Category Archives: AFT

AAUP, AFT, Rutgers Faculty Union Oppose DOE Investigation

AAUP, AFT and Rutgers Faculty Union Oppose Education Department Investigation 

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, American Association of University Professors President Rudy Fichtenbaum and Rutgers AAUP-AFT President Deepa Kumar issued the following joint statement in response to the Trump administration’s probe into anti-Semitism at Rutgers University:

“We are currently living in a period when racist and xenophobic hatred is being seen more and more on college campuses. The events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer of 2017 are seared in our memory, but the issue remains: Earlier week, anti-Semitic fliers were plastered around the campus of University of California, Davis; Sacramento City College was defaced with swastikas; and the president of the United States continues to claim that George Soros is funding his opposition. In light of that, we would expect this administration—particularly the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights—to use its limited resources to investigate serious offenses that threaten the safety and civil rights of students on these campuses. 

“Instead, the department has chosen to reopen a 7-year-old case and investigate in particular an allegation that only certain students were charged fees to attend an event organized by a pro-Palestinian group called Never Again for Anyone. This event brought together people of all religions and activists from both sides, including Holocaust survivors, to discuss the nuances of a complicated issue. It is exactly the type of open dialogue we should be encouraging on our college campuses. The initial claim that any criticism of Israel and its policies toward Palestinians—at this event or any other—is anti-Semitic, was mistaken, and the initial investigation of the incident by the Department of Education under the Obama administration said just that.

“Now, years later, the DeVos Education Department is trying to use the Office for Civil Rights to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. This is a very dangerous move, as what happened on the Rutgers campus seven years ago was a free exchange of ideas, expressly allowed by the First Amendment, and such an exchange of ideas should be welcomed on our campuses—even when they’re ideas with which we disagree. Religious bias is far different than a discussion of a nation-state’s policies. 

“We are very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in America. What we cannot countenance, however, is the Trump and DeVos administration attempting to equate advocacy for Palestinians with anti-Semitism. That is dead wrong. Our unions are committed to both the free expression of ideas and to challenging racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism on our campuses. The fight against hate is undermined when Trump administration officials attempt to equate political debate with racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. If our institutions of higher learning cannot provide space for open political debate, then democracy will wither even more under this administration.”



GEO Calls for AFT/IFT Solidarity with Palestine

GEO Calls for AFT/IFT Solidarity with Palestine


19 June 2018

GEO Calls for AFT/IFT Solidarity with Palestine

We, the Graduate Employees Organization at UIUC, AFT/IFT 6300 have watched in outrage, sadness, and horror as Israeli snipers have maimed and murdered Palestinian children, young adults, journalists, and medical first responders in Gaza over the past month. Much of this violence was committed simultaneously with the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem: as a Christian extremist anti-Semitic U.S. pastorgave the prayer for the opening ceremony, as a virulently anti-Black rabbi blessed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, as ordinary Israeli citizens cheered and chanted for IDF soldiers to “burn them, shoot them, kill them” in reference to non-violent Palestinian protesters, and as wealthy politicians sipped champagne and celebrated.

How many people in the U.S. labor movement are aware that Palestinian workers held a general strike on May 15, Nakba Day, in protest of incrementally-genocidal Israeli settler colonization? How many U.S. labor leaders have declared solidarity with Palestinian workers? How many U.S. labor unions have followed in the great tradition of transnational anti-colonial labor solidarity by standing with Palestine against a genocidal process currently led by anti-labor extremists such as Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu? How many U.S. labor unions have followed the example of labor unions globally by declaring support for the non-violent BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement?

We are saddened and disappointed that our own AFT/IFT leadership have a history not only of silence on these matters, but complicity with the racist and genocidal regime that guns down unarmed Palestinians in the open air prison that is Gaza.

