Monthly Archives: August 2002

U.S. Unions Bankroll Israeli Aggression (Socialist Action)

Socialist Action /August 2002

U.S. Unions Bankroll Israeli Aggression



Labor voices are being raised against the AFL-CIO’s collaboration with the U.S. government’s backing of Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Unionists are petitioning the labor federation’s officers, stating that they “deplore the fact that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney recently associated U.S. labor’s name with support for the Israeli invasion of the West Bank, which has resulted in the widespread death and destruction of the Palestinian people and property.”

The petitioners charge that “all the world knows the murderous assault on the Palestinians with the most modern tanks, helicopters, and missiles is financed by our taxes.”

But what the world and even most U.S. unionists may not know is that U.S. union dues monies and union pension funds are being used to buy Israeli government bonds, also helping to finance what the petitioners accurately term Israel’s “horrific aggression.”

Michael Letwin, the president of UAW 2325, which represents legal aid lawyers, says, “It’s bad enough that our tax dollars are going to fund Israel, but our union dues-that’s intolerable.”

Yes, it’s intolerable, and the money is considerable. The Jewish weekly Forward on March 22 quoted the National Committee for Labor Israel’s director as estimating that “the American labor community holds $5 billion in Israel bonds.”

And judging by the mutual praise regularly exchanged by U.S. union officials, the Jewish Labor Committee, Israeli politicians and the Israel Bonds National Labor Division fund raisers, there can be no doubt that U.S. unions will continue to buy Israeli bonds in significant amounts.

For example, in November, the Israeli bonds sellers will hold a tribute dinner for Terence O’Sullivan, president of the 800,000-strong Laborers Union, according to the Israel Bonds National Labor Division’s web site.

A later tribute is being organized for the A. Philip Randolph Institute, headed by Norman Hill, also a member of the Israeli Bonds Labor Advisory Board, which is co-chaired by Barbara Easterling, Secretary-Treasurer of the Communication Workers Union.

In 1999, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka called on unionists “to invest in the [Israeli] bonds that are such a tangible link between our movement and the continuing struggle to nurture and protect the State of Israel.”

A year earlier, AFL-CIO head John J. Sweeney accepted the Israeli Bonds 50th Anniversary Labor Achievement Award.

But those American trade unionists that are slapped on the back by the Israeli bond sales staff shouldn’t think that the bond sellers are all that selective with their praise and awards. In1975, the Israeli Ambassador inducted the notorious Teamster official Jackie Presser into the “Prime Minister’s Club, a group made up of people who personally (or in Presser’s case, through his union) bought more than $25,000 worth of bonds” (Steven Brill, “The Teamsters”).

By 1977, Brill reported, the Teamsters “had bought $26,000,000 worth [of Israeli bonds] out of total American union purchases of $100,000,000.”

The Forward reported that recent honorees and speakers at a March Jewish Labor Committee dinner included Richard Trumka; Michael Monroe, general president of the Painters Union; Morton Bahr, head of the Communications Workers Union; Dennis Hughes, president of the AFL-CIO, New York State; and Mike Sacco, president of the Seafarers Union, who, when introduced, “removed the napkin tucked into his collar and waved it in the air.”

What the bond money buys

In a May 30 report, the International Labor Organization (ILO) charged that Israeli aggression has resulted in a “socio-economic meltdown,” devastating to Palestinian workers.

An ILO statement on its report said, “‘The escalation of violence and the military occupation of the territories have caused great physical damage to the infrastructure and agricultural land ‘ Preliminary figures put the cost of reconstruction of public and private buildings and infrastructure in the West Bank alone at some USD 432 million.

“Real growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the Palestinian areas declined by 12 per cent in 2001 and real Gross National Income (GNI), the sum of GDP and of factor income earned abroad (wages of Palestinian earned in Israel) dropped by 18.7 per cent, according to the report.

Further, “Preliminary ILO estimates suggest that ‘unemployment could have reached nearly 43 per cent in the occupied territories during the first quarter (January-March) of 2002.’

“‘The percentage of the population living in poverty (less than USD 2.1 per day) increased from 21 per cent in 1999 to 33 per cent in 2000 and 46 per cent in 2001. The figure could possibly reach 62 per cent in 2002,’ the report said.”

Union members shouldn’t think that Israeli government bonds bought with their dues monies and pension funds pay high interest rates. According to the Multinational Monitor report by Mokhiber, “The bonds pay interest rates below those of other available securities and well below what most investors would expect from loans to a foreign government, especially one as economically troubled as Israel….

