping 95% of their voting members in favor.

A week later, on April 22, GSOC-UAW 2110, which represents 2,000 student workers at NYU, announced that they had passed a BDS resolution with 67% of their voting members in favor, in an election that saw record-breaking voter turnout. The results at both of these unions came despite legal threats and intimidation from those opposed to the resolutions, as well as attempts by UAW Local 2110 officials to interfere with elections there.

According to discussions with members of the pro-BDS caucus within UAW 2865, other unions they are in touch with are also beginning their own BDS campaigns, meaning more resolutions like these are sure to follow.

Members from both GEO-UAW 2322 and GSOC-UAW 2110 specifically mention the nullification of UAW 2865’s vote as motivation for holding their votes now, showing that undemocratic efforts to stifle BDS activism within UAW have actually benefited the movement, rather than hindered it.

Activists in the UAW are making it clear to everyone that the only way to defeat BDS is to defeat the occupation. Jennifer Mogannam, a Ph.D. candidate at UC San Diego in the department of Ethnic Studies, a rank and file member of UAW 2865, told Shadowproof that the passage of and commitment to BDS at the student-worker union level “marks an important and uplifting shift in both academia and union organizing.”

Mogannam argues that this marks  a critical turn “in a new generation of scholars whereby not only are we able to engage critically on the question of Palestine, but it also indicates an unapologetic commitment to social justice in academia.”

“On the contrary, through the pushback and meaningless appeal based on politics and not protocol,” Mogannam explained, “we see the UAW international board exposing the contradictions within the labor movement by prioritizing fiscal and political relationships over workers’ rights and social justice.”

The attack against UAW is “part and parcel of the larger Zionist movement’s suppression and attacking of those fighting for Palestinian self-determination and against Israeli settler colonialism,” Mogannam said. This is why the fight continues.

The pressure on UAW, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, and other organizations that have answered the BDS call, has grown with every successful BDS resolution—from targeted campaigns meant to instill fear of losing a job or academic position, to baseless accusations of anti-Semitism against those who oppose the state of Israel.

Kumars Salehi, a graduate student and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley, told Shadowproof that he’s already seen his career prospects and standing in his field threatened by smears against him, simply for being a Palestine advocate.

“Because of this campaign and other attempts to target me personally and brand me as a bigot, I have to live and work with the constant fear that I will be marginalized in my community and denied career opportunities because mentors, collaborators and employers will see me as a liability and a source of potentially unending controversy, ” Salehi says.

He now has to worry that he will be the target of disciplinary proceedings if a student is uncomfortable with him as a teacher, due to his political activities being publicly associated with bigotry.

On April 19, Salehi shared a poster being plastered across the UC Berkeley campus that read like a hit list. It accused a number of UC Berkeley faculty and students of allying themselves with “Jew hatred.” The poster reads:

“BDS. Boycott, Divestment, Sanction. A Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. The following students and faculty at UC Berkeley have allied themselves with Palestinian terrorists to perpetrate BDS and Jew hatred on this campus.”

The poster listed the David Horowitz’s ‘Freedom Center’ at the bottom, along with the hashtag #StopTheJewHatredOnCampus. And still, whether it’s the fight against the UAW BDS resolution, or the stigmatization of students and faculty members, the push back against Palestine solidarity work has been growing, but that doesn’t mean that resistance has ebbed. The passage of BDS resolutions and organizating around solidarity actions continue. A statement by Kumars Salehi speaks to the attitude surrounding this resistance:

“At this point, being attacked personally doesn’t intimidate me. If my career were going to be fucked by Palestine activism, it already is.”

NYU grad union votes for Israel boycott (Politico NY)

Politico New York

NYU grad union votes for Israel boycott

a-Tel Aviv University_0
Students walk throughout the Tel Aviv University campus in Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) 

By CONOR SKELDING 10:16 a.m. | Apr. 22, 2016

New York University’s graduate students union voted to approve a “Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions” resolution regarding the state of Israel, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee announced Friday morning.

The resolution passed with 66.5 percent in favor, with “over 600 members” voting, GSOC said.

It called for the NYU union and the United Auto Workers, GSOC’s parent, to divest from Israeli companies and stop doing business with them, and also for NYU “to close its program in Tel Aviv University, which continues to violate the NYU Non-Discrimination policy.”

It also included a personal pledge not to work with Israeli academic institutions.

The resolution supports a boycott “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall, recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

University leadership reiterated its opposition to the boycott.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said, “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW,” referring to the nullification of a BDS vote by a University of California graduate student union by the UAW International.

GSOC also announced its election results for representation in the union’s Assembly of Stewards and UAW Local 2110’s Joint Council.

Some grad union members had accused Local 2110 of disqualifying certain BDS-supporting candidates and last Friday installing a full slate “by acclamation” in lieu of an election. GSOC’s Votes Committee decided to go ahead with its own elections, with the local-disqualified candidates on the ballot.

Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein said that GSOC’s accusations were “completely untrue,” and that the disqualified candidates had not worked during the last academic year, signed cards, or paid dues.

Members of the anti-BDS caucus also asked to have their names removed from the ballots for the “rogue elections,” the results of which GSOC announced Friday.

It is unclear whether Local 2110 will recognize the election results. (Rosenstein was out of the office Friday.)

“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.

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.