We are saddened and disappointed in the hostility that AFT leaders such as Randi Weingarten have expressed to the internationally-respected and non-violent tactic of BDS. Such leaders are out of touch and out of step with the rank and file of our union. We, the GEO, proudly endorsed a Divestment campaign led by Palestinian students on our campus this academic year (2017-2018), and we plan to do likewise next year. We call on AFT/IFT leadership to unequivocally, and in an unqualified manner, condemn Israel’s murderous aggression and blatant human rights abuses against Palestinians, and to act in substantive solidarity with the Palestinian people who are struggling against racism, apartheid, and colonization—struggling for freedom. A labor movement that does not fight for justice against the bullies of the world is no labor movement at all.

Palestine must be free!

The Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), IFT/AFT local 6300, AFL-CIO, is a member-run labor union and represents Teaching and Graduate Assistants (TAs and GAs) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In November 2009, and more recently, earlier this year in February 2018, GEO members and allies participated in a strike to secure a fair contract and more accessible UIUC. With an active presence in the community, the GEO continues to work for high-quality and accessible public education in Illinois.

For more information, please contact us More information can also be found on our website at

Twitter: @geo_uiuc Facebook: @uigeo @geosolcomm Instagram:@geo_uiuc

Resolution on the Freedom of Speech and Assembly for All Faculty, Staff and Students at the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY)

View in PDF format: resolution_on_academic_freedom
Adopted by the PSC-CUNY Delegate Assembly on October 13, 2016.


Intersecting Picket Lines: Free Speech, Palestine, and the CUNY Contract (Viewpoint Magazine)

Viewpoint Magazine

Intersecting Picket Lines: Free Speech, Palestine, and the CUNY Contract

“Die-In/Vigil for Ferguson and Gaza,” John Jay College/CUNY, October 8, 2014

On June 20, five days after the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) teachers and staff union reached a tentative contract agreement with the City University of New York administration, the Board of Trustees (BoT) convened a public hearing on a proposed policy for “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.” This Orwellian measure could criminalize any unsanctioned meetings, speak-outs, and marches on CUNY campuses, and by the CUNY lawyer’s own admission, was tailored to counter recent Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity actions. At the packed hearing, three dozen students, faculty, staff, and alumni railed against the BoT, demanding that the proposed policy be scrapped.

Even though the new contract was brokered only after the PSC threatened to strike, and establishes concrete gains for various constituencies, it’s by no means a radical agreement. Some members have already vowed to pursue a no-vote. The 10.41% salary increase (compounded for 2010-2017) doesn’t surpass inflation, the three-year adjunct appointment system (instead of reappointments each semester) won’t apply to most adjuncts who teach the majority of CUNY classes, and management will be able to hire a new coterie of star faculty with exorbitant salaries (call it the Paul Krugmanization of CUNY), thus wrenching the two-tier wage disparity gap even wider.

It’s no coincidence that the CUNY administration delayed negotiations so that the PSC membership vote to ratify the contract and the BoT June 27 vote to curtail free speech would both occur when most of the CUNY community is dispersed for the summer. However, because the PSC has fought for a contract along narrow demands, in the face of increasing political crises at CUNY – over labor austerity, free speech, U.S. militarism, and Palestine solidarity – the union leadership is now scrambling to mount a broad, multi-sectional opposition to a policy that would inhibit the right to amass a picket line.

This tenuous situation demands that we rethink the strategies that guide labor organizing on college campuses. In preparation since 9/11, the CUNY administration and New York government have now fully entwined the languages of anti-racism, law and order, and fiscal responsibility to enforce a shock doctrine of structural underfunding and repression. But if a defense of free speech and anti-imperialism is fused with the struggles of organized labor, a new opening for a broad and combined struggle can emerge. If CUNY’s movements are to reverse this assault, they’ll have to force the union to move past the economism of their contract campaign and embrace struggles that speak to the lives of their members, New York, and the wider world.

City University in the World

CUNY is the largest public urban university in the United States. It employs fifty thousand teachers and campus staff in several unions, and relies on unwaged intellectual work by over half a million students, mostly working poor immigrant youth from around the world. Both the wealthy elite and social movements have long recognized CUNY’s institutional role as a social bellwether. At various points in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the university has become a primary site of economic, social, and ideological restructuring – as well as resistance – in which struggles over CUNY became epicenters for national, and even global, conflicts.

