Category Archives: UAW 2322 (GEO)

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.

“Standing in Solidarity with Palestinian Civil Society and Joining the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement Resolution” (GEO/UAW2322)

cropped-FINAL-GEO-LOGO-SMALL“Standing in Solidarity with Palestinian Civil Society and Joining the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement Resolution”

Click on the link below to read the full text of the resolution that has been presented by the Palestine Solidarity Caucus and placed on the agenda by the Steering Committee. A referendum vote on this resolution will be held during the upcoming elections.

BDS Movement Resolution

Resolution: Standing in Solidarity with Palestinian civil society and joining the Boycott, Divestment and Santions (BDS) Movement.

Should GEO/UAW2322 and its members join the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, until such time as Israel has complied with international law and respected the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and all Palestinian refugees and exiles?

BDS should be maintained until Israel fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation of the Palestinian territories and dismantling the Wall;

2. Ending its preferential treatment of Jews vis­a­vis Palestinians in the land under its control;

3. Promoting and protecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

This renews and furthers the commitment of GEO, whose membership overwhelmingly voted, in 2003, for divestment from the Israeli occupation.

GEO/UAW2322 should join the movement in the following ways:

Renewing and furthering the commitment displayed by GEO members in 2003

1) GEO/UAW2322 should call on the University of Massachusetts (UMass) and the UAW International to divest their investments, including pension funds, from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people. GEO/UAW2322 should also call on UMass and the UAW International to decline to conduct business with said companies.

2) GEO/UAW2322 should join other labor, academic and cultural organizations in calling on the government of the United States of America to end military aid to Israel.

3) GEO/UAW2322 should call on affiliated bodies such as UAW Local 2322, the Coalition of Graduate Employee Organizations, The UAW international, Jobs with Justice, Massachusetts AFL­CIO to join the BDS movement.

____Yes ____No

In carrying out the activities set forth above and in acting on this proposal, we affirm that this proposal should not be interpreted or applied to seek to influence the hiring or other employment decisions of the University or individual academics or GEO/UAW2322 members; nor will it in any way limit or affect the representative functions of the Union including but not limited to which grievances or contract demands we pursue. Furthermore, this resolution does not seek to discourage association with individual Israeli scholars. GEO/UAW2322 is strictly committed to opposing all forms of discrimination including discrimination based on race, religion, national origin or ethnicity, and we affirm our strong commitment to the principles of academic freedom for all in the UMass community.