Monthly Archives: January 2016

Open Letter to UAW Leadership: Respect Union Democracy, Solidarity, and the BDS Picket Line

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Open Letter to UAW Leadership: Respect Union Democracy, Solidarity, and the BDS Picket Line
Labor for Palestine
January 28, 2016

As workers, trade unionists, and anti-apartheid activists, we call on the United Auto Workers International Executive Board to rescind its undemocratic and arbitrary “nullification” of UAW 2865’s respect for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) picket line, which was overwhelmingly adopted by the 13,000 teaching assistants and student-workers at the University of California in 2014. 


Unfounded Interference

The IEB concedes that it could “find no evidence that the local union engaged in any improper actions that may have prohibited a fair and democratic vote.”

Nonetheless, it sides with anti-labor corporate lawyers to defend the profits of military contractors who arm apartheid Israel. Enlisting in a well-funded witch-hunt designed to silence those who speak up for Palestinian rights, it falsely calls BDS “anti-Semitic.”

In doing so, the IEB disregards more than a century of colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, including Israel’s establishment through the dispossession of more than 750,000 Palestinians during the 1947-1948 Nakba (Catastrophe), a regime that veteran South African freedom fighters call “worse than apartheid.”

It turns a blind eye to $3.1 billion a year in U.S. military aid, with which Israel massacred 2200 Palestinians (including 500 children) in Gaza in 2014, and inflicted a 10-year high in Palestinian casualties in the West Bank in 2015.

It refuses to acknowledge more than fifty laws that discriminate against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

It is deaf to urgent Palestinian trade union appeals for solidarity in the form of support for BDS.

It omits the stated goals of BDS, which demands an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel; and implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

It ignores the endorsement of BDS by Black Lives Matter activists, Jewish members of UAW 2865, and trade unions around the world.

It fails to recognize that BDS is entirely consistent with past UAW support for boycotts organized by the Civil Rights Movement, United Farm Workers, and South African anti-apartheid movement.

Lacking any semblance of fairness, the IEB’s decision has been appealed to the UAW’s Public Review Board.

UAW Leaders’ Complicity with Apartheid

In contrast to UAW 2865’s highly-transparent support for BDS, the IEB’s biased ruling reflects UAW top leaders’ longstanding and unaccountable complicity with the racist ideology of Labor Zionism.

In the 1940s, UAW and other top U.S. labor leaders actively supported the Nakba. UAW president Walter Reuther was closely allied with future Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who later infamously pronounced, “[t]here were no such things as Palestinians.”

In the 1950s, UAW conventions passed pro-Israel resolutions and raised funds for the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation. Reuther’s brother, Victor, served as U.S. spokesperson for the Jewish National Fund, which remains at the forefront of seizing Palestinian lands. In subsequent years, “the UAW may have been the largest institutional purchaser of Israel Bonds,” which fund dispossession of the Palestinian people.

In 2007, International UAW leaders signed a statement drafted by the Jewish Labor Committee that attacked unions in the UK for endorsing BDS.

Now they seek to disenfranchise UAW 2865 members, muzzle free speech, and demonize the surging BDS movement.

Rank-and-File Resistance

Rank-and-file UAW members have a history of challenging this pro-apartheid stance.

In January 1969, the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers publicly condemned Israeli colonialism. On October 14, 1973, three thousand Arab autoworkers in Detroit held a wildcat strike to protest UAW Local 600’s purchase—without membership approval—of $300,000 in Israel Bonds. On November 28, 1973, Arab, Black and other autoworkers struck to protest UAW International President Leonard Woodcock’ acceptance of the B’nai B’rith’s “Humanitarian Award.”

UAW 2865’s BDS resolution reclaims and revives this proud tradition of solidarity and social justice. When Palestinian trade unions, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and Labor for Palestine issued renewed BDS calls in response to Israel’s 2014 Gaza massacre, UAW 2865’s Joint Council openly informed the entire membership:

“We intend to throw our weight behind the BDS movement to add to the international pressure against Israel to respect the human rights of the Palestinian people. As workers, students, and as a labor union, we stand in solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination from a settler-colonial power.”

On December 4, 2014, UAW 2865 members adopted this non-binding resolution by a landslide sixty-five percent, thereby becoming the first major U.S. union to endorse BDS.

Growing U.S. Labor Support for BDS

UAW 2865’s courageous vote was paralleled by LFPILWU Local 10 members who refused to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo in 2014, and has been followed by adoption of BDS resolutions by the United Electrical Workers and Connecticut AFL-CIO in 2015.

Attempts to silence this growing solidarity movement are doomed to failure, as reflected in the National Labor Relations Board’s recent dismissal of a challenge to the UE’s BDS resolution.

As the 2865 BDS Caucus explains:

“No letter from the IEB can erase the educational and organizational work we have done over the past year, work we will continue to do, energized no doubt by the IEB’s undemocratic, business­-friendly attempt to nullify this vote. . . .

“We are part of a growing movement for union solidarity with the people of Palestine and for a democratic and visionary U.S. labor movement. As workers, educators, and students, we know together we can prevail over these forms of repression and continue striving for justice for all peoples.”

Sharing that vision, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with UAW 2865 in respecting the BDS picket line.


Please also sign:
Support Student Workers’ Historic BDS Vote (US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation)
Stand with UAW Local 2865 (Jewish Voice for Peace)

INITIAL SIGNERS (List in formation)
(Affiliation shown for identification only // *Labor for Palestine co-conveners)

*Suzanne Adely, Global Workers Solidarity Network; Former Staff, Global Organizing Institute, UAW (NYC)

*Michael Letwin, Former President, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (NYC)

*Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; ILWU L. 10 (retired)(Oakland CA)

*Jaime Veve, Transport Workers Union L. 100 (retired)(NYC)

Rabab Abdulhadi, California Faculty Association-San Francisco State University

Judith Ackerman, 1199SEIU, AFT, UFT, AFTRA, SAG (NYC)

Larry Adams, Former President, NPMHU L. 300; People’s Organization for Progress (NJ)

Bina Ahmad, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (NYC)

Sameerah Ahmad, Former Diversity Coordinator, GEO/UAW L. 2322 (Chicago, IL)

Tanya Akel, Regional Director, IBT L. 2010

Greg Albo, YUFA, York University (Toronto, ON)

Tania Aparicio, Organizing Committee, SENS-UAW (NYC)

Noha Arafa, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

B. Ross Ashley, Former Shop Steward and Executive Council member, SEIU L. 204, then L. 1 (Toronto, ON)

Shahar Azoulay, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (NYC)

Lejla Bajrami, 1199SEIU (Brooklyn, NY)

John Becker, IBT L. 814 (Detroit, MI)

Marie Bellavia, NEA/Portland Association of Teachers (OR)

Zarina Bhatia, GMB, TUC (retired) (Birmingham, UK)

Michael Billeaux, Recording Secretary, WITAA-AFT 3220 (Madison, WI)

Walter Birdwell, Retired Shop Steward, NALC Br. 283 (Laguna Vista, TX)

Dana Blanchard, Executive Board, Berkeley Federation of Teachers, AFT L. 1078

Dave Bleakney, 2nd National VP, CUPW (Ottawa, ON)

Donna Blythe-McColgan, Staff Rep., USW (Boston, MA)

Deena Brazy, AFSCME L. 6000 (Madison, WI)

Richard Blum, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Ray Bush, UCU Leeds Branch (UK)

Claudia Carrera, Shop Steward, GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Joshua Carrin, Delegate, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Sara Catalinotto, Former Delegate, UFT/AFT L. 2 (NYC)

Joe Catron, NWU/UAW L. 1981 (NYC)

Nora Carroll, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Jan Clausen, President, Goddard College Faculty Union, UAW L. 2322

Frank Couget, NALC Br. 36 (NYC)

CUNY Law School Labor Coalition (NYC)