“And unlike most bonds, State of Israel securities are not easily converted into cash. The institutional bonds cannot be traded on the open market, and can only be sold to pension funds, charities and other non-profit organizations [labor unions]. Israel bonds not only pay a poor return, they carry a high risk as well. Although Israel bonds, like other privately placed securities, are not given a credit rating, if they were they would almost certainly be considered a poor investment.”

1500 labor groups buy bonds

Given the poor financial returns from buying Israeli bonds, and putting aside the anti-Palestinian aims some union officials undoubtedly share with the Israeli and Zionist establishment, why have so many unions (1500 labor organizations, reported Lee O’Brien in “American Jewish Organizations and Israel,” and cited by Mokhiber) put their members’ dues monies into Israeli bonds?

It’s hard not to conclude that a large part of the answer has to do with the uncritical backing that high union officials have traditionally given to bipartisan foreign policies, including the Marshall Plan, the Vietnam War, and the current military intervention in Afghanistan.

It’s well documented that the highest echelons of the AFL-CIO have worked hand in hand with various U.S. administrations to oppose, subvert, and destroy democratic movements, especially in Latin America, targeted by the CIA (giving a new meaning to the term “company” men).

Even today, the AFL-CIO receives more than $15,000,000 a year from the government, which suggests to some critics that the U.S. labor federation might have had a role in the recent failed coup attempt in Venezuela.

In April, AFL-CIO chief Sweeney spoke at a Washington, D.C. gathering billed as a “Solidarity Rally for Israel. Sweeney said that “the American labor movement has a long and enduring relationship with the state of Israel, a relationship grounded in our solidarity with the Israeli Trade Union Federation, the Histadrut.”

Although he acknowledged that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fueled by poverty and despair,” he knowingly ignored the February Israeli bombing of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Nablus.

Nor did Sweeney choose to speak in defense of ordinary Palestinian workers employed in Israel who must register at official labor exchanges and then are subjected to huge deductions from their pay: “I worked for three years through the labor office and no one ever told us what benefits we were entitled to. They were taking over 25 percent of our wages and give us nothing in return” (“Attacking Labor,” by Marty Rosenbluth, Multinational Monitor, April 1988).

Nor did Sweeney denounce the Israeli’s forcing of Palestinian workers to return to the territories each night, bringing to mind the racist segregation of the former South Africa apartheid regime.

Sweeney told the Washington rally that he spoke on behalf of the union federation’s 13 million working members. But some union members would dispute Sweeney’s claim, including New York trade unionists who in May picketed the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council’s meeting with Israeli Consul general Alon Pinkus at the Sheraton Hotel.

The union pickets called for divestment from Israeli bonds, an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.

Statement for Detroit Labor Committee for Peace & Justice

August 2002

Statement for Detroit Labor Committee for Peace & Justice

We are labor union members, officers, stewards and/or retirees. We are opposed to the aggressive military policy our government is waging in response to September 11.

We condemn the horrific terrorist attack on September 11. Yet, the war in Afghanistan has brought further suffering to already impoverished innocent civilians. We therefore oppose the expansion of the War on Terror to include military action in Iraq, the Philippines or any other country. We oppose our government’s military, economic and political role in supporting Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people.

We also do not wish any harm to come to American troops, the majority of whom are workers. The interests of working people are not served by war. The current foreign policy of our government has more to do with expanding US military presence and protecting corporate interests. And the current domestic policy sweeps the urgent needs of working and poor people under the rug, while enriching defense contractors and big business generally.

For this reason we oppose draining essential public programs as education, health care and the social security trust for a massive giveaway of tax dollars to wealthy corporations under the guise of national security and economic stimulus. Stimulating the economy and combating unemployment must happen through a program of public works, including the construction of schools, hospitals and a national rail system. The problems of poverty, unemployment, and social injustice in cities like Detroit must be addressed in any economic stimulus program.

We oppose the Patriot Act which is curtailing our civil liberties. We also oppose the disgraceful roundup and imprisonment of Arab Americans in Michigan and throughout the country.

We demand that all workers be allowed to join a union. We will support solidarity amongst all workers in the US (including illegal immigrants working to make a living) and workers in other countries.

We believe in peace and social justice.

Therefore, the undersigned workers commit to:

*OPPOSING THE WAR. Instead, we call for global social and economic justice.

