Posted onMay 1, 2017|Comments Off on May Day Speech NYC
May Day Speech
Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine; Labor for Standing Rock; Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325
Union Square NYC, May 1, 2017
*From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!
*Viva, Viva Palestina!
As we gather here today, more than 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners are in their 15th day of a hunger strike against conditions that Amnesty International calls “unlawful and cruel.” Their action is part of a long international tradition, including the hunger strike held last fall by prisoners in the United States.
But the Israeli government — which receives $3.8b/year in U.S. weapons, and closely coordinates with the NYPD and other police agencies that systematically target Black and Brown communities in this country — has branded the strikers “terrorists,” just as the South African apartheid regime once labeled Nelson Mandela and thousands of other political prisoners.
Despite all this, unjust and oppressive regimes — no matter how powerful they may appear — always fall: Jim Crow fell, South African apartheid fell, Zionism will fall.
That’s why, like Biblical Davids, the Palestinian prisoners have answered today’s Goliath by saying: “Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.”
I am proud to say that a growing number of workers in the United States are joining them in to stand against the apartheid regime.
Since 2014 alone, West Coast longshore workers have refused to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo; UAW 2865, 2322, and GSOC-2110; the United Electrical Workers, CT State AFL-CIO, and AFT 3220 have endorsed the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) picket line, which demands an end to Israeli military occupation of the 1967 territories; full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
These actions are in the highest tradition of solidarity, from Black Lives to Standing Rock, from New York City to Palestine.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, on April 16, 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
As trade unionists have always said, “An Injury to One is an Injury to All!”
As we say today:
*Free, Free Palestine
*From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free!
MODERATOR:Garik Ruiz, the North America Liaison for the Palestinian#BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society. He works with local and national partners throughout North America to support BDS campaigns and be a direct link for local organizers back to the BNC leadership in Palestine. Garik spent 6 months in Palestine at the height of the second Intifada in 2002 and 2003 working with Palestinians resisting the occupation non-violently through the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). LA-based Garik has been deeply involved in local struggles for racial and environmental justice over the years.
ROUND TABLE PANELISTS:
Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, Palestinian-American community organizer, refugee born in Kuwait, and originally from the village of Tantoura in the suburbs of Haifa. Currently the National Chair of Al-Awda the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, and a board member of the newly launched Palestine Foundation; organizer of many of So-Cal Palestinian Solidarity actions. Alfredo Gama, member Papalotl Brown Berets; undocumented (illegal) youth organizer; organizer of many of the recent large immigration #NoWallNoRaid protests in the Los Angeles area. Robert Gardner, student activist; member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA, who has been targeted by ultra rightwing Zionists for his activities; a senior studying Political Science, African American Studies, and Urban Planning.
Nana Gyamfi, member and co-founder of Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives, a network of attorneys and non-attorneys dedicated to providing legal support for the Movement for Black Lives, which includes BLMLA; represented all the BLMLA members who were arrested/had court cases/went to trial from 2014 – 2016; will continue to represent BLMLA members who ask for representation.
Michael Letwin, NYC public defender; former president, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325; 1960s-1970s L.A. youth activist (Red Tide); co-founder of New York City Labor Against the War, Labor for Palestine, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Labor for Standing Rock.
Lydia Ponce,organizer with American Indian Movement-SoCal; Idle No More LA; lead organizer of all the many #NoDAPL protests in LA.
Ameena Mirza Qazi, Executive Director of the LA chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. A civil rights attorney and activist; she has worked on free speech, social and economic justice, discrimination, First Amendment, equal protection, and procedural due process issues, including #NoWallNoBan.
SPONSORING ORGANIZATIONS: Al-Awda the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, American Indian Movement (AIM) So-Cal, California for Progress, Idle No More LA, Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Labo
r for Standing Rock and LA4Palestine, March and Rally Los Angeles.
Thursday, 5-6pm in NYC:
Protest at Uber’s Headquarters NoBanNoWall
Location: 3100 47th Ave, Long Island City, NY
Facebook event page
Join us to protest Uber on the day before Uber CEO Travis Kalanick meets with Donald Trump as part of his advisory council.