Amy Cross, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Mike Cushman, Former Secretary, LSE Branch, UCU (London, UK)

Denise D’Anne, SEIU L. 1021 (San Francisco, CA)

Ziad Dallal, Steward, UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Buzz Davis, Executive Board, AFT-W Retiree Council (Stoughton, WI)

Dominic DeSiata, IBEW L. 103 (Boston, MA)

John Dudley, SEIU-CT State Retirees Chapter

Lisa Edwards, Alternate Delegate, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (NYC)

Arla S. Ertz, SEIU L. 1021 (San Francisco, CA)

John Estes, NALC (Birmingham, AL)

Shelley Ettinger, AFT L. 3882 (NYC)

Jessica Feldman, Shop Steward, UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Sarah S. Forth, NWU/UAW L. 1981 (Los Angeles, CA)

Josh Fraidstern, TWU L. 100 (Brooklyn, NY)

Cynthia Franklin, UHPA (Honolulu, HI)

Jeremy Fredericksen, Alternate VP and Delegate, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Carol Gay, President, NJ State Industrial Union Council

Nick Giannone, Trustee, Boilermakers L. 29 (Weymouth, MA)

Steve Gillis, Financial Secretary, USWA L. 8751 (Boston School Bus Drivers’ Union)

Mike Gimbel, Executive Board, AFSCME L. 375 AFSCME (retired)(NYC)

Brian Glennie, IUEC L. 82 (Parkville, BC)

Sherna Gluck, Former VP, CFA/SEIU L. 1983

Sam Grainger, SENS-UAW (NYC)

Martha Grevatt, Civil and Human Rights Committee, UAW L. 869 (Ferndale, MI)

Ira Grupper, Delegate (retired), Greater Louisville (KY) Central Labor Council, BCTGM L. 16T

Gabriel Haaland, Steward, CWA L. 9404 (Vallejo, CA)

Jesse Hagopian, Association Rep., Seattle Education Association/NEA

Frank Hammer, UAW-GM international Rep.; UAW L. 909 (retired)(Detroit, MI)

Denise N. Hammond, Unifor 591g (Toronto, ON)

Lenora Hanson, Member, Executive Board, AFT L. 3220, Teaching Assistants’ Association (Madison, WI)

Abdul-Basit Haqq, Staff Rep., CWA L. 1037 (Piscataway, NJ)

Janet Harmon, Local Trustee, AFSCME DC 37 L. 436 (NYC)

Shafeka Hashash, Steward, GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

David Heap, University of Western Ontario Faculty Association

Win Heimer, VP, Greater Hartford Central Labor Council; AFT L. 4200R and CSEA Council 400, L. 2001, SEIU, CTW

Lucy Herschel, Delegate, 1199SEIU (Queens, NY)

Monadel Herzallah, SEIU (San Francisco, CA)

Jack Heyman, ILWU L. 10 (retired); Chair, TWSC; Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (Oakland, CA)

Molly Hogan, ILWU/IBU (retired)(CA)

Jey Iyadurai, Human Rights Rep., CUPW 626 (Toronto, ON)

Ruth Jennison, Departmental Rep., Massachusetts Society of Professors, MTA, NEA

Dan Kaplan, Executive Secretary, San Mateo Community College Federation of Teachers-AFT L. 1493

Daniel J. Kelly, Shop Steward and Albany Labor Council Delegate, CSEA L. 1000 and L. 690

Ed Kinchley, SEIU L. 1021 Delegate, San Francisco Labor Council

John Kirkland, Carpenters L. 1462 (Bucks County, PA)

David Klein, California Faculty Association (Los Angeles, CA)

Jeff Klein, Retired President, NAGE/SEIU L. R1-168 (Boston, MA)

Cindy Klumb, Chief Shop Steward, OPEIU L. 153 (Brooklyn, NY)

Dennis Kortheuer, California Faculty Association

Daniella Korotzer, Former VP and former Health and Safety Officer, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Dennis Kosuth, Steward, NNU (Chicago, IL)

Pooja Kothari, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Rebecca Kurti, 1199SEIU (Queens, NY)

David Laibman, PSC-CUNY/AFT L. 2334 retirees’ chapter (NYC)

Carol Lang, AFSCME DC 37 and PSC-CUNY/AFT L. 2334 (Bronx, NY)

Patrick Langhenry, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Queens, NY)

Angaza Laughinghouse, VP, NC Public Service Workers Union-UE L. 150

Raymond Leduc, Boilermakers L. 29 (retired)(Orleans, MA)

David Letwin, AAUP (Brooklyn, NY)

Eli Lichtenstein, Organizing Committee, SENS-UAW (NYC)

Michael Louw, Organizer/Educator, Congress of South African Trade Unions

Eamon McMahon, Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA); UNISON; Secretary, Trade Union Friends of Palestine

Ying-Ying Ma, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Mone Makkawi, GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Leah Martin, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Riddhi Mehta-Neugebauer, UAW L. 4121 (Seattle, WA)

Mark S. Mendoza, Cincinnati Worker Center

Kevin Moloney, CUPE 3903 (ON)

Susan Morris, Former Alternate VP, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Roslyn R. Morrison, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Eli Nadeau, Organizing Committee, SENS-UAW (NYC)

Yasaman Naraghi, UAW L. 4121 (Seattle, WI)

Chris Nickell, Shop Steward and Unit Rep., GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Michelle O’Brien, Steward, GSOC/UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Jose A. Ortega, IBEW L. 145 (Rock Island, IL)

Rod Palmquist, UAW L. 4121 (Seattle, WA)

Anne Pasek, Steward, GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Joe Piette, NALC Br 157 (retired)(Philadelphia, PA)

Daniel Pines, CSEA L. 0828 (Rochester, NY)

Kristin Plys, GESO/Yale (Göttingen, Germany)

Andrew Pollack, Former Shop Steward, District 65-UAW (Brooklyn, NY)

Stephanie Pope, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Staten Island, NY)

Tom Potter, AFSCME L. 3650, HUCTW; Socialist Alternative (Cambridge, MA)

Minnie Bruce Pratt, NWU/UAW L. 1981 (Syracuse, NY)

Nathaniel Preus, GSOC-UAW L. 2110, (NYC)

James Prothero, IBT L. 155 (Mission, BC)

Linda Ray, Co-chair, Peace & Solidarity Committee, SEIU L. 1021 (San Francisco, CA)

Eric Robson, Steward and Trustee, AFSCME L. 171 (Madison, WI)

Laurence S. Romsted, AAUP-AFT Rutgers University (Highland Park, NJ)

Marco Antonio Rosales, UAW L. 2865 Unit Chair (Davis, CA)

Sandra Rosen, Former Solidarity Committee Co-chair, HUCTW/AFSCME (retired), (Cambridge, MA)

Mimi Rosenberg, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Susan Rosenthal, NWU/UAW L. 1981 (Canada)

Andrew Ross, President, NYU-AAUP (NYC)

Gillian Russom, Area Chair, Board of Directors, UTLA/AFT L. 1021 (Los Angeles, CA)

James W. Ryder, Collective Bargaining Director (retired), CNA/NNU (Oakland, CA)

Carl Sack, Membership Secretary, AFT L. 3220 (UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association)

Rodrigo Santelices, ALAA/UAW 2325 (NYC)

Heike Schotten, Faculty Staff Union at University of Massachusetts Boston; Executive Committee, MTA

Gerry Scoppettuol, Co-founder, Pride at Work, Boston AFL-CIO; past member, District 65/UAW

Mary Scully, Women’s, Safety, and Education committees, IUE-CWA L. 201 (retired), (McAllen, TX)

Richard Seaford, UCU (Exeter, UK)

Kim Scipes, Former Chair, Chicago Chapter, NWU/UAW L. 1981

Snehal Shingavi, TSEU/CWA L. 6186 (Austin, TX)

Tyler Shipley, CUPE 3903 (Toronto, ON)