*OPPOSING ECONOMIC AID FOR THE CORPORATIONS. The government must stimulate the economy by addressing the needs of all workers and unemployed. We will fight to raise living standards for all workers.

*OPPOSING RACISM AND THE ATTACK ON CIVIL LIBERTIES. Racial profiling, legal restrictions against people of color and immigrants must stop. Our democratic rights to make a living must be defended.

Statement initiated by the Detroit Labor Committee for Peace & Justice

Al Benchich, President, UAW Local 909
Julia & John Brabenec, Detroit Typographical Union # 18
William Brabanec, DTU #18/CWA 14503
Tom Brown, UAW Local 600
Les Caulford, President, USWA Local 1900
Neil Chacker, retiree, UAW Local 1700
Al Cholger, PACE staff
Emily Citkowski, TDU
Congressman John Conyers, former member, UAW Local 900
Hemant Damle, TDU
Kate DeSmet, former officer, Local 22, Detroit Newspaper Guild
Jeff Ditz, UAW Local 2200
Emily Everett, Newspaper Guild
Edith Faller, ACOSS
Nick Faller, retiree, GCIU Local 13
Dianne Feeley, UAW Local 235
Paul Felton, Editor and Steward, 480-481 Area Local APWU
Alan Forsyth, The Newspaper Guild
Robert M. Frumkin, retiree, MFT
Marisela Garcia, UAW Local 2200
Martha Gruelle, CWA
Margaret Guttshall, National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981
Ron Halstead, Council Member, UAW Local 6000
Elena Herrada, RWDSU Local 1064
Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit (CPR)
Alex Hogan, National Substitute Teachers Alliance
Kim Hunter, former member NABET
Barbara Ingalls, DTU Local 18
Freddie Jenkins, Steward, RWDSU Local 1064
John Joslin, IBEW
Mille Kenyon, Secretary, RWDSU Local 1064
Marion Kramer, President, National Welfare Rights Union
Chris Kutalik, The Newspaper Guild
Jessica Labumbard, UAW Local 2200
Peter Landon, IBT Local 299
Ron Lare, UAW Local 600 Guide
Kevin Mackey, IBEW Local 58
John Martinez, Editor, UAW Local 22
Malcolm Marts, Election Committee Chair & Former President, UAW Local 1976
Dan McCarthy, Organizer, USWA District 2
John McLaughlin, Executive Committee, United Association of Labor Educators
Karen Miller, AFT/GEO 3550
Kyle Moxley, IBT Local 299
Dennis Nazelli, Secretary-Treasurer, IBT Local 372
Armand Nevers, retired, DTU Local 18
Hal Nixon, UWUA Local 223
Ken Paff, TDU
Michael Parker, UAW Local 1700
Dia Pearce, Community Service & Political Director, HERE Local 24
Cheryl Peck, UAW Local 1981
Jim Pita, Chair, Community Services Committee, IUOE Local 547
Jason Priest, UAW Local 600
Carl Reinstein, retiree, UAW Local 174
Teófilo Reyes, CWA, Writer’s Guild
Juscha Robinson, AFT/GEO
Deb Ruiz, Trustee, UAW Local 6000
Steve Saelzer, UAW Local 372
Martin Schreader, National Production Workers Union, Local 707
Fran Shor, AAUP/AFT Bargaining Council
Gregg Shotwell, Convention Delegate, UAW Local 2151
Matt Siegfriend, UFCW Local 876
Charles Simmons, steward, AAUP, and CPR
Jane Slaughter, UAW Local 981
Brenda Smith, The Newspaper Guild/CWA and CPR
Lasker Smith, Editor, Retiree News, UAW Region 1A
David Sole, President, UAW Local 2334
Peter Solenberger, UAW Local 1981
Clarice Squillace, retiree, UAW Local 909
Dave Staiger, Detroit Federation of Teachers
Sam Stark, P.R. Staff, UAW
Harold Stokes, retiree, AFT Local 1650
Wendy Thompson, President, UAW Local 235
Laurie Townsend-Benchich, Officer, UAW Local 2200
Jenifer Van Proeyen, UAW/Graphic Arts Guild
George Waldman, NWU/UAW
Brett Ward, UAW Local 1700
Steven Waskul, UAW Local 140
Peter Werbe, AFTRA
Jim West, The Newspaper Guild/CWA
Mike Whitty, MEA/NEA
Judy Wraight, UAW Local 600 Tool & Die Exec. Bd. and General Council
Liza Zador, The Newspaper Guild/CWA

(Labor affiliation for identification purposes only)