Overview at the First Meeting of the Labor for Palestine National Network

Greetings comrades, it’s an honor to be here with all of you, who are actually doing the work of Labor for Palestine. My name is Michael Letwin. I’m a public defender and former president of UAW 2325, a co-founder of Labor for Palestine, and a member of UAW Labor for Palestine. I’d like to build on what we’ve heard from Labor for Palestine organizing collective members Suzanne Adely, Monadel Herzallah, and Clarence Thomas, and Tamar from PYM, by briefly outlining the context and purpose of the newly-formed Labor for Palestine National Network.

Labor for Palestine was launched in April 2004 to reclaim the legacy of U.S. working class solidarity with Palestine, as reflected in groundbreaking statements by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in 1969, and wildcat strikes and protests in Detroit against UAW leadership’s support for Israel in 1973. 

This history shows that workers have a unique role to play in shutting down Zionist settler colonialism. This includes: (1) refusal to research, produce, transport, or fund weapons for Israel; (2) ending union investment in Israel Bonds and ties with the Histadrut, which is the racist labor federation that for more than a century has helped spearhead the ethnic cleansing of Palestine; and (3) ending all US aid for Israel. Toward this end, L4P has issued statements signed by thousands of union members, organized protests, and published a wide range of materials that are posted on laborforpalestine.net. In the process, we have promoted, drawn inspiration from, and learned from the work being done at the grassroots.

In that spirit, we embraced the Block the Boat labor-community picket line initiated by AROC: The Arab Resources Organizing Center in 2014 and respected by ILWU Local 10 dockworkers (whose former secretary-treasurer, Clarence Thomas, another member of our collective, is with us today). In the same year, we campaigned for passage of the BDS in UAW 2865, the first such resolution adopted by the membership of any mainstream U.S. union. And in the decade since, we’ve continued to support and uplift growing labor solidarity with Palestine.

Now, since October 7, 2023, there’s been two types of labor-based opposition to the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide in Gaza: from above, and from below.

In mid-October, from above, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000 and the United Electrical Workers (UE) launched a ceasefire petition, which has now been endorsed by at least 130 labor bodies. On the one hand, this has been a welcome shift from the implacable Zionism that has long dominated labor officialdom, and has helped open up space for other labor bodies to speak out against Israeli genocide. 

On the other hand, the UFCW/UE narrative falls painfully short. It fails to contextualize Palestinian resistance as an anti-colonial struggle by equating “the loss of life in Israel and Palestine,” and by demanding the release of Israeli hostages, without mentioning the thousands of Palestinian hostages held by Israel—or that all of Palestine is in fact hostage to Zionism. Most problematically, it lets union officialdom off the hook by deliberately ignoring the October 16, 2023 Urgent Call from Palestinian Trade Unions to End all Complicity and Stop Arming Israel, omits any reference to BDS, and often serves as a performative ceiling or a lid on labor solidarity with Palestine. This same approach is now reflected in the recently-formed National Labor Network for Ceasefire. 

Given this framing, it is not surprising that some of the unions that have signed such ceasefire statements, including the UAW and NEA, have—over the vocal objection of their own members—crossed the PTU picket line to endorse the very same Joe Biden who supplies the guns, bullets, tanks, ships, jet fighters, missiles, helicopters, white phosphorus and other weapons for Israel to murder and maim the Palestinian people. 

However, a very different kind of dissent has come from below, as L4P, new rank-and-file labor groups, and a growing number of local union bodies have answered and respected the Palestinian trade union call and Palestinian liberation, without compromise or apology. In doing so, we’ve found that a growing number of workers do care about Palestine. That they do understand that an injury to one is an injury to all. That we don’t cross picket lines, we walk picket lines. That rank-and-file action is the true engine for meaningful labor solidarity with Palestine.

The role of this rank-and-file pressure has been clear in my own union, the UAW. For nearly two months after October 7, the newly-formed UAW Labor for Palestine called on union leadership to oppose Israeli genocide. When the International Executive Board finally issued a ceasefire statement on December 1, UAWL4P welcomed it by calling on the union to go further by honoring the Palestinian trade union call by embracing BDS. Similar statements were issued by the reform caucus, Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD), and by landslide membership votes in the Legal Services Staff Association-UAW Local 2320, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys-UAW Local 2325—despite being smeared by the NY Post and subject to an unconstitutional TRO–UAW Local 551 at the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant, and National Organization of Legal Services Workers-UAW 2320. 

In January, UAW Labor for Palestine launched a public campaign calling on International President Shawn Fain to meet with Palestinian UAW members, and criticized UAW leadership for having “taken no concrete steps to stop the production of weapons used to massacre Palestinians.” The looming gap between the promise and reality of the UAW’s ceasefire statement surfaced most starkly at the UAW Community Action Program (CAP) conference on January 24, 2024, where, ignoring a call from more than 600 union members “to only endorse and allocate our dues and V-CAP contributions to candidates who publicly call for a ceasefire,” the International Executive Board announced its endorsement of Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. When several members heckled Biden’s appearance, they were shouted down by other delegates, physically assaulted, and dragged away by Secret Service agents. On January 31, echoing a similar call by members of the National Education Association, UAW Labor for Palestine demanded that the UAW IEB to stop crossing the Palestinian trade union picket line and rescind its Biden endorsement.

These dynamics explain the mushrooming number of rank-and file groups here today, and are captured in the joint call issued by L4P/PYM in December 2023, which again took its lead from call from Bay Area Labor for Palestine, and I quote: 

We welcome growing union calls for a permanent ceasefire to end the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide in Gaza. Now, we call on our labor bodies to take the next step of fully embracing the Urgent Call from Palestinian Trade Unions: End all Complicity, Stop Arming Israel, and of standing in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation and return, by: 

On January 10, 2024, L4PNN was launched on the identical points of unity, and now has 26 member groups and counting, including the groups listed in the chat.

Some of these groups are specific to a particular union, some are geographically based. But all of us are here because a solidarity with Palestine *is* union business. Because empty gestures and performative resolutions are not good enough. Because Palestine solidarity builds a healthy, democratic, militant, powerful union. Because we need to learn from and support each other—especially when we’re under attack, like UAW 2325 is today. Because together we are stronger. Because we need to build new L4P groups throughout this country. Because the only way to “End all Complicity and Stop Arming Israel” is to mobilize workers’ unparalleled power—in our labor bodies and at the workplace—to end US/Israeli genocide in Gaza and throughout historic Palestine, and the entire system that feeds it.

Israeli genocide often leads us to despair. But in Palestinian existence, resistance, and resilience, there is hope. In our own collective resistance, there is hope. In the outpouring of new generations of Palestine labor solidarity, there is hope. If your organization would like to be part of this network, please fill out the affiliation form in this document: https://shorturl.at/kqJ58

From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free!

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