Sid Shniad, Research Director, Telecommunications Workers Union (retired)(Vancouver, BC)

Alexandra Smith, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Linda Sneed, Campus Rep., AFT 2279 (Sacramento, CA)

Nancy Snyder, Recording Secretary Emeritus, SEIU L. 1021 (Los Angeles, CA)

Edward Stiel, IBEW L. 302 (San Francisco, CA)

Susan Stout, Retirees Secretary, Unifor L. 2002 (N. Vancouver, BC)

Garrett Strain, UAW L. 4121 (Seattle, WA)

Uri Strauss, Steward, UAW L. 2320 (Springfield, MA)

Brenda Stokely, Former President, AFSCME DC 1707, Co-Chair, Million Worker March Movement (Brooklyn, NY)

Cynthia Taylor, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (NYC)

Steve Terry, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Will Thomas, NEA (NH)

Miriam Thompson, UAW L. 259 (retired)(Chapel Hill, NC)

Joanne Tien, Steward, UAW L. 2865 (Oakland, CA)

Azalia Torres, ALAA/UAW L. 2325 (Brooklyn, NY)

Transport Workers Solidarity Committee (Oakland, CA)

Burnis E. Tuck, AFGE L. 3172 (retired); IWW (Fresno, CA)

Mar Velez, Former President, UAW 2865 (Oakland, CA)

Karen Walker, Postings Officer, CUPE 3903 (ON)

Dr. Peter Waterman, ABVA-KABO, FNV (retired)(The Hague, Netherlands)

Barry Weisleder, OSSTF (Toronto, ON)

Dave Welsh, NALC Br. 214; Delegate, San Francisco Labor Council

Nancy Welch, United Academics, VTAFT/AAUP (Burlington, VT)

Paul Werner, Former member, ACT-UAW L. 7902 (Vienna, Austria)

Edwina White, SEIU L. 1000 (retired)(Sacramento, CA)

Rand Wilson, SEIU L. 888 (Somerville, MA)

Ella Wind, Unit Rep., NYU GSOC-UAW L. 2110; Academic Workers for a Democratic Union

Sherry Wolf, Lead Organizer, Rutgers AAUP-AFT; CWA L. 1032

Marc Wutschke, House of Rep.s, AFT L. 1021 (Los Angeles, CA)

Nantina Vgontzas, GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)

Sabina Virgo, Past and Founding President, AFSCME L. 2620 (retired)(Los Angeles, CA)

John Yanno, Delegate, UFT/AFT L. 2 (Brooklyn, NY)


Mark Matthews, CAW (retired)(Vancouver, BC), Canada
Max Rosen-Long, Bldg. rep., PFT L. 3 (Philadelphia, PA), and a building representative
Chris Butters, Chapter Chair, L. 1070, DC 37, AFSCME (retired)(NYC)
Brooks Ballenger, Organizer/Representative, UAW L. 2322 (Amherst, MA)
Larry Hendel, CFA (Berkeley, CA)
Catherine Orozco, NOLSW/UAW (retired)(San Francisco, CA)
George McAnanama, TWU L. 100 (retired)(Bronx, NY)
Russell Weiss-Irwin, SEIU L. 175 (NYC)
Robert Kosuth, MEA (retired)(Duluth, MN)
David Riehle, Chairman Emeritus, UTU L. 650 (St. Paul, MN)
Robert Pfefferman, DC 37, AFSCME retirees (NYC)
Vincent Calvetti, UAW L. 4121 (Seattle, WA)
Mercedes Martinez, President, FMPR (Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico)
Julia Wallace, SEIU L. 721 (Los Angeles, CA)
Aaron Amaral, Esq., DC 37, AFSCME (Jackson Heights, NY)
Michael Haire, 1199SEIU East (Saten Island, NY)
Adrienne Pine Washington, Former Recording Secretary and and statewide bargaining team member, UAW 2865 (UC Berkeley)
Hannah Roditi, CWA (Bloomfield, CT)
Nathan Pensler, Unit Representative, GSOC-UAW L. 2110 (NYC)
Elisabeth Fiekowsky, former member UAW; Labor rep., IFPTE, ESC L. 20 (Sebastopol, CA)
Frances Agnew Crieff, National Federation of Post Office and British Telecom Pensioners, (UK)
Peter King Churchill, UCU (Oxford, UK)
Blair Bertaccini, AFSCME retirees Chapter 4; AFSCME Council 4 PEOPLE Committee (Waterbury, CT)


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Solidarity with UAW Local 2865 (Jewish Voice for Peace)

A man arrives at a UAW Hall before listening to Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and others seeking political office address members of the Ankeny Area Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A man arrives at a UAW Hall before listening to Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and others seeking political office address members of the Ankeny Area Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Jewish Voice for Peace


Guest Post by Karen Ackerman, former political Director of the AFL-CIO and current JVP Board Member

I was the Political Director of the AFL-CIO (the largest federation of unions in the U.S.) for 8 years. But long-before I worked for the AFL-CIO, one of my first jobs in the labor movement was with the United Auto Workers, one of America’s biggest and best unions. I’m so proud of the work we did at the UAW, fighting for better pay and conditions for workers. But today, I’m incredibly disappointed in the leadership of the UAW.

Here’s why:

In December 2014, rank-and-file members of Local 2865 of the United Auto Workers (they represent over 14,000 teaching assistants and other workers at the Universities of California) voted to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. With their vote, they honored the call of Palestinian civil society, and joined millions of people the world over who are taking non-violent action to protest Israel’s human rights abuses.

But then their vote was undemocratically overturned by the International Executive Board of the UAW, the highest body of their union. That decision is now heading to an impartial review board, who’ll have the final say.

I’ve been speaking to members of Local 2865 all week, and they need our help: they need us to show UAW leaders and the review board that there are people all over the world — Jews and allies — who stand with them in support of BDS.

There’s no suggestion (really, none at all) that there were any problems with the vote that Local 2865 took. In fact, it was supported overwhelmingly, by over two thirds of those who voted — more people than voted in the union’s contract ratification! But the defenders of Israel’s racist policies couldn’t accept defeat, and they’ve been fighting dirty.

Working with a corporate law firm, a small group of anti-BDS union members petitioned the International Executive Board to overturn the democratic vote. They tried to claim that the vote had been unfair, or compromised — but there was no evidence whatsoever for that. So they resorted to the oldest trick in the book: false charges of anti-Semitism.

Let me be absolutely clear: anti-Semitism is real, and we need to fight it. But slandering those of us who speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses doesn’t help the fight against prejudice. As Jews and allies, we need to stand up proudly and declare: criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic. Boycotting Israel is not anti-Semitic.

Send a message of support to UAW Local 2865. It might not seem like much, but a quick message will make a big difference to rebutting the claims of our opponents.

Support from the labor movement played a vital role in bringing down South African apartheid, and UAW Local 2865 is following in those footsteps. But now, they’re having their name dragged through the mud for daring to speak out against the crimes that Israel commits. Their union is being slandered as anti-Semitic, and as Jews and allies committed to justice, we must not let it stand.

I’m Jewish. I support BDS. I support Local 2865. If you stand with me, sign our letter of support.

With help of corporate law firm, small pro-Israel group derails historic UAW union vote endorsing boycott (Salon)

A man arrives at a UAW Hall before listening to Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and others seeking political office address members of the Ankeny Area Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A man arrives at a UAW Hall before listening to Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and others seeking political office address members of the Ankeny Area Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

With help of corporate law firm, small pro-Israel group derails historic UAW union vote endorsing boycott

California UAW 2865 rank-&-file members say the landslide vote endorsing BDS was undermined by “undemocratic” means

The United Auto Workers International Executive Board nullified the vote of a major California union that endorsed a boycott of Israel on behalf of Palestinian rights, even while admitting that the vote was thoroughly democratic.

Documents obtained by Salon show how UAW executives cited political reasons in their opposition to the local’s vote.

