After 38 percent of the union’s more than 2,000 members cast ballots this week, GSOC announced that the results are “clear evidence of a strong mandate for those elected” and a sign of members’ “commitment to the democratic process.”
Many of the candidates who had been disqualified were elected with strong margins.
Two-thirds voted “Yes” to a question on whether GSOC should join the BDS movement until Israel complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights.
The petition that triggered the referendum, signed by more than 300 members, calls on NYU and the UAW’s national organization – known in US labor parlance as the international – to “withdraw their investments from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights.”
The president of UAW Local 2110 in New York had tried to persuade GSOC to postpone this week’s BDS referendum pending the outcome of the California case.
In addition, 58 percent, or 366 GSOC members, voted to adhere to the academic boycott, agreeing to refrain from participating in research and programs sponsored by Israeli universities.
“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,” Shafeka Hashash, a member of the GSOC for BDS caucus, said in apress release.
“NYU’s GSOC referendum set an important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy,” the press release added.
“The referendum success is indicative of the traction the movement is gaining across university campuses, and increasingly among graduate students,” stated Maya Wind, another member of GSOC for BDS.
Wind had initially been disqualified as a candidate by the local, but was elected to a steward position with 32 percent of the votes. Only one other candidate received as large a share of the votes.
“We are disappointed by this vote from one student group, but it will not change CUNY’s position,” Millikin said.
The two recent BDS victories in New York come at a time when state legislators are pushing for a crackdown on Palestine solidarity activism.
“The most far-reaching, unconstitutional anti-BDS bills in the country are currently under consideration by the New York legislature,” according to the legal defense group Palestine Legal.
In January, New York lawmakers introduced bills in the lower house and senate that would require state officials to publish a blacklist of supporters of the BDS movement.
The state senate passed its version of the law, which applies to boycotts of any nation allied to the US, and is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.
The proposed laws would bar those on the blacklist from working with state agencies. The bill would also prohibit state pension funds from investing in companies engaged in politically motivated boycotts of Israel.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dear Advocates for Justice at GSOCUAW Local 2110,
We, members of the BDS Caucus of UAW 2865, are inspired by your campaign to join the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement until such time as Israel adheres to international law by ceasing its oppressive treatment of the Palestinian people. Calling on NYU and the UAW International to divest from Israeli state institutions, and on individuals to respect the academic boycott, are righteous and necessary components in honoring the call for solidarity from Palestinian laborers who are currently suffering under Israeli apartheid and colonization.
In December 2014, our local became the first major labor union in the US to join the BDS movement. In one of our local’s historically highest voting turnouts, thousands of members voted, by a landslide, to call on the UAW International and the University of California to divest from Israeli apartheid and colonialism and on the US government to stop all forms of aid to Israel. While the vote has since been nullified by the UAW International, the moral momentum that drove the campaign and the overwhelming outpouring of support we have received following the nullification are testaments to the fact that to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom and selfdetermination is to be on the right side of history and justice.
One of the guiding visions of our campaign was to trace connections among the logics, institutions and bodies responsible for oppressing Palestinians with similar forces and logics of oppression we experience in our own localities. This framework allowed us to draw parallels with how standing in solidarity with Palestinian liberation is central to our work in fighting for the liberation of all oppressed people, including but not limited to people of color, workers, immigrants, women and LGBTQ communities. In addition, campaigns such as ours, and now yours, highlight the critical importance of our tripartite roles as students, academics and laborers, allowing us to be the protagonists of our stories and active agents of social transformation on our campuses. This nexus reflects how the Palestinian struggle is speaking to multiple sectors and dimensions of identity, activism and people, and it provides an incredible learning opportunity for us to develop collective conversations about our rights and responsibilities to global justice. As students and workers of conscience, it is incumbent upon us to side with all who face oppression and persecution. This is as true of Palestine as it was for South Africa, and surely for the many matters of injustice and oppression we are witnessing in our own campuses and communities here in the US.
Following the UAW 2865 BDS victory, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) became the first national union to endorse BDS. The Connecticut branch of the AFLCIO has also endorsed BDS. This growth in BDS participation among the labor movement and beyond is a reflection that, despite efforts of repression, silencing and criminalization, a movement that belongs to the people cannot be stifled. We are inspired by your courage and ethical fortitude, and we extend our heartfelt support for your efforts. We salute you for practicing ethical, justicecentered and democratic union practices, and are certain that the US labor movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom will only grow.