**** PLEASE NOTE: We’ve updated the our protest end time to 6 PM so that folks can head over to Foley Square for the Rise Up for #RamarleyGraham protest****
Now is the time for all those who value justice and equality to join together in holding Uber accountable, not only for its complicity with Trump’s hateful policies but also for impoverishing workers.
Backed by billions from Wall Street, gig economy corporations like Uber and Lyft are upending labor standards for which workers have spent centuries fighting.
Let’s send Uber and its gig-lord allies a message: workers’ rights and democracy come before profit. #NoBanNoWall
LIST OF SPONSORS IN PROGRESS
ALIGN New York
Black Lives Matter Greater New York
Center for Popular Democracy
DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving
Labor for Palestine
Make the Road New York
Muslim Democratic Club
National Lawyers Guild Labor and Employment Law Committee
New York Communities for Change
New York Immigrant Action Fund
New York Immigration Coalition
New York Progressive Action Committee
New York Taxi Workers Alliance
New York Worker Center Federation
New York Working Families Party
Strong Economy for All
Thursday 8-9pm EST:
Urgent Labor for Standing Rock Conference Call with Water Protectors
In recent days, Donald Trump has met with with pro-DAPL building trade leaders and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and pressured the Army Corps of Engineers to grant a final easement for DAPL. Today, highly militarized police made mass arrests of 76 water protectors.
In response, Chase Iron Eyes of the Lakota People’s Law Project and Last Real Indians will speak about what those of us in organized labor can do at this point to support water protectors at Standing Rock.
Call times in US/Eastern: Thursday, Feb 02, 2017, 8pm (1 hour). To participate, please register here.
Comments Off on Labor for Palestine Bulletin: Important Events Thurs., Feb. 2
The trade union leadership in the US has generally been reluctant to defend Palestinian rights. Sometimes, it has been openly hostile to the Palestine solidarity movement.
Soon after Richard Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 2009, he denounced the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
That call has been endorsed by organizations representing Palestinian workers with direct experience of occupation and apartheid. That does not seem to have convinced the AFL-CIO – the largest federation of trade unions in the US – that it should side with Palestinian workers.
The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting the Histradut, an Israeli union that played a prominent role in the Zionist colonization of Palestine and the dispossession of Palestinians.
Moreover, the AFL-CIO has been a major buyer of Israel bonds: by some estimates, such investments are worth $5 billion.
A decision taken by the San Francisco chapter of the AFL-CIO earlier this month is among a series of small breakthroughs for Palestine solidarity in the US labor movement.
The San Francisco Labor Council, as the chapter is known, has taken a strong position against bullying by pro-Israel and Islamophobic groups.
Earlier this month, the council approved a resolution that declares full support for students and teachers at San Francisco State University (SFSU) who have suffered abuse over their campaigning on Palestine.
The resolution focuses on an incident from last year, when posters appeared on the university’s campus, alleging one professor was a “collaborator with terrorists.” The professor in question was Rabab Abdulhadi.
In 2015, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America – known as UE – voted to back BDS, becoming the second. That same year, the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO voted to back key elements of BDS.
“Defend free speech”
Veve regards US labor unions as key to the success of BDS activism.
“If labor gets involved and begins to act, it has the potential to withdraw its investments in Israeli bonds,” he said.
The San Francisco Labor Council called for “full action” to be taken against the Horowitz Freedom Center and Canary Mission.
Ann Robertson, a philosophy lecturer at SFSU and delegate to the council, explained that the term “full action” was intended to leave all options open, including litigation.
Robertson argued that the response from Les Wong, the SFSU chancellor, to the posters had been “too vague.”
Wong had blamed an “an outside extremist group” for the posters and pledged not to tolerate “bullying behavior.”
Yet his statement did not defend any of the teachers or students targeted by name.
“He needs to clear the names of those smeared,” Robertson said, “and specifically defend the free speech rights of Palestinian students because they are the ones under attack.”
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DAPL continues more than 500 years of settler-colonialism, dispossession, and genocide against indigenous people in the Americas, who are defending the Earth’s vital resources against the same corporate greed, state violence, and repression that violate workers’ rights on a daily basis.
UE endorsed the call for BDS at its August convention, making it the first national union in the United States to support the boycott. (Adrien Fauth/ Flickr)
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has upheld a decision to dismiss a complaint against the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) for endorsing a boycott of Israel.