Further records show how the small pro-Israel opposition appealed and derailed the landslide vote with the help of a prominent law firm that has defended powerful multinational corporations like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Apple and Chevron.

Activists in the union — representing workers in the University of California system — told Salon they feel UAW International is putting powerful interests over the democratic will of its own rank-and-file members.

UAW initially responded to Salon’s request for comment by noting it received the message, but failed to reply to three more requests for comment over three weeks.

UAW Local 2865, the labor union representing more than 14,000 teaching assistants and other student workers at nine of the campuses in the University of California system, made history in December 2014. It became the first major U.S. labor union to vote to endorse BDS — or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, an international grassroots movement that promotes nonviolent economic means to pressure Israel into complying with international law and respecting Palestinian rights.

A Local 2865 officer who spoke with Salon but asked to remain anonymous stressed the importance of the BDS vote. The measure was brought forward to leaders by rank-and-file members, in response to a call from the Palestinian labor movement. Rank-and-file members of the local discussed the issue in more than four months of town hall meetings, debates and educational forums. UAW 2865’s elected leaders also gave members of the anti-BDS opposition platforms to share their perspectives.

Rank-and-files members endorsed the resolution in a landslide, with close to two-thirds (65 percent) of votes in favor. More members of the union participated in the BDS vote than in their local’s own general election, or in the vote on the contract regarding their own jobs and benefits. The BDS vote also inspired a rapid increase in enrollment in the union. The officer emphasized to Salon that the widespread participation and rapid growth in the union because of the BDS vote was how grassroots democracy looks in practice.

The text of the ballot, which is publicly available, “call[ed] on the University of California (UC) and 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.”

A year after the vote, however, the UAW International Executive Board, or IEB, issued an appeal decision informing UAW 2865 that it had “nullified” the local’s vote — even while the IEB simultaneously applauded the thoroughly democratic and fair nature of that vote.

The IEB’s nullification was announced on Dec. 15 in a response to an appeal by Local 2865 member Stephen Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh is an outspoken member of Informed Grads, the anti-BDS opposition group. The IEB allowed this small pro-Israel contingent to compromise a resolution that was overwhelmingly supported by two-thirds of rank-and-file members of his local.

On Dec. 16, Informed Grads boasted that it had subverted the BDS endorsement via appeal. In a press release, the opposition group revealed that it had been represented by a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, an international law firm that has defended some of the world’s largest corporations.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher represented Chevron in one of the largest environmental lawsuits in history. The fossil fuel corporation was sued by Ecuador for allegedly polluting the rain forest. Bloomberg reported that the law firm that would later represent the anti-BDS opposition engineered “Chevron’s campaign to obliterate the pollution judgment.”

Chevron’s star Ecuadoran witness in the case admitted that he had lied. The Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire reported that “Chevron later conceded its lawyers at the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher coached Alberto Guerra for 53 days before he testified that a ‘bribe’ occurred in the Ecuador case.”

Partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher have also represented corporations that would potentially be targets of BDS resolutions like that passed by UAW 2865, including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman,Lockheed Martin, Boeing and more.

The firm has been criticized several times in court recently while involved in headline-making cases, and has often defended corporations in opposition to left-wing causes.

A U.S. federal judge scolded lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in 2011 for engaging in behavior with witnesses in the Chevron case that the court said was “meant to harass.”

In a 2015 judgment, the England and Wales High Court determined that a suspended partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher deliberately misled the court in a case involving the freezing of assets of a leading businessman and political rival in Djibouti.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hired Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher during the George Washington Bridge scandal, also known as “Bridgegate.” A federal judge blasted the firm for its behavior in the case in December 2015.

In 2007, the State of California sued leading car companies, including GM, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Chrysler and Nissan. The government accused the corporations of creating a global warming-related “nuisance.” Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher defended the car companies, and helped them get the lawsuit dismissed.

The law firm that assisted Informed Grads has also defended Wal-Mart against allegations of bribery, along with Amazon, Apple and more.

In a press release, Scott Edelman, the partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said, “We are very pleased by United Auto Workers International Union’s forceful rejection of BDS, which sets a powerful precedent for other labor unions and national organizations.”

“This result was due to a real team effort between our firm and Informed Grads,” he added.

Edelman did not respond to three different requests for comment.

“A fair and democratic vote”

Although the IEB nullified the vote in response to the appeal, when the anti-BDS opposition accused Local 2865 of conducting an undemocratic election, the IEB firmly stated otherwise. Documents obtained by Salon show the IEB wrote, “To the contrary, the case record discloses that the local union made an earnest effort to engage the membership in the BDS discussions.”

“We can find no evidence that the local union engaged in any improper actions that may have prohibited a fair and democratic vote on the BDS Resolution,” the IEB said. “Accordingly, the Appellant’s charge of an undemocratic election miscarries for lack of evidence.”

The IEB furthermore acknowledged that “the previous General Election had produced a lesser turnout than the vote on the BDS Resolution.”

Given the IEB’s admittance that the local’s vote was so democratic, the BDS Caucus of UAW 2865 — a group of rank-and-file members from every UC campus that says it is “dedicated to organizing and advocating for equality and justice for the Palestinian people” — told Salon that it found it “striking that, rather than nullifying the vote on electoral, procedural, or substantive UAW constitutional grounds, the international rehashed political arguments against BDS and Palestinian self-determination which the opposition caucus had been arguing in the lead-up to the vote.”

The IEB’s decision to nullify the vote rested on several grounds.

Firstly, the international board argued that allowing locals to make such a endorsement, even democratically, could economically impact members of other locals.

Secondly, the executives invoked the no-strikes clause of the local’s contract, conflating a written request for divestment with actual work disruption.

Thirdly, the international characterized the endorsement of BDS as anti-Semitic, even while it simultaneously acknowledged UAW 2865’s vocal and public opposition to anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism. In doing so, rank-and-file members accused the executives of ignoring the prominent Jewish leaders in the local who support BDS.

I. “Interfering with the flow of commerce”

In addition to calling on the University of California and UAW International to divest from Israeli state institutions, the BDS resolution that was passed in a landslide requested that the institutions also divest from and cease doing business with international corporations that are complicit in rights violations of the Palestinian people.

The BDS Caucus subsequently listed “companies that sell military equipment and weapons [to Israel], including Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, ITT, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon.”

In response to this measure, the IEB claimed that allowing Local 2865 to endorse a boycott of these corporations would “lead to a direct economic deprivation for members of the UAW, as well as other organized members by, categorically interfering with the flow of commerce to and from earmarked companies.”

UAW 2865’s BDS Caucus condemned the executives’ argument. “The IEB’s support for the profits of these companies — their prioritization of the so-called ‘flow of commerce’ — trumps their support for other labor unions (such as the Palestinian labor unions that initiated the call for BDS) and their own members (like the 65 percent of affirmative voters from UAW 2865),” the caucus said.

“Nullifying UAW 2865’s vote on this basis contradicts the IEB’s necessary role in supporting UAW and other workers who may be harmed not only by exploitative labor relations but also by socially irresponsible foreign investment,” the BDS Caucus added. “The IEB’s main constitutional argument against the BDS election is clearly based on the interests of the employers rather than that of workers. This is representative of a model of business unionism that many have openly critiqued in the UAW, namely the assumption that the interests of employers are one and the same as the interests of employees.”

The BDS Caucus alleged that, in making this argument, the IEB has effectively “side[d] with business interests and anti-union lawyers to nullify the vote because they say it’s bad for business.”

UAW did not respond to Salon’s request for comment about these criticisms.

II. No-strikes clause

The IEB’s decision to nullify the vote also invoked the no-strikes clause of UAW 2865’s contract with the University of California.

Rank-and-file members of the union say that this article “was imposed to undermine the union’s collective bargaining power.”

“Claiming that a written request for UC divestment from corporate war profiteers constitutes a serious disruption of the operations of the employer stretches even the wildest imagination,” the BDS Caucus argued.