We see this dynamic, for example, in the early 1940s, when the Rapp-Coudert Committee held closed-door disciplinary hearings to fire more than fifty CUNY educators (predominantly Jewish) in the College Teachers Union who were suspected of being Communists, a few years after several dozen CUNY students and teachers had returned from fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Rapp-Coudert laid the groundwork for Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to wreak havoc over a generation of radical lives.

CUNY again became a fulcrum upon which the U.S. state and capital, reeling from the 1975 defeat in Vietnam and the resulting economic crisis, extorted concessions from the working class via the reduction of social programs like free college education. After Black, Puerto Rican, and Asian students-led campus strikes in the late sixties and early seventies transformed CUNY with ethnic and gender studies and Open Admissions, President Gerald Ford insisted that New York City impose tuition at CUNY and lay off contingent faculty en masse in order to escape from a manufactured fiscal crisis whichFord’s cabinet reframed as irresponsible self-indulgence: like “a wayward daughter hooked on heroin… You don’t give her $100 a day to support her habit. You make her go cold turkey to break her habit.”

Campus War Zone

More recently, the post-9/11 relationship between CUNY and U.S. imperialism has developed to the point that the university is now a prominent target for both military recruitment and counterinsurgency. Since the mid-2000s, as the United States became mired in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, recruiters’ presence intensified at CUNY colleges, especially after the 2008 economic crisis. In November 2011, days after the Occupy Wall Street eviction, the CUNY administration imposed a five-year annual tuition increase by approving a police assault on peaceful protestors, and then evacuating an entire campus building to hold the vote. During this same year, CUNY reviewed a policy paper calling for the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) to be re-embedded at CUNY in order to diversify its officers.

Then in fall 2013, former military general David Petraeus began teaching a CUNY class called “The Coming North American Decades,” and ROTC set up shop in three other CUNY campuses with little to no regard for campus governance procedures. Although Medgar Evers College successfully removed ROTC, it remains at City College and York College. Meanwhile, student activists were surveilled, arrested, and suspended as campus organizing spaces were seized. As journalist Peter Rugh put it, “America’s most diverse university was turned into a war zone.”

During this post-9/11 period I’ve briefly sketched out, the political situation at CUNY also dramatically shifted in terms of solidarity with Palestine and opposition to the surveillance of Muslim students, two issues which began to coalesce on CUNY campuses as the movement against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan waned.

In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a global call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complied with international law and universal principles of human rights. Critiques across CUNY and New York City of the Israeli military’s unchecked aggression on Gaza heightened during Israel’s winter 2008, November 2012, and summer 2014 carpet bombing campaigns. All funded by $8.5 million U.S. government dollars a day, these three conflicts altogether killed 3,900 Palestinians and 90 Israelis, left many more wounded, and demolished social infrastructure (such as hospitals, schools, electricity and water supplies) along similarly asymmetrical figures in an effort at total destruction of daily life in Gaza.

This carnage could have potentially felt distant, were it not for Zionist organizations, college administrators, and government officials’ more local attempts of repression on CUNY campuses. If student revolts once aspired to “bring the war home,” more recently this pro-Israel coalition has done so differently in its attempts to fire and suppress CUNY faculty and studentswho dared to critically teach, learn, write, and organize for Palestine. Instead of being silenced, Palestinians and their anti-imperialist accomplices at CUNY (in groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and CUNY for Palestine) – many of them women, LGBTQ, and gender-nonconforming folk – began to more insistently share stories of what people in Gaza and the West Bank endured under the U.S.-backed Israeli military.

CUNY faculty and graduate students also helped lead a wave of several national academic associations and unions passing BDS resolutions against the Israeli government and academic institutions. The CUNY Graduate Center’s own student government passed an academic boycott in April 2016 after a two-year campaign. These boycott resolutions were implicit strikes against occupation, understood as clearly drawn picket lines for academic labor.