The move is a victory for advocates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which targets Israel over alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians. Earlier this year, the NLRB ruled against Shurat HaDin, the Israeli legal center that brought the complaint seeking an injunction against UE’s decision to endorse boycotting Israel. The latest decision was in response to an appeal filed by Shurat HaDin.
UE endorsed the call for BDS at its August convention, making it the first national union in the United States to support the boycott. The resolution denounced Israeli racism and wars in the Gaza Strip and supported an end of U.S. military aid to Israel.
Palestinian trade unions have appealed for solidarity from unions around the world, urging them to endorse the BDS movement, which calls for an end to the Israeli occupation, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Labor unions in South Africa, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Uruguay, and Canada have endorsed BDS. And in addition to UE, a handful of labor union chapters in the United States has joined the call for a boycott of Israel. These unions have joined a growing movement, modeled on the fight against South African apartheid, to isolate Israel.
In October, two months after UE endorsed BDS, Shurat HaDin filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. The group alleged that the UE decision to endorse BDS violated U.S. labor law, claiming the union encouraged its members to engage in an illegal “secondary boycott.”
Under U.S. labor law, a union cannot encourage others who work at “neutral employers”—those outside of a direct dispute between a union and its employer—to strike or stop work. In a statement, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, head of Shurat HaDin, said it was a “violation of American labor law for the union to encourage its members to cease doing business with Israelis and Israeli companies.”
But the NLRB disagreed. The labor board first dismissed the complaint in January. After Shurat HaDin appealed, the NLRB ruled in May that the union’s endorsement of BDS was not a “signal or request” to employees “to engage in a work stoppage against their employers,” which would be illegal.
(The union only recently commented on the NLRB’s decision because it was waiting for the results of a Freedom of Information Act request on the case. It still has not received a response.)
“As a result of the NLRB decision, it really allows for any other unions to go through and endorse the BDS movement without having to deal with … attacks from organizations that are trying to curb political speech,” Andrew Dinkelaker, general secretary-treasurer of UE, said this month.
Dinkelaker added that the pro-BDS decision was in line with the union’s history of international solidarity, like its support for an end to U.S. aid to apartheid South Africa.
Shurat HaDin did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.
BDS activists hope that the boycott Israel movement grows inside labor unions. So far, advocates for BDS have found the most success within graduate student unions.
In December 2014, United Auto Workers-2865, which represents thousands of teaching assistants and other student workers at the University of California, overwhelmingly endorsed BDS. In November 2015, the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations called on the national union to boycott and divest from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. And this year, graduate student unions at New York University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Massachusetts endorsed the boycott. The union endorsements of the BDS movement came after actions like August 2014’s “Block the Boat,” in which dockworkers in Oakland, California, heeding the calls of Palestine solidarity activists, refused to unload Israeli goods for four days in protest of Israel’s assault on Gaza that summer.
But as boycott advocates establish a foothold within labor unions, opponents of BDS have gone on the attack against the movement. In addition to the Shurat HaDin charge against UE, a group of anti-BDS members of UAW-2865 appealed the chapter’s endorsement of the boycott. In December 2015, the parent UAW International nullified the chapter’s decision.
Liz Jackson, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, a group that defends the right to advocate for Palestine in the United States, said that Shurat HaDin’s complaint against UE “never had legs to begin with” because it had no legal merit.
But Jackson said the legal complaint was just one part of a bigger strategy to combat the BDS movement.
“They clearly are bringing obviously frivolous lawsuits and legal complaints to scare supporters of BDS and drain resources,” Jackson added. “They use legal threats as part of the strategy to persuade people in the upper echelons of institutional power structures to crush [BDS].”
Alex Kane is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties.
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NLRB Confirms Legality of Union Support for Boycott of Israel; Union Condemns Political Attacks on BDS
July 22, 2016 – For Immediate Release Media contacts: Peter Knowlton, UE General President, 774-264-0110
Al Hart, UE News Managing Editor, email@example.com, 419-450-6994
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has reaffirmed its dismissal an unfair labor practice charge brought by an Israeli law firm against a U.S. union, the United Electrical Workers, over its support of protests against Israeli policies including the union’s endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) movement.