In reply to its argument, the BDS Caucus accused the IEB of ignoring human rights and failing to prioritize social justice.

UAW did not respond to Salon’s request for comment about these criticisms.

III. Accusations of anti-Semitism

The IEB furthermore accused the BDS resolution of “biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members, and the scorning of the state of Israel and all alleged entities complicit in actions against Palestine.”

UAW 2865’s BDS Caucus called these “the same baseless accusations of anti-Semitism frequently attributed to anyone who is critical of Israel.” The caucus furthermore accused the executives of “ignor[ing] testimony of Jewish students.”

“Presumably due to the weakness of their argument, the IEB also chose to grossly misrepresent the actual text of our resolution,” the BDS Caucus alleged, noting that “evidence presented to the contrary which can be seen within the official ruling is simply ignored in the conclusions of the IEB.”

Throughout the four months of deliberation of the BDS vote, UAW 2865 stressed that it opposes anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination. This was made patent in the text of the vote ballot itself, which read: “The UAW 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 UC community.”

In its ruling, the IEB acknowledged these repeated commitments to anti-racism from UAW 2865 leadership, but still accused it of anti-Semitism.

In response, the BDS Caucus also emphasized that Jewish and Israeli union members in fact led the campaign in favor of the BDS resolution. Dozens of Israeli and Jewish current and former members of UAW 2865 signed a letter supporting the resolution. Additionally, more than 700 Jewish community leaders, scholars, and activists signed another letter expressing support for the BDS resolution.

Dozens more Jewish UAW 2865 members “have spoken repeatedly of how their Jewish values encourage them to combat all forms of racism and oppression, including the dispossession faced by Palestinians,” the BDS Caucus noted.

A Jewish UAW 2865 officer who wished to remain anonymous also stressed in a message to Salon that the president, northern vice president and recording secretary — three out of eight officers, counting the two current vacancies — of the local are Jewish.

As further evidence of its commitment to anti-racism, the BDS Caucus pointed out that UAW 2865 has also passed resolutions supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, gender equity, and the student movement in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, among others. The IEB never criticized the local for passing these resolutions.

UAW did not respond to Salon’s request for comment about these criticisms.

Rank-and-file response

Salon has obtained copies of numerous messages outside groups have sent to UAW International, expressing support for UAW 2865’s BDS resolution and condemnation of the IEB’s nullification. The Executive Board of the American Studies Association; the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace; the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation; the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights; Jews for Palestinian Right of Return; United for Justice with Peace; the U.S. Peace Council, the California-based All of Us or None; and the New York-based Palestine Solidarity Collective; along with representatives of other local U.S. unions and even a French union have sent statements of solidarity.

Numerous rank-and-file members of Local 2865 also spoke with Salon, expressing their views on the IEB’s ruling.

“I’m glad that the International Executive Board recognized how extraordinarily open and democratic this vote was and everything that the union did to facilitate maximum member engagement and turnout with this decision,” Seth Leibson, a head steward of UAW 2865, told Salon. “With such an open process, it’s clear that the landslide (65 percent) vote in favor of concrete solidarity with Palestinian unions and the Palestinian people was a fair indication of what our members want.”

Leibson however also said “I’m saddened that the IEB then turned around and nullified that same vote. In so doing, the IEB seemed to side with forces within the Jewish community that want to deem all criticism of Israel state violence anti-Semitic. Yet my active support for BDS, and for my union, is motivated by a deep connection to progressive Jewish values and community.”

“At the end of the day, the IEB’s nullification of our vote does not erase the solidarity with Palestinians’ struggle for justice expressed by growing numbers of Jews and union workers in UAW 2865 and around the world,” Leibson added.

Jennifer Mogannam, a rank-and-file member at UC San Diego, also lambasted the IEB’s ruling.

“The term anti-Semitism has been thrown around for decades to silence those who believe in upholding justice-centered principles in regard to the question of Palestine,” she told Salon. “It is precisely for this reason that the voices of Jewish union members (some Israeli citizens themselves) in support of BDS had to be completely disregarded for this decision to be taken under the charge of anti-Semitism.”

“As Palestinians, we are recurringly charged with anti-Semitism (among other things) for simply asserting our connection to our homeland and even our mere existence,” Mogannam explained.

Mogannam echoed concerns a UAW 2865 officer who asked to remain anonymous told Salon, that UAW’s international executives are undermining democracy in its locals.

“I believe this decision not only calls into question the autonomy of local chapters, but it also exposes the contradictions that arise among labor unions that in theory are committed to social justice of those disenfranchised (i.e., workers), but in practice are easily swayed by corporate interest and threats by oppressive powers,” Mogannam said.

“In this sense, the international’s decision to redact our grassroots achievements exposes a commitment to power as opposed to grassroots organizing for justice,” she added.

BDS and the labor movement

The BDS movement is growing nationally and internationally. In the labor movement in particular, BDS is gaining ground.

In the year since UAW 2865’s vote, the United Electrical Workers union and the Connecticut AFL-CIO also passed BDS resolutions. More locals in UAW and other unions are also presently considering holding votes to endorse BDS.

An organizer in a UAW local at a school in New York — who asked that her school or identity not be revealed — that is presently considering a similar BDS campaign told Salon that she fears the IEB’s ruling will have negative repercussions on her local’s activity, and stifle its internal democracy.

UAW 2865’s BDS Caucus said the local is appealing to the UAW Public Review Board.

Reflecting on the international’s ruling, the caucus said “No letter from the IEB can erase the educational and organizational work we have done over the past year, work we will continue to do, energized no doubt by the IEB’s undemocratic, business-friendly attempt to nullify this vote.”

“We did not expect the union to understand or agree with this position, as it is a grassroots shift in public opinion that has yet to trickle upwards into the older and more traditional and conservative segments of American society, including union leadership,” the BDS Caucus continued. “Therefore we are hopeful and will, in partnership with other unions that have passed BDS and those that will in the future, work towards changing union culture at the top to reflect a new spirit of awareness and solidarity that already exists amongst the rank and file. We trust that in the coming years the union’s leadership will come to more closely reflect the union’s membership.”

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

Letter of Support for UAW 2865 (Tree of Life Educational Fund)

View in PDF format: TreeOfLife

Tree of Life logo


Open Letter in Support of UAW Local 2865 & Union Democracy (UAW 2110)

UAW 2110 logo

Open Letter in Support of UAW Local 2865 & Union Democracy

To the UAW International Executive Board:

We are writing to oppose your recent nullification of the BDS resolution passed by UAW 2865. We firmly believe our International should respect the decision making power of local unions and bargaining units.

We should begin by noting that, as the IEB itself has concluded, the resolution was passed by a democratic vote free of misconduct. Following the Israeli siege of Gaza in July 2014, members of Local 2865 approached their Joint Council to join the call from Palestinian trade unions to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Though it was within its constitutional right to endorse the resolution, the Joint Council chose to hold a member vote. Following a series of educational forums and debates, the vote was held several months later in December 2014. 65 percent of voters supported the withholding of investments in companies “complicit in severe and ongoing human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.” This vote made UAW 2865 the first local union in the United States to endorse the boycott against Israel.

The IEB was then approached by a law firm representing Informed Grads, a group of local union members opposing the resolution. In its case file, the firm included a number of letters from business and labor leaders expressing their disapproval of the vote, including the International Vice Presidents of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and National President of the American Federation of Government Employees as well as the Director of Labor & Employment Relations at Caterpillar, whose equipment is used regularly for demolishing homes as well as factories, agricultural land and civilian infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian territories. We recognize that these efforts from both employers and allies put considerable pressure on the IEB.