Surveillance and Selective Anti-racism

Links between wars against Arabs and Muslims abroad and at home also deepened when, in the fall of 2011, journalists exposed that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at eight CUNY schools from 2003 to 2006. Another NYPD spying operation would begin in March 2011 at Brooklyn College. An informant embedded herself in Muslim friendships circles, in Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and in a “Unity Coalition,” which organized SJP, the Black Student Union, Puerto Rican Alliance, Dominican Student Movement, and other left student groups. This resulted in fall 2015 revelations of the entrapment of two young women in a fabricated ISIS terrorist plot.

CUNY professor Jeanne Theoharis warned in the Intercept,

[T]hese tactics are not renegade actions. They are consistent with the NYPD’s and the FBI’s approach to Muslim communities after 9/11. They reveal how an “investigation” becomes a perch from which to spy on a community for years, how politically active and religiously conservative students become targets, and how efforts to form coalitions between students of color become suspect.

I draw this chronology to situate why, in the last year, CUNY has suddenly become an epicenter of struggle around educational austerity, “expressive conduct”-policing, and BDS. This history helps to explain why in fall 2015, as the PSC organized civil disobedience and rallies, and mobilized for a strike vote, Cuomo and NY legislators suddenly proposed a half-billion dollar state funding cut to CUNY’s budget, harkening back to our 1975 emergency status.

Based on a letter by the Zionist Organization of America that cited a skewed series of “anti-Semitic” events at CUNY (defined only with regard to Jewish students, not to Arab students who are also Semitic), the NY Senate announced in March 2016 that they would “deny additional funding for CUNY senior schools until it is satisfied that the administration has developed a plan to guarantee the safety of students of all faiths.” Even though state funding was ultimately restored to CUNY, the irony, of course, was that this massive gash in the budget would have also hurt Jewish students, faculty, and staff.

Nevertheless, a self-described CUNY task force on anti-Semitism called pro-BDS Professor Sarah Schulman and SJP student leaders into closed-door disciplinary meetings reminiscent of the Rapp-Coudert Committee and the rise of McCarthyism to underscore a “Palestine Exception to Free Speech.” In the last few weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to specifically attack individuals, student groups, and institutions that advocate BDS. The CUNY Board of Trustees also seized the momentum to introduce the policy on “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.”

PSC civil disobedience outside CUNY Central administrators’ offices, November 4, 2015 (Photo credit: Erik McGregor)

Intersecting Picket Lines

The government and administration have fused these crises into a new political economy at CUNY – we can use this shift to meaningfully connect our struggles, not keep them isolated in retreat. The PSC repeatedly vocalizes its defense of CUNY’s mission to provide quality education to working-class people of all colors and backgrounds. However, the union has maintained a limited contract focus that is already hampered by enduring adjunct inequalities, while not taking a public stand on these anti-BDS bills, McCarthyist hearings, student surveillance, and the policy on “Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct.” In so doing, the union has one arm tied behind its back, right when it could further expand upon a recent landslide 92% strike authorization and subsequent contract offer.

This moment is haunted by the old racist song repurposed by Paul Gilroy to examine race and class under neoliberalism, that “There Ain’t no Black in the Union, Jack.” In other words, labor movements are always at risk of eliding concurrent struggles that affect its most marginalized workers and support bases. These issues are not being officially recognized by the PSC as part of our picket line, even if they have become a central means by which many of us organize as laborers, and have pivoted the directions of our university’s institutional life.

More widely, a class re-composition is taking place to gather various kinds of workers – athletes, artists, dockworkers, educators, healthcare workers, journalists, retail workers, scientists, students, and beyond – under the “one big union” of BDS to coordinating rank-and-file cross-industry actions that link apartheid and imperialism abroad with austerity and policing at home. Because CUNY students and workers have had to vigorously defend our right to speak on Palestine and on the surveillance of Muslims, we’ve radicalized the contours of a new free speech movement that is concerned with different “trigger warnings” of Israeli apartheid and Homeland Security on our campuses.