At its national convention in Baltimore August 16-20, 2015, the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) adopted a resolution endorsing the BDS movement to pressure Israel to negotiate peace with the Palestinians and end the occupation. UE is the first national U.S. union to endorse BDS. The full resolution is attached.
On October 23, the Israeli law firm Shurat Hadin filed a charge with the NLRB alleging that UE’s resolution violated the prohibition in U.S. labor law against “secondary boycotts.” The union disputed the charge, arguing that Shurat Hadin’s action was an attempt to interfere with the First Amendment rights of the union and its members to express opinions on political and international issues, and also that the Israeli firm’s allegation were factually untrue. On January 12, Region 6 of the NLRB dismissed the charge. Shurat HaDin then appealed to the Office of the General Counsel of the NLRB, and on May 26 that office denied the appeal.
UE National President Peter Knowlton says the union “welcomes the labor board’s decision” to reject, for a second time, Shurat Hadin’s charge. He said that UE in the past had “withstood attempts by the U.S. government to silence us during the McCarthy era in the 1950s,” and was “unbowed by the latest attempt of a surrogate of the Israeli government to stifle our call for justice for Palestinian and Israeli workers.” Knowlton added, “The NLRB’s decision is a victory for the growing BDS movement across the U.S., which faces increasing political attempts to silence and intimidate critics of the Israeli government. As Americans who have a constitutional right to criticize our own government, we certainly have a right to criticize and, if we choose, boycott a foreign government that is heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.”
UE General President Peter Knowlton commented: “Since the 1980s, the delegates to our national conventions have voted to support equal rights and even-handed treatment of Palestinian and Israeli people as the only path to peace. At the 2015 convention UE delegates voted to support BDS because of the atrocities committed by the Israeli government in Gaza in 2014, and the increasing discrimination and repression of Palestinian people and workers by the Israeli government and military. Our U.S. tax dollars, in excess of $3 billion a year, are funding this system of apartheid, and we must do more to change it.”
UE is very concerned about attacks on the BDS movement by U.S. politicians who advocate or have adopted resolutions, executive orders, and statutes targeting the BDS movement, said Knowlton. He pointed out that the 2016 party platforms of both the Democrats and Republicans condemn BDS. “These are unconstitutional attacks on free speech,” said the union president. “Boycotts have been an essential component of non-violent struggles for workers’ rights and other struggles for justice throughout our history. The Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the modern Civil Rights Movement. The worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against South Africa in the 1980s helped end the apartheid system in that country.”
“UE opposes any legislation and legislative resolutions that outlaw or condemn legitimate criticism of Israel and support for BDS, or attempt to sanction individuals, organizations, companies or governments simply because they have legitimately criticized Israel or supported BDS. We will support legal and political challenges to overturn such attacks on fundamental civil liberties.”
UE is an independent, member-run union, with headquarters in Pittsburgh, representing 30,000 workers across the country in the private and public sectors. At its five-day convention last August member delegates acted on 37 resolutions on collective bargaining, organizing, and political issues.
Shurat Hadin is an Israeli organization that uses legal cases to harass supporters of Palestinian rights and critics of Israel, a strategy known as lawfare. Its most infamous case was a 2011 lawsuit against former President Jimmy Carter for writing a book critical of Israel, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The suit against Carter failed, as did a suit aimed at censoring Al Jazeera’s reporting. Its attacks on UE began Sept. 2, 2015 when Shurat Hadin wrote a letter to the CEO of the General Electric Company, UE’s largest employer, “warning” GE to “rescind its recently concluded labor agreement” with UE because Shurat Hadin didn’t like the union’s resolution on Israel and Palestine. On July 11, 2016, Shurat HaDin sued Facebook for $1 billion, charging the social media company with insufficiently censoring Palestinians.
The global BDS movement arose from a 2005 call by Palestinian trade unions and human rights groups. UE’s resolution also calls for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel and for U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right to return. With its resolution UE joined the South African labor union confederation COSATU, Unite the Union in Britain and many other labor unions around the world in supporting BDS as a step toward justice and peace in Palestine and Israel.