Nevertheless, we believe that, in the interest of building a robust union reinforced by bottom-up activity, the International should have prioritized its internal democratic process over the concerns of these other parties. Moreover, we find it disingenuous of the IEB to claim that Local 2865 broke its constitutional obligation of working toward the “solidification” of the labor movement. We might point out that, in the case of divesting from South Africa, anti-apartheid activism unified and strengthened the American labor movement in the 1980s. At a time when the BDS demand is gaining traction on university campuses and more broadly among progressive forces in this country, why can’t the labor movement play a similar role? And at a time when the UAW is spending a great deal of its new organizing efforts on academic workers, many of whom care deeply about this issue, why shouldn’t our union catalyze that struggle? It will be recalled that UAW divestment from South Africa was prompted by rank-and-file initiative. The legacy of our labor movement may have been different had the International isolated those efforts in the way it is attempting to now.

As proud members of the UAW, we reject this attempt at marginalizing our comrades in Local 2865 and demand that the International reinstate their vote.

In solidarity,

Assembly of Stewards
NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee
UAW 2110

Statement ratified by the GSOC-UAW-Local 2110 Assembly of Stewards

UE Win at NLRB: Harassing Political Charge by Israeli Law Firm Dismissed (United Electrical Workers)

Did a Major US Union Overrule Members on Palestine Solidarity? (Telesur)


16 January 2016 – 08:21 AM

Did a Major US Union Overrule Members on Palestine Solidarity?

Members of a local Californian branch of United Auto Workers said Friday they were appealing a controversial decision by the larger union to overrule a pro-Palestine resolution backed by rank and file members.

The United Auto Workers Local 2865 made history in late 2014 when its members voted overwhelmingly to support a boycott of corporations accused of involvement in Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. The vote was one of the most well attended in UAW 2865’s history, and came after months of intense discussion among union members. The union’s boycott resolution was framed as part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has sought to use economic pressure to push Israel to end what human rights groups say are widespread human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories. Supporters of the movement say their campaign is modeled on the 1980s anti-apartheid boycott of South Africa.

UAW 2865 was the first major union in the United States to endorse BDS through a vote put directly to ordinary members. Since then, the United Electrical Workers union has followed suit, endorsing BDS during its 2015 conference. Internationally, BDS has also been backed by COSATU of South Africa and the Unite the Union in the U.K.

International UAW Steps In

However, in December 2015, UAW 2865’s parent union, International UAW surprised workers by nullifying the pro-Palestine vote, claiming the decision discriminated against Jewish union members.

Now, a group of UAW 2865 members have told teleSUR they have begun an appeals process against the International UAW board’s decision. The members said they are seeking to overturn the nullification through the union’s public review board, after filing an appeal Thursday.

They have argued the original UAW 2865’s BDS resolution was reached democratically by ordinary members, and said the larger union leadership should respect the demands of ordinary members.

teleSUR has obtained union documents that some members of UAW 2865 say indicate some of the fiercest supporters of BDS within UAW 2865 were rank and file members identifying as Jewish – calling into question the International UAW’s primary reason for overruling the vote. There is also evidence of at least one multinational firm weighing in on the union’s decision.

Speaking to teleSUR, UAW 2865 President Robert Cavooris said he firmly disagreed with the International UAW board’s decision to overrule the BDS resolution, stating, “Many Jewish members of our own local, like myself, took part in the campaign for BDS.”

He argued the board’s decision “conflates the state of Israel with a diverse global diaspora of Jewish people.”

Not all union members appear to agree. During the appeal hearing in December 2015, one union member alleged the BDS campaign was “rampant” with “anti-Semitism and active promotion of hate.”

In a complaint submitted to the International UAW’s board, another UAW 2865 member said, “The … local union (2865) pledged that it would not discriminate against members who are Israelis and stated that the academic boycott was aimed at ‘institutions’ and not individuals.”

“But this is a distinction without a difference: boycotting Israeli academic institutions can only be carried out by discriminating against individuals associated with those institutions,” the member argued.

However, internal union documents show the board was also contacted by a group of Jewish UAW 2865 members who firmly supported the BDS resolution.

“As an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere and none of us are free until all of us are free. As Jews, we understand from our own experiences with discrimination and our own history of resistance to oppression that standing on the right side of history necessitates standing in solidarity with Palestinians,” a petition in favor of BDS directed at the board stated. The petition was signed by more than 40 UAW 2865 Jewish members who said, “We affirm our right and responsibility as Jews to oppose the state of Israel’s actions and policies that we believe to be unjust.”

The UAW 2865’s rank and file BDS Caucus has accused the International UAW of effectively prioritizing the interests of companies like Caterpillar over the interests of union members.

The final International UAW’s decision also noted the UAW 2865 carried out its internal vote in a democratic matter, and “made an earnest effort” to engage all members in months of pre-vote discussions, but found the BDS resolution anti-Semitic nonetheless. The decision was based on the board’s conclusion that the BDS resolution unduly focused on Israeli policy and actions when discussing “atrocities against Palestinians.”

“Thus, the local union’s platform is apparent in its unfavorable stance against the state of Israel, Israelis and, invariably, Jewish union members,” the board said in its conclusion. However, Cavooris said Israel hasn’t been singled out by his branch at all, pointing to an extensive list of resolutions related to human rights issues from Mexico to China.

“For example, our local passed a resolution condemning the disappearance of 43 Mexican students at Ayotzinapa in 2014, and last fall we made a statement of support for South African students fighting against racism and for better university conditions. Just last week we signed a letter to condemn the repression of Chinese labor activists in Guandong,” he explained. Cavooris continued,

“We have also criticized political institutions in the U.S. for their repression of protests in Ferguson and elsewhere.”

“A brief scan of our political record shows that we are proud to stand against injustice against working people and others wherever it occurs,” he said.

Enter Caterpillar

Yet disagreements over the board’s decision to label the BDS resolution as anti-Semitic aren’t the only concerns raised by rank and file UAW 2865 members.

Also included in a collection of documents handed to teleSUR was a letter from industrial vehicle manufacturing giant Caterpillar. Caterpillar armored tractors have been used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes, sparking the ire of BDS activists and human rights advocates. Dated August 20, 2015, the letter from the firm’s labor relations head Jonathan Ginzel was addressed to International UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell. The letter denied allegations Caterpillar is “engaged in or complicit in human rights violations,” and warned BDS advocacy was viewed as an “attack on our business and our customers.”

“The actions taken by UAW Local 2865 are without merit and set a dangerous precedent in our relationship,” Ginzel wrote to Jewell.

The letter also included a paragraph supporting an appeal against UAW 2865’s resolution.

The International UAW’s final conclusion expressed similar concerns to those raised in Ginzel’s letter, stating the BDS resolution could have blow back on union members employed by companies like Caterpillar.

The UAW 2865’s rank and file BDS Caucus has accused the International UAW of effectively prioritizing the interests of companies like Caterpillar over the interests of union members.

“The (board of the International UAW) support for the profits of these companies – their prioritization of the so-called “flow of commerce” – trumps their support for other labor unions, such as the Palestinian labor unions that initiated the call for BDS, and their own members, like the 65 percent of affirmative voters from UAW 2865,” the caucus said.

The International UAW was invited to respond to these complaints, but didn’t respond by the time of publication.

The UAW 2865’s president, Cavooris described the International UAW board’s decision to “consider” Caterpillar’s input in internal union matters as “rather amazing.”

“When the (International UAW board) listens to executives at Caterpillar Inc. instead of workers in one of its locals, I think there is a clear breach of democracy and autonomy,” he said.

Cavooris continued, “This sort of deference to employers definitely raises the question: Who is the union supposed to represent? Are we an organization that fights for the rights of working people worldwide or are we an organization that makes sure our employers are happy?”

“When workers at Caterpillar demand a wage increase in their next contract, is the UAW (international board) going to ensure that this demand is okay with Caterpillar management as well? Because we held a democratic vote on BDS – and the (board) acknowledges that it was completely democratic – we know we are representing the views and interests of our members. I wonder if the (board) can say the same, given their deference to Caterpillar management,” he said.