Our movements can learn to both “oppose and propose.” We can demand a fair CUNY contract while taking a stand against political repression. We can oppose ROTC military science programs, while expanding resources for valuable spaces like the CUNY Graduate Center’s Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) that are at risk of being underfunded to death. We can protest when rape-apologist IDF soldiers are invited to speak on campuses, as we host the annual Palestinian students’ Right 2 Educationtour nationwide. We can refuse to cooperate our academic labor with Israeli universities, and form new partnerships with Palestinian universities, asRabab Abdulhadi at San Francisco State University has initiated with An-Najah and Birzeit.

Like our unions (and universities), BDS is a means, not an end. Moreover, the protection of free speech is not to be decorously enshrined by any top-down policy, but directionally honed and pushed beyond what the bosses and lawmakers deem permissible. Only through these intersecting picket lines can we address all the aspects of a contract campaign within a larger struggle to transform CUNY. In the words of Tidal Magazine, an anti-colonial movement journal,

Boycott is a necessary yet limited tactic. Each “win” is but a small part of a coordinated exertion and intensification of pressure. The value of Boycott lies as much in the economic damage it could do to the target as it does in the conversations, bonds, and spaces that are formed in the process of organizing. These are the foundations of any future liberation, beyond Boycott and beyond BDS itself.

City University of New York students, faculty, and staff, like the U.S. labor movement, are stuck between two forms of class composition: one that is bound by parochial bread-and-butter demands, and one in which our actions can reverberate around the world as they transform our working and learning conditions here. Which side are we on? Improvements over wages, benefits, and job security are real advances against the university and state elite, but they cannot be divorced from these interrelated conflicts that have catapulted CUNY into a local/global battleground.

We must collectively ask why the PSC and many other campus unions – as their leadership and membership are currently configured – have not been adequate forces for making such political demands. But perhaps struggles at CUNY can experiment with strategies to escape this impasse, finding ways to link the union to other struggles, to wider communities, to build associational power. In these broader coalitions, and relying on deep community ties, PSC members can urge the union to refuse to ratify a contract until management desists from its efforts at austerity, curtailment of civil liberties, and endorsement of U.S. and Israeli occupations, which are all integral facets of our workplaces. During the past year, we mobilized for a strike which garnered wide support across the university and New York City. We can use this momentum to strike at the heart of empire, and in the process, help redirect the course of social movement unionism.


On June 23, half an hour after this article was published, Politico announced a statement by CUNY that “A proposed policy will be considered by the Board of Trustees at a later time, following additional consultation and discussion.” Meanwhile, The Nation reported that Governor Cuomo continues to pursue a BDS Blacklist, in a clear violation of the First Amendment. Later in the evening, the Professional Staff Congress Delegate Assembly voted 111-11 to approve the contract as it stands for ratification by the union membership.

is an archivist, doctoral student, educator, and organizer at the City University of New York, a collective member of Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, and a co-founding participant in the Free University of New York City. Conor researches twentieth and twenty first-century literatures of social movements and urban freedom schools, and will be a 2016-2017 Scholar-in-Residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

LFP Bulletin: Graduate Student Workers Resist New Attack on UAW 2865 BDS Resolution

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Screenshot 2016-05-28 11.05.17View in PDF format: Graduate Student Workers Resist New Attack on UAW 2865 BDS Resolution


May 27, 2016
Graduate Student Workers Resist New Attack on UAW 2865 BDS Resolution
— and more, from Labor for Palestine
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Union Members Struggle for a Democratic Debate on Palestine: Statement from UAW 2865,GEO-UAW 2322, and GSOC-UAW 2110 Palestine Solidarity Caucuses on UAW 2865 BDS Vote Nullification
Three UAW Locals have overwhelmingly endorsed, by full member vote, to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) in solidarity with Palestinian workers and society. This grassroots momentum has only increased despite anti-democratic actions by higher up Union officials to quell debate on the issue among locals.
Click here to read full statement
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Rank and file challenge US union bosses over BDS (Electronic Intifada)
“Despite the attempts of top-down … officials to crush our union democracy, the tide of rank and-file support is against them,” Keady added. “We will work hard to implement the will of our members until Palestinians have won justice, freedom and equality.”
Click here to read full article