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On June 20, five days after the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) teachers and staff union reached a tentative contract agreement with the City University of New York administration, the Board of Trustees (BoT) convened a public hearing on a proposed policy for “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.” This Orwellian measure could criminalize any unsanctioned meetings, speak-outs, and marches on CUNY campuses, and by the CUNY lawyer’s own admission, was tailored to counter recent Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity actions. At the packed hearing, three dozen students, faculty, staff, and alumni railed against the BoT, demanding that the proposed policy be scrapped.
Even though the new contract was brokered only after the PSC threatened to strike, and establishes concrete gains for various constituencies, it’s by no means a radical agreement. Some members have already vowed to pursue a no-vote. The 10.41% salary increase (compounded for 2010-2017) doesn’t surpass inflation, the three-year adjunct appointment system (instead of reappointments each semester) won’t apply to most adjuncts who teach the majority of CUNY classes, and management will be able to hire a new coterie of star faculty with exorbitant salaries (call it the Paul Krugmanization of CUNY), thus wrenching the two-tier wage disparity gap even wider.
It’s no coincidence that the CUNY administration delayed negotiations so that the PSC membership vote to ratify the contract and the BoT June 27 vote to curtail free speech would both occur when most of the CUNY community is dispersed for the summer. However, because the PSC has fought for a contract along narrow demands, in the face of increasing political crises at CUNY – over labor austerity, free speech, U.S. militarism, and Palestine solidarity – the union leadership is now scrambling to mount a broad, multi-sectional opposition to a policy that would inhibit the right to amass a picket line.
This tenuous situation demands that we rethink the strategies that guide labor organizing on college campuses. In preparation since 9/11, the CUNY administration and New York government have now fully entwined the languages of anti-racism, law and order, and fiscal responsibility to enforce a shock doctrine of structural underfunding and repression. But if a defense of free speech and anti-imperialism is fused with the struggles of organized labor, a new opening for a broad and combined struggle can emerge. If CUNY’s movements are to reverse this assault, they’ll have to force the union to move past the economism of their contract campaign and embrace struggles that speak to the lives of their members, New York, and the wider world.
City University in the World
CUNY is the largest public urban university in the United States. It employs fifty thousand teachers and campus staff in several unions, and relies on unwaged intellectual work by over half a million students, mostly working poor immigrant youth from around the world. Both the wealthy elite and social movements have long recognized CUNY’s institutional role as a social bellwether. At various points in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the university has become a primary site of economic, social, and ideological restructuring – as well as resistance – in which struggles over CUNY became epicenters for national, and even global, conflicts.
We see this dynamic, for example, in the early 1940s, when the Rapp-Coudert Committee held closed-door disciplinary hearings to fire more than fifty CUNY educators (predominantly Jewish) in the College Teachers Union who were suspected of being Communists, a few years after several dozen CUNY students and teachers had returned from fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Rapp-Coudert laid the groundwork for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to wreak havoc over a generation of radical lives.
CUNY again became a fulcrum upon which the U.S. state and capital, reeling from the 1975 defeat in Vietnam and the resulting economic crisis, extorted concessions from the working class via the reduction of social programs like free college education. After Black, Puerto Rican, and Asian students-led campus strikes in the late sixties and early seventies transformed CUNY with ethnic and gender studies and Open Admissions, President Gerald Ford insisted that New York City impose tuition at CUNY and lay off contingent faculty en masse in order to escape from a manufactured fiscal crisis whichFord’s cabinet reframed as irresponsible self-indulgence: like “a wayward daughter hooked on heroin… You don’t give her $100 a day to support her habit. You make her go cold turkey to break her habit.”
Campus War Zone
More recently, the post-9/11 relationship between CUNY and U.S. imperialism has developed to the point that the university is now a prominent target for both military recruitment and counterinsurgency. Since the mid-2000s, as the United States became mired in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, recruiters’ presence intensified at CUNY colleges, especially after the 2008 economic crisis. In November 2011, days after the Occupy Wall Street eviction, the CUNY administration imposed a five-year annual tuition increase by approving a police assault on peaceful protestors, and then evacuating an entire campus building to hold the vote. During this same year, CUNY reviewed a policy paper calling for the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to be re-embedded at CUNY in order to diversify its officers.