Rank and file members of UAW 2865 that spoke to teleSUR likewise said they felt the International UAW was undermining local union democracy.

“I believe this decision not only calls into question the autonomy of local chapters, but it also exposes the contradictions that arise among labor unions that in theory are committed to social justice of those disenfranchised (ie: workers), but in practice are easily swayed by corporate interest and threats by oppressive powers,” said Jennifer Mogannam, UAW 2865 member and Ethnic Studies PhD candidate at University of California, San Diego.

“As stated, our efforts were transparent, honest and a two thirds vote in favor is telling of the commitment to justice that our generation of academic laborers upholds,” she said.

“It won’t end until Palestine is free.”

The dispute between UAW 2865 pro-BDS members and the International UAW leadership may not end anytime soon, with the appeals process only just beginning. Members that spoke to teleSUR said that irrelevant of the board’s decision, they will continue to push for greater support for Palestine solidarity.

“The struggle for Palestine is one symbol of struggle that we must continue to fight for and endure the repercussions of, alongside other struggles for true justice and liberation, because it is this commitment that may guide us to a new, just and better world,” Mogannam said.

Another rank and file UAW 2865 member, Beezer de Martelly, from the University of California Berkeley music department said, “The UAW 2865 BDS caucus will continue its work to educate students and union members about ongoing human rights violations, the intensifying climate of Islamophobia, and the Palestinian-led struggle for democracy.”

However, some members said the International’s decision could be a step backwards for workers’ and student rights.

“I am worried about the ramifications of this decision on the democratic spirit of Unionism, and this struggle is far from over,” said Irene Morrison, southern vice president of UAW 2865.

“It won’t end until Palestine is free,” she said.

The International UAW was contacted for comment for this story, but didn’t reply by the time of publication.

ANALYSIS: Israel Backers Accused of ‘Stifling Dissent’ in US Universities

This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address:
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Labor for Palestine: Challenging U.S. Labor Zionism (CASAR Conference, AUB)

Labor for Palestine: Challenging U.S. Labor Zionism

Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine
Fragments of Empire After the American Century – 2016
American University of Beirut, January 15, 2016

(Companion presenters below*)

As you have heard, mainstream US labor institutions have a long history of complicity with Zionism. This is not only, or even primarily, an issue of ethnicity, i.e., pro-Zionist Jewish trade union leaders. Regardless of ethnicity, it is rooted the dominant anti-communism, business unionism, and racism of the labor bureaucracy. Moreover, even “progressive” labor leaders typically supported and identified with the Israeli state.

This reflects not only political disorientation brought out by the Nazi Holocaust, but also the Soviet Union’s indispensable role in supporting partition and arming Zionist militias that carried out the Nakba. More recently, it also reflects an unwillingness to rock the boat, arguing for example, that the post-9/11 antiwar movement should exclude Palestine because otherwise “labor will walk,” which is to say, a loss of funding for antiwar NGOs.

But today, the pro-Israel stranglehold in U.S. labor is beginning to fray at the edges, as reflected in ILWU Local 10 dockers’ refusal to handle Israeli cargo in 2010 and 2014, and BDS resolutions adopted over the past year by UAW 2865 at the University of California, the United Electrical Workers, and the Connecticut AFL-CIO. This is significant because trade unions are not just another venue for BDS resolutions. Rather, they have unparalleled potential to actually implement BDS job actions.

This growing trade union support for BDS in the U.S. reclaims and reaffirms earlier traditions. In particular, it reflects past Black solidarity with Palestine, going back to Malcolm X, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Black Panther Party, as discussed by other panelists at this conference. 

That, in turn, reflects more than two centuries of Black internationalism, dating back to the Haitian revolution at turn of 19th century, Seminole and other Native American resistance, and indigenous resistance to US occupation of Caribbean and Philippines in early 20th century. It is reflected in cutting-edge Black leadership of the Vietnam antiwar movement — including early draft resistance and the GI revolt — and in the South Africa anti-apartheid movement.

Similarly, the earliest trade union anti-Zionism in the U.S. began with Black-Arab worker alliances in Detroit from 1969-1973. It is that history I want to focus on today.

The first postwar challenge to Labor Zionism in the United States came from the Detroit-based League of Revolutionary Black Workers in January 1969, which recognized Palestinian oppression as a reflection of the same system of racism and colonialism suffered by black South Africans, Vietnamese, Latin Americans, and African Americans.

On October 14, 1973, Detroit was the site of the first industrial action against US labor officials’ support for Israel, when three thousand Arab autoworkers joined a wildcat strike to protest UAW Local 600’s purchase (without membership approval) of $300,000 in Israel Bonds. On November 28, 1973, Arab and other autoworkers struck to protest bestowal of B’nai B’rith’s “Humanitarian Award” on International UAW president Leonard Woodcock. To give you a flavor of what this actually looked like, read this article from Workers’ Power of December 7, 1973.

After three decades, the next visible labor opposition to Zionism came in the wake of September 11, 2001. On April 18, 2002, Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), a largely African American union with a long social justice history, condemned Israel’s attacks on the West Bank and “call[ed] for the halt of all military aid to the State of Israel.”

That same day, New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), a grassroots, interracial organization formed immediately after 9/11, linked its overall opposition to the “War Against Terror” by calling for an end to US military aid to Israel, Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, and support for the Palestinian right of return. NYCLAW also spearheaded unity between two separate coalitions behind a march in DC on April 20, 2002, the first post-9/11 national antiwar protest, in which 150,000 marched with the largest Palestinian contingent in US history.

In April 2004, the Second National Convention of Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, adopted NYCLAW’s proposal for a campaign against US labor complicity with Israel. Toward that end, in October 2004, NYCLAW and Al-Awda New York jointly established Labor for Palestine, whose founding statement called on trade unionists to (1) fully support Palestinian national, democratic, and labor rights throughout historical Palestine, including the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and land; (2) demand an end to US military and economic support for Israeli apartheid; and (3) divest all labor investments in Israeli apartheid.

Like other Palestine solidarity in recent years, Israeli war on Gaza has been the spark for growing trade union BDS.

In response to “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008-2009, NYCLAW echoed the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other international labor bodies to reaffirm “support for the international Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestment campaign, including an immediate end to all support for Israel—including that provided by US labor leaders.” On December 4, 2009, Labor for Palestine issued an open letter challenging AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka’s opposition to BDS.

Trade union BDS further escalated in the wake of Israel’s May 2010 attack on the Mavi Marmara, an unarmed Turkish merchant vessel carrying humanitarian relief to Gaza.

On June 8, 2010, the ILWU Local 10 executive board unanimously condemned the massacre and issued a “call for unions to protest by any action they choose to take.” This statement was particularly significant, because ILWU members had refused to handle cargo for Nazi Germany (1934), fascist Italy (1935), Chile (1978), apartheid South Africa (1984), and US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008). On June 9, 2010, 133 US trade unionists signed Labor for Palestine’s response, which reaffirmed the BDS call.

Most importantly, on June 20, 2010, members of ILWU locals 10 and 34 in Oakland honored an eight-hundred-strong picket line against the Israeli-owned Zim Shenzhen ship—the first US labor-based BDS action.

The next major spark was Israel’s renewed war on Gaza in July 2014. Hundreds of trade unionists signed Labor for Palestine’s statement reiterating calls for an end to aid for Israel; for “workers to emulate dockers in South Africa, India, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, the US west coast, and elsewhere, by refusing to handle military or any other cargo destined for Israel”; and for “labor bodies to divest from Israel Bonds, and cut ties with the Histadrut, Israel’s racist labor federation.”

On July 29, 2014, the eighty-three member Joint Council of UAW Local 2865, representing thirteen thousand graduate student workers throughout the University of California, responded to Palestinian trade union and Labor for Palestine appeals by submitting a BDS resolution for a full membership vote.

Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza also set off an unprecedented community-labor campaign against Zim Integrated Shipping Services, Israel’s largest cargo shipping company. On August 16, 2014, a coalition of seventy San Francisco Bay Area organizations led by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) responded to a call from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions by mobilizing a mass community picket under the banner of Block the Boat for Gaza to prevent unloading of the Israeli vessel Zim Piraeus. Countering Zim’s attempts to evade the picket, over three thousand people marched to the docks, chanting “When people are occupied, resistance is justified” and “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”

When the ship finally docked, ILWU Local 10 members responded to various pickets, some organized independently of AROC, by refusing to unload it for four consecutive days. Due to these and subsequent pickets, Zim line lost millions of dollars, and has abandoned attempts to return to Oakland or Los Angeles.

On December 4, 2014, in the wake of these events, UAW 2865 members voted by 65 percent to adopt their leadership’s BDS proposal. Thus, the union had “become the first major U.S. labor union to hold a membership vote responding to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli occupation and in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination.”

Nine months later, the United Electrical Workers, a leftwing union with thirty-five thousand members, endorsed BDS. Significantly, both of these resolutions embraced the full BDS call, which demands not only an end to the 1967 occupation, but equality for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and refugees’ right of return. And this was followed shortly thereafter by the Connecticut AFL-CIO’s adoption of a BDS resolution.

As on campuses and elsewhere, Zionists have sought to intimidate, reverse and silence trade union support for Palestine. Just last month, the UAW’s International Executive Board “nullified” UAW 2865 members’ BDS resolution. In response, the 2865 BDS Caucus wrote: “We are part of a growing movement for union solidarity with the people of Palestine and for a democratic and visionary U.S. labor movement. As workers, educators, and students, we know together we can prevail over these forms of repression and continue striving for justice for all peoples.”

For more information about these issues, you are invited to visit, particularly our new article in American Quarterly, which is posted online at the above site.

*Full panel:

Panel 18: Shifting Geographies of Knowledge and Power: Palestine and American Studies
Chair : Elie Haddad, Asfari Institute, AUB

Ø  Jaime Veve, US Labor and Palestine: Historical Challenges, Future Possibilities, Transit Workers Union, New York City, United States

Ø  Michael Letwin, Labor for Palestine: Challenging U.S. Labor Zionism, Labor for Palestine, United States

Ø  Rabab Abdulhadi,  Palestine and U.S. Feminisms: A Critical Reading of NWSA BDS Vote, San Francisco State University, United States 

Union members fight nullification of Israel boycott resolution (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

A man arrives at a UAW Hall before listening to Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and others seeking political office address members of the Ankeny Area Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A man arrives at a UAW Hall before listening to Democratic presidential candidate, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and others seeking political office address members of the Ankeny Area Democrats in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Union members fight nullification of Israel boycott resolution

International executive officials at the United Auto Workers union last month overturned a December 2014 vote by its rank-and-file members to boycott Israel.

The 2014 resolution, which passed in a landslide vote by members of UAW Local 2865, called on the union’s International Executive Board to divest their holdings 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.”

UAW Local 2865 represents 13,000 graduate student workers across the University of California system.

December’s nullification followed a lengthy appeal, seen by The Electronic Intifada, which was authored by Stephen Brumbaugh, a graduate student at UCLA and member of Local 2865. In his appeal, Brumbaugh asserts that the boycott resolution “is injurious to the UAW International Union and the labor movement as a whole” and charges that the resolution is “illegal.”

On Thursday, rank-and-file members and executive officers of Local 2865 filed an appeal to the UAW Public Review Board demanding the nullification be rescinded.


Brumbaugh is a member of Informed Grads, a sub-group of Local 2865 which opposes the boycott resolution and unsuccessfully sought to have the resolution overturned by the local board in May of last year.

Brumbaugh’s appeal to UAW executives claims that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) issue is “divisive” and “does not promote the interests of labor.”

But members of Local 2865 reject the claim of divisiveness and argue that the BDS campaign indeed furthers the interests of labor and workers’ rights.

Palestinian trade unions were among the 170 civil society organizations that authored the 2005 international BDS call, activists point out. That call was reiterated by 15 Palestinian labor groups last year, urging international union members to step up efforts to boycott Israel.

Kumars Salehi, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a rank-and-file member of Local 2865, told The Electronic Intifada that by accepting Brumbaugh’s allegations, the UAW has essentially stated that Palestinian trade unions “don’t count as part of the ‘labor movement’ — otherwise their input would have been valued.”

Protecting corporate interests

A corporate representative of Caterpillar, which profits from Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes and property — and is one of several US corporations targeted for boycott under Local 2865’s resolution — sent a letter to the UAW executives pressuring the union to reject the boycott vote. It was submitted as part of Brumbaugh’s appeal.

Caterpillar stated that it “outright reject[s] any suggestion that Caterpillar is engaged in or complicit in any human rights violations anywhere in the world.”

In its decision, UAW executives say that implementing the boycott “would lead to a direct economic deprivation” for its members, by “categorically interfering with the flow of commerce to and from earmarked companies.”

The union’s blunt protection of commerce and corporations is “indicative of the particular fears that the elite have about turning against capital and against other aspects of the establishment that are pro-Israel — or just multinational corporations that are invested [in Israel],” Salehi explained.

“There is a strong prioritizing of the interest of the employers in commerce and in the flow of capital as opposed to the interest of the workers, who have an interest in solidarity,” he added.

Claims of anti-Jewish bigotry

Brumbaugh’s appeal also asserts that the BDS resolution promotes “discrimination” against Jewish and/or Israeli workers, repeating claims by Informed Grads, Israel-aligned individuals and lobby groups that BDS activism in support of justice for Palestinians is inherently anti-Semitic.

In nullifying the BDS resolution, UAW’s executives accept and duplicate Brumbaugh’s discrimination claims.

In a statement, Palestine Legal says that UAW international executives “relied … on a conclusion that the vote was ‘biased targeting of Israeli/Jewish UAW members, and the scorning of the state of Israel’ ” despite the union’s own findings that Local 2865 “conducted a fair and democratic election process with ample debate and engagement over several months.”

The nullification, Palestine Legal adds, “is yet another example of anti-democratic maneuvers by institutional authorities in response to pressure from Israel advocacy groups” which aim to crush the growing support for the BDS movement and justice for Palestinians.


Omar Zahzah, statewide executive board member of Local 2865 and a graduate student at UCLA, told The Electronic Intifada that despite the nullification, rank-and-file members are still energized and perhaps even more determined to continue the anti-oppression work in which the local has been engaged — especially around the struggle for justice in Palestine.

“At the end of the day, an official decision can never take away the work that the rank-and-file has put into the campaign and the effect that that result still continues to have despite the nullification,” he said.

Meanwhile, letters of support for Local 2865’s endorsement of the Palestinian-led BDS campaign have come from an array of organizations and individuals, including the president of the American Studies Association(ASA) which passed a historic resolution in 2013 to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

“By appealing to narrowest possible conception of UAW members’ self-interest, the IEB [International Executive Board] effectively guts possibilities of broad progressive coalitions,” David Roediger, president of the ASA, stated in a letter seen by The Electronic Intifada.

“That is, having allowed that Local 2865’s vote for BDS came in a democratic and fair election, the IEB apparently holds that because a boycott of Israel potentially harms, for example, a tiny portion of Caterpillar sales, it is impermissible for any local to support it,” Roediger added.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has set up an online petition “to urge the UAW IEB to not be on the wrong side of history” and reverse the nullification.

The outpouring of support for Local 2865’s boycott resolution after UAW’s decision to overturn the vote “really helps show the grassroots momentum that is taking shape,” Zahzah noted, “which at the end of the day is what union work and union activism is supposed to be all about.”

Letter of Support for UAW 2865 (David A. Roche Business Manager S.M.A.R.T. Local #40 President CT State Building Trades – Ex Secretary CT AFL-CIO)

View in PDF format: support-UAW-2865-letter