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Is BDS Simply a ‘Campus Movement?’How Deceitful Can Thomas Friedman Actually Be? (Huffington Post)
Michael Letwin, Co-Convener, Labor for Palestine; Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325 comments, “By respecting the BDS picket line, a growing number of U.S. trade unions are honoring the most fundamental labor principle: An injury to one is an injury to all. The refusal by ILWU Local 10 dockers to handle Israeli Zim Line cargo in 2014 shows the unparalleled power of labor solidarity against apartheid Israel.”
Click here to read full article

Resource: Labor for Palestine: Challenging US Labor Zionism (American Quarterly)
Notable challenges to this dominant Labor Zionism began in the late 1960s. These include positions taken by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in 1969 and wildcat strikes against the United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership’s support for Israel in 1973. Since September 11, 2001, Israel’s wars and other apartheid policies have been challenged by New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), Labor for Palestine, ILWU Local 10 dockworkers, UAW Local 2865 graduate students at the University of California, the United Electrical Workers, and others. Increasingly, such efforts have made common cause with racial justice and other movements, and—at the margins—have begun to crack Labor Zionism’s seemingly impregnable hold in the United States.
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Rank and file challenge US union bosses over BDS (Electronic Intifada)

Electronic Intifada

Rank and file challenge US union bosses over BDS

Union bosses, like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, are increasingly finding their pro-Israel positions challenged by the rank and file. (AFGE)

Graduate teaching assistants at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this month became the latest unionized workers in the US to vote in favor of a resolution supporting the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Meanwhile a United Auto Workers review board upheld a decision by the union’s national executive to nullify a democratic vote backing BDS by rank and file members in California.

In the Wisconsin ballot, 81 percent of voting members in the 9,000-strong Teaching Assistants’ Association backed a resolution calling for divestment from Israeli state institutions and international firms complicit in Israeli military occupation and ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

The resolution passed by members of TAA/AFT Local 3220 calls on the University of Wisconsin, its parent union the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO national labor federation to divest.

The TAA Palestine Solidarity Caucus notes in a press release that deteriorating working conditions for educators in the US “are directly related to the rise of spending on militarism and the consequential disinvestment from public universities and the public sector as a whole.”

The union also takes aim at widespread efforts to demonize and criminalize BDS activism, including within the trade union movement where support for Palestinian rights is growing.


TAA is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States.

Its vote represents a challenge to the leadership of its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), whose executives have strongly opposed BDS.

As The Electronic Intifada reported last year, AFT President Randi Weingarten has tried to smear BDS by association with violence and terrorism.

Weingarten and other top union officials have used their positions to promote Zionism, albeit in its liberal form, the Israeli state ideology that denies Palestinians their basic rights.

They have also helped Israel whitewash its 2014 assault on Gaza that killed approximately 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 550 children.

AFT leaders have endorsed Hillary Clinton in the US presidential election despite the presumed Democratic nominee’s hawkish support for Israel and justifications of its killings of Palestinians.

Yet the TAA vote is another marker of a shift among rank and file union members.

Last month, graduate student workers at New York University voted to back BDS by a large margin.

Their local union, GSOC-UAW 2110, held a vote despite efforts by executives from the parent union to block a referendum and cancel an election.

A week earlier, the Graduate Employee Organization of UAW Local 2322 (GEO-UAW 2322) adopted a BDS resolution with 95 percent of the votes.

That union represents more than 2,000 graduate student workers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Overturning democracy

In 2014, UAW Local 2865, which currently represents 14,000 graduate student workers at the University of California, became the first US union to join the BDS movement in a landslide vote.

But executives at the parent union, the United Auto Workers, nullified the vote last December.

In a decision issued on 16 May, the UAW’s Public Review Board (PRB) rejected an appeal against the nullification.

The 27-page ruling “to uphold nullification of the BDS vote … is based solely on a thread of anti-democratic thinking that misrepresents basic facts,” the solidarity caucuses of UAW 2865, GEO-UAW 2322 and GSOC-UAW 2110 said in a joint statement.