Then in fall 2013, former military general David Petraeus began teaching a CUNY class called “The Coming North American Decades,” and ROTC set up shop in three other CUNY campuses with little to no regard for campus governance procedures. Although Medgar Evers College successfully removed ROTC, it remains at City College and York College. Meanwhile, student activists were surveilled, arrested, and suspended as campus organizing spaces were seized. As journalist Peter Rugh put it, “America’s most diverse university was turned into a war zone.”
During this post-9/11 period I’ve briefly sketched out, the political situation at CUNY also dramatically shifted in terms of solidarity with Palestine and opposition to the surveillance of Muslim students, two issues which began to coalesce on CUNY campuses as the movement against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waned.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a global call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complied with international law and universal principles of human rights. Critiques across CUNY and New York City of the Israeli military’s unchecked aggression on Gaza heightened during Israel’s winter 2008, November 2012, and summer 2014 carpet bombing campaigns. All funded by $8.5 million U.S. government dollars a day, these three conflicts altogether killed 3,900 Palestinians and 90 Israelis, left many more wounded, and demolished social infrastructure (such as hospitals, schools, electricity and water supplies) along similarly asymmetrical figures in an effort at total destruction of daily life in Gaza.
This carnage could have potentially felt distant, were it not for Zionist organizations, college administrators, and government officials’ more local attempts of repression on CUNY campuses. If student revolts once aspired to “bring the war home,” more recently this pro-Israel coalition has done so differently in its attempts to fire and suppress CUNY faculty and studentswho dared to critically teach, learn, write, and organize for Palestine. Instead of being silenced, Palestinians and their anti-imperialist accomplices at CUNY (in groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and CUNY for Palestine) – many of them women, LGBTQ, and gender-nonconforming folk – began to more insistently share stories of what people in Gaza and the West Bank endured under the U.S.-backed Israeli military.
CUNY faculty and graduate students also helped lead a wave of several national academic associations and unions passing BDS resolutions against the Israeli government and academic institutions. The CUNY Graduate Center’s own student government passed an academic boycott in April 2016 after a two-year campaign. These boycott resolutions were implicit strikes against occupation, understood as clearly drawn picket lines for academic labor.
Surveillance and Selective Anti-racism
Links between wars against Arabs and Muslims abroad and at home also deepened when, in the fall of 2011, journalists exposed that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at eight CUNY schools from 2003 to 2006. Another NYPD spying operation would begin in March 2011 at Brooklyn College. An informant embedded herself in Muslim friendships circles, in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and in a “Unity Coalition,” which organized SJP, the Black Student Union, Puerto Rican Alliance, Dominican Student Movement, and other left student groups. This resulted in fall 2015 revelations of the entrapment of two young women in a fabricated ISIS terrorist plot.
CUNY professor Jeanne Theoharis warned in the Intercept,
[T]hese tactics are not renegade actions. They are consistent with the NYPD’s and the FBI’s approach to Muslim communities after 9/11. They reveal how an “investigation” becomes a perch from which to spy on a community for years, how politically active and religiously conservative students become targets, and how efforts to form coalitions between students of color become suspect.
I draw this chronology to situate why, in the last year, CUNY has suddenly become an epicenter of struggle around educational austerity, “expressive conduct”-policing, and BDS. This history helps to explain why in fall 2015, as the PSC organized civil disobedience and rallies, and mobilized for a strike vote, Cuomo and NY legislators suddenly proposed a half-billion dollar state funding cut to CUNY’s budget, harkening back to our 1975 emergency status.
Based on a letter by the Zionist Organization of America that cited a skewed series of “anti-Semitic” events at CUNY (defined only with regard to Jewish students, not to Arab students who are also Semitic), the NY Senate announced in March 2016 that they would “deny additional funding for CUNY senior schools until it is satisfied that the administration has developed a plan to guarantee the safety of students of all faiths.” Even though state funding was ultimately restored to CUNY, the irony, of course, was that this massive gash in the budget would have also hurt Jewish students, faculty, and staff.
Nevertheless, a self-described CUNY task force on anti-Semitism called pro-BDS Professor Sarah Schulman and SJP student leaders into closed-door disciplinary meetings reminiscent of the Rapp-Coudert Committee and the rise of McCarthyism to underscore a “Palestine Exception to Free Speech.” In the last few weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to specifically attack individuals, student groups, and institutions that advocate BDS. The CUNY Board of Trustees also seized the momentum to introduce the policy on “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.”
