Shareback: Bay Area Labor for Palestine Mass Meeting


Shareback: Bay Area Labor for Palestine Mass Meeting
March 1, 2024
by Beezer de Martelly, UAW Labor 4 Palestine 


Following a successful December Labor for Palestine (L4P) rally, organizers pulled together a first mass meeting of an emerging Bay Area Labor for Palestine chapter, BAL4P, on Sunday, February 25. Well organized with significant outreach, the mass meeting was coordinated alongside prominent community organizations like Arab Resources Organizing Center (AROC), which has been leading Block the Boat actions, Palestinian Youth Movement, Jewish Voices for Peace, and many labor bodies.

The event took place at Westlake Middle School in Oakland. Notably, Westlake was the site of significant protests two years ago, including months of teacher-led hunger strikes, rallies, encampments, and more to keep the majority Black school open. The movement was ultimately successful in attaining this goal, but there has been lasting tension between the school and Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).

Although the meeting space had been permitted and paid for, the night before the event, OUSD pulled the permit and locked out BAL4P. Blessed by warm and sunny weather, organizers pivoted to an entirely outdoor event, which raised the profile of the gathering, now visible to Oakland traffic and passersby who honked to show solidarity and support.


The event was attended by about 300 people, including workers from a wide variety of industries (teachers, building trades, dockworkers, university researchers, healthcare workers, etc.). Notably, many visibly trans and queer workers came, demonstrating solidarities across struggles. The meeting was supported by about 20 volunteer community security members. Early in the day, there was minimal Zionist presence: a few people with blue and white signs that read “Teach math, not division” one of whom tried to aggressively film the rally. Community members did an excellent job blocking and gently forcing them to the perimeter until they eventually left.


The mass meeting began with an opening rally on the Westlake Middle School steps with amplified sound and speakers. AROC Executive Director Lara Kiswani gave shoutouts to unions who’ve passed ceasefire resolutions and called on workers to move beyond resolutions into action. She also invited unions to strategize about holding mass labor actions for Palestine on May Day. She was followed by Monadel Herzallah, of the Arab American Union Members Council, who gave an impassioned account of Palestinian resilience in the face of Israeli genocide. Both Lara and Monadel are affiliated with national Labor for Palestine.

The event mostly revolved around two blocks of workshops that met in circles outside. Block 1 included:

  • “Educators 4 Palestine” (OEA for Palestine)
  • “Pro-Palestine Resolution How-To” (1021 Members for Palestine)
  • “Opening Up Palestine Conversations with Coworkers” (Keith Brower Brown)
  • “Building an Organizing Committee through a Successful Issue Campaign” (David Weitz, UC-UAW)
  • “How the Gaza War has Diminished US Power in the Arab World” (Rayan el-Amine)
  • “Palestinian History: Foundational Concepts and Pre-1967” (Saif Mehyar)
  • “Workers Stop Arming Israel” (UAW Labor for Palestine, Researchers Against War, No Tech for Apartheid, Block the Boat)
  • “Zionism and the Attack on Journalists in Gaza, the West Bank, and around the World” (Cedrick O’Bannon and Steve Zeltzer)

Following the conclusion of the fist block, we had an outdoor pizza picnic before the afternoon workshop sessions. Block 2 included:

  • “Leveraging Labor’s Electoral Power” (Zach W.)
  • “BDS Workshop for Divesting Our Pension Funds” (Maura from OEA, Firas from IFPTE, Omar from CFA-SFSU)
  • “Retaliation Defense: Fighting for Palestine in a Hostile Workplace” 
  • “Palestinian History: Under Occupation” (Linda Khoury-Umili)
  • “The Israeli Histadrut, Zionism, South Africa and the AFL-CIO” (Steve Zeltzer, Jeff Lankfort, Lisa Milos)
  • “Labor and Community BDS: Blockade, Disrupt, and Strike” (Barucha, Robbie)

UAW L4P Workshop

UAW Labor for Palestine participated in the morning workshop called “Workers Stop Arming Israel.” Taking up the October 16 call from Palestinian trade unions, this workshop focused on an analysis of the weapons supply chain and workers who are organizing to disrupt it at various nodes. A core theme was that, due to the US’s economic reliance on militarism and war, on some level, all of our labor is implicated in Israeli genocide. 

We began by hearing from two students at the UC Santa Cruz Astronomy and Astrophysics department who are organizing their department, which receives funding from the Department of Defense, to refuse compliance with research that benefits militarism or the ongoing genocide in Gaza. With a broader formation called Researchers Against War, these workers are organizing similar weekly gatherings of researchers around the country.

Next, the workshop explored worker organizing within weapons manufacturing plants led by the UAWL4P Weapons Shop Working Group. Presenters reported that workers are generally not choosing to make weapons, and that many sympathize with popular movements for an end to the genocide in Gaza. Furthermore, because of the fragmented supply chain design, workers often don’t know what the components they’re building will be assembled into. Speakers argued that workers should have a right to know what their labor is used for and to have a say over participating in weapons work. This panel called for Just Transition, where labor is used to build a world that centers the values of anti-colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, trans and feminist liberation, immigrant rights, Black liberation, and climate justice, among other intersectional values. 

Last, we heard from a worker with the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific-ILWU who has been organizing around Block the Boat actions at the Port of Oakland for the past decade. These actions, coordinated with prominent community organizations like AROC, have prevented Israel’s Zim ships from docking on the West Coast since 2014. This organizer also shared insights about transnational ships that contain military cargo, where immigrant crew workers often are denied knowledge of what they are transporting and are told only whether the materials on board are “hazardous.” 

Taken together, the panelists argued that workers should not be subject to work that violates their values or produces “moral injury,” a framework that would allow workers to take protected strike action against genocide. About 50 people attended this workshop, and it sparked powerful cross-sector conversation.

Common Themes

Some common themes emerged throughout the day.

One observation is that while we may see Zionists and complicit politicians as our primary opposition, it is often union bureaucrats aligned with the Democratic Party who stand in the way of rank-and-file organizing against Israeli genocide. 

Related, many noted that workers need to get outside of labor silos and organize in solidarity with mass movements, with one conversation arguing that the best way to confront union leadership is for rank and file to carry out necessary organizing and mass action, including strikes, especially at the point of production. When workers take collective action, we can point out to fellow rank-and-file members that it’s shameful union leadership isn’t out here with us.

Action Proposals

The day ended with a mass assembly to take up proposals for concerted action. First, participants voted to organize a day of action on May Day. However, given the severity of the ongoing genocide, many felt this was too long to wait Participants also voted to support a mass action on April 1 to shut down all maritime shipping in solidarity with Yemen, which has been under attack by the U.S. military for blocking the maritime boats in the Suez Canal. These proposals would be coupled with walkout and strike calls, and will be elaborated in further BAL4P meetings. 

Finally, students at Westlake Middle School called for a walk-out on Wednesday, February 28 to protest OUSD’s withdrawal of the permit for the BAL4P event. More broadly, the student walkout, press conference, and march protest the district’s ongoing failure to call for an end to Israeli genocide, and students called for antiracist education about Palestine.

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