According to the statement, “[the review board posits] that because the UAW International president signed a letter opposing BDS in 2007 – without any record of discussion or debate among the [International Executive Board], let alone the membership – the international union now holds a position against BDS, and subordinate Locals cannot assert a different position.”

“The [Public Review Board] ignored the clear language of the resolution, which simply called on the UAW [International Executive Board] to change its current position of investment in multinational corporations that enable human rights abuses,” the solidarity caucuses state.

The nullification of the vote represents “an attempted ban on even raising the debate within the UAW,” they add.

A leading Israel lobby group has welcomed the UAW’s decision to overturn a democratic vote.

“We applaud the Public Review Board for declaring that UAW Local 2865 had no authority to subvert the UAW International’s position opposing the BDS movement,” Dean Schramm, the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles regional president, said.

Schramm accused union members of promoting “polarizing political propaganda and misinformation promoted by the BDS movement, which seeks to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

In contrast to its opposition to the struggle for Palestinian rights, the UAW strongly supported divestment from apartheid South Africa. In 1978, the union withdrew all its money from banks that made loans there.

It also pulled pension fund investments from firms complicit in human rights abuses in South Africa.

Sea change

The decision to nullify the vote came after UCLA graduate student Stephen Brumbaugh and other members of a small anti-BDS group called Informed Grads filed a complaint.

Informed Grads were represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, an elite law firm with a long record of defending corporate clients, including such union-busting and environment-polluting firms as Chevron and Walmart.

Liz Jackson, an attorney from Palestine Legal, commented, “This mirrors the national trend of suppression: members are voting by democratic majorities to support BDS; but when the upper echelons of the power structure disagree, they frequently resort to shutting down debate from the top.”

“This may work in the short term, but suppression of speech cannot stop a sea change in public opinion,” Jackson added.

That sea change is already happening. As a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found, the base of the Democratic Party is increasingly sympathetic to Palestinian rights, opening up an ever wider gap with establishment leaders like Hillary Clinton.

The support for Palestinian rights is growing most rapidly among Millennials – people born after 1980.

Similar cracks are now starting to show in the trade union movement as well.

“This decision cannot erase the fact that increasing numbers of UAW members stand in solidarity with Palestinian workers,” Local 2865 BDS Caucus member Jennifer Mogannam said, adding that thousands of union members disagree with the position on BDS stated by the UAW president almost a decade ago.

Union leaders “cannot just reach into a dusty file cabinet to shut down the growing number of members who want to discuss and change the union’s position on BDS,” Mogannam added.

“Already, the clear will of the membership of three UAW locals is to support our Palestinian counterparts, including workers and broader society, in their struggle against racism, dispossession and apartheid,” said Joe Keady, a rank and file member of GEO-UAW 2322.

“Despite the attempts of top-down … officials to crush our union democracy, the tide of rank and-file support is against them,” Keady added. “We will work hard to implement the will of our members until Palestinians have won justice, freedom and equality.”

UW-Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association Executive Board Defends Union’s Democratic Process (TAA/AFT Local 3220)


For more information, contact:
TAA – Executive Board

UW-Madison’s Teaching Assistants’ Association Executive Board Defends Union’s Democratic Process

Madison, WI (May 25, 2016): In the wake of recent reactions to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association’s (TAA) vote in favor of a resolution to endorse the Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, the TAA Executive board wishes to respond in utmost defense of the democratic, open voting process by which our union came to its decision.

From September 2015 to May 2016, the Palestine Solidarity Caucus (PSC), an independent caucus of members formed within the parameters of the TAA constitution, had presented information at General Membership Meetings, hosted discussion forums, and sought feedback from other members on the endorsement of BDS. Information about BDS and the PSC’s proposed resolution were shared widely via membership emails and on social media. In April, attendees at a General Membership Meeting voted unanimously to place the resolution on an electronic ballot as part of annual TAA officer elections, so as to ensure the largest possible participation of membership. (In contrast, most decisions about endorsements and sponsorships are made directly by members in attendance at the General Membership Meetings, which historically have lower turnout than the number who participate in officer elections.) Prior to this final vote, the PSC held two separate town hall meetings for members to discuss and voice any concerns over the resolutions. In addition, the PSC independently organized office visits to TAA members to make sure they were aware of the vote. In the final tally, 81% of voting members supported the BDS resolution.