Intersecting Picket Lines
The government and administration have fused these crises into a new political economy at CUNY – we can use this shift to meaningfully connect our struggles, not keep them isolated in retreat. The PSC repeatedly vocalizes its defense of CUNY’s mission to provide quality education to working-class people of all colors and backgrounds. However, the union has maintained a limited contract focus that is already hampered by enduring adjunct inequalities, while not taking a public stand on these anti-BDS bills, McCarthyist hearings, student surveillance, and the policy on “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.” In so doing, the union has one arm tied behind its back, right when it could further expand upon a recent landslide 92% strike authorization and subsequent contract offer.
This moment is haunted by the old racist song repurposed by Paul Gilroy to examine race and class under neoliberalism, that “There Ain’t no Black in the Union, Jack.” In other words, labor movements are always at risk of eliding concurrent struggles that affect its most marginalized workers and support bases. These issues are not being officially recognized by the PSC as part of our picket line, even if they have become a central means by which many of us organize as laborers, and have pivoted the directions of our university’s institutional life.
More widely, a class re-composition is taking place to gather various kinds of workers – athletes, artists, dockworkers, educators, healthcare workers, journalists, retail workers, scientists, students, and beyond – under the “one big union” of BDS to coordinating rank-and-file cross-industry actions that link apartheid and imperialism abroad with austerity and policing at home. Because CUNY students and workers have had to vigorously defend our right to speak on Palestine and on the surveillance of Muslims, we’ve radicalized the contours of a new free speech movement that is concerned with different “trigger warnings” of Israeli apartheid and Homeland Security on our campuses.
Like our unions (and universities), BDS is a means, not an end. Moreover, the protection of free speech is not to be decorously enshrined by any top-down policy, but directionally honed and pushed beyond what the bosses and lawmakers deem permissible. Only through these intersecting picket lines can we address all the aspects of a contract campaign within a larger struggle to transform CUNY. In the words of Tidal Magazine, an anti-colonial movement journal,
Boycott is a necessary yet limited tactic. Each “win” is but a small part of a coordinated exertion and intensification of pressure. The value of Boycott lies as much in the economic damage it could do to the target as it does in the conversations, bonds, and spaces that are formed in the process of organizing. These are the foundations of any future liberation, beyond Boycott and beyond BDS itself.
City University of New York students, faculty, and staff, like the U.S. labor movement, are stuck between two forms of class composition: one that is bound by parochial bread-and-butter demands, and one in which our actions can reverberate around the world as they transform our working and learning conditions here. Which side are we on? Improvements over wages, benefits, and job security are real advances against the university and state elite, but they cannot be divorced from these interrelated conflicts that have catapulted CUNY into a local/global battleground.
We must collectively ask why the PSC and many other campus unions – as their leadership and membership are currently configured – have not been adequate forces for making such political demands. But perhaps struggles at CUNY can experiment with strategies to escape this impasse, finding ways to link the union to other struggles, to wider communities, to build associational power. In these broader coalitions, and relying on deep community ties, PSC members can urge the union to refuse to ratify a contract until management desists from its efforts at austerity, curtailment of civil liberties, and endorsement of U.S. and Israeli occupations, which are all integral facets of our workplaces. During the past year, we mobilized for a strike which garnered wide support across the university and New York City. We can use this momentum to strike at the heart of empire, and in the process, help redirect the course of social movement unionism.
On June 23, half an hour after this article was published, Politico announced a statement by CUNY that “A proposed policy will be considered by the Board of Trustees at a later time, following additional consultation and discussion.” Meanwhile, The Nation reported that Governor Cuomo continues to pursue a BDS Blacklist, in a clear violation of the First Amendment. Later in the evening, the Professional Staff Congress Delegate Assembly voted 111-11 to approve the contract as it stands for ratification by the union membership.
Conor Tomás Reed is an archivist, doctoral student, educator, and organizer at the City University of New York, a collective member of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, and a co-founding participant in the Free University of New York City. Conor researches twentieth and twenty first-century literatures of social movements and urban freedom schools, and will be a 2016-2017 Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
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