We encourage all interested parties to read the specific text of the resolution. The resolution calls specifically for the AFL-CIO (our parent union to which we pay fees) and University of Wisconsin System to divest from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights. Above all, we wish to make clear that we are first and foremost accountable to our membership. It is our responsibility to make sure our members feel heard and supported within our union. It is also incumbent upon us to uphold the constitution and follow our procedures that ensure a democratic process. It is neither our right nor our responsibility, however, to interfere with the wishes and activities of our membership. The union speaks through the actions of the membership, actions that we are constitutionally bound to uphold and defend.

As leaders of the TAA we will not tolerate any forms of intimidation or retaliation against any of our members. We also recognize that our Jewish members may be feeling the most acute pressures at this time, regardless of where they stand on this issue. It is therefore our priority that the climate of our union and on our campus is one of respect, healthy debate, and care for each other. We will continue to hold spaces for discussion around this issue in which all members are invited and encouraged to participate.

The TAA has a long history of acting in solidarity with other movements beyond the labor issues of UW campus. It is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States and advocates for a university that is fair to all—including students, workers, and their families. Graduate student workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research. The university works because we do.


Poster: Salute to the UW-Madison graduate student workers of TAA/AFT Local 3220 for respecting the BDS picket line for Palestinian Rights!

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Salute to the UW-Madison graduate student workers of TAA/AFT Local 3220 for respecting the BDS picket line for Palestinian Rights!

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Background: UW-Madison Union of Graduate Student Workers (TAA) Endorses BDS Movement (TAA/AFT Local 3220)

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TAA-Palestine Solidarity Caucus TAA – Graduate Worker Union of UW-Madison Jews for Palestine Right of Return Labor for Palestine

UW-Madison Union of Graduate Student Workers (TAA) Endorses BDS Movement (TAA/AFT Local 3220)


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UW-Madison Union of Graduate Student Workers (TAA) Endorses BDS Movement

Members of the Teaching Assistants’ Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison vote overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to divest from the State of Israel and corporations that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine.

During a two-week vote distributed to all union members, the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA/AFT Local 3220) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States representing over 9,000 graduate workers and students, voted overwhelmingly (81% of voting members) in favor of adopting a resolution to divest from Israeli state institutions and international corporations complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

In doing so, the TAA joins other graduate student unions UAW 2322 at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, UAW 2865 at the University of California System, and UAW 2110 at New York University, who have stood in solidarity with Palestinian Civil Society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a non-violent tactic to put political and economic pressure on Israel until it ends the occupation and its violation of human rights and international law. The resolution also calls on the TAA’s employer, the University of Wisconsin System, and parent international, the AFL-CIO, to divest from the state of Israel and companies that contribute to and profit from the military occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

The TAA Palestine Solidarity Caucus (TAA-PSC) began an open process in September 2015, holding roundtables, discussions, and encouraging a platform where all opinions about Israel/Palestine were welcomed. Through countless conversations with fellow union members over the course of this year, TAA-PSC discovered the following realities:

  1. Palestinian labor and trade unions have sought solidarity from graduate worker unions for ten years
  1. The AFL-CIO is complicit in financing the occupation of Palestine in holding approximately $5 billion in Israeli Government Bonds
  1. The U.S., by sending over $3 billion a year in military aid to Israel, is complicit in financing the occupation and oppression of Palestinians
  1. The day-to-day working conditions and the realities of the students graduate assistants teach, study, and work with are directly related to the rise of spending on militarism and the consequential disinvestment from public universities and the public sector as a whole.

From these realities emerged the responsibility to join global movements against racism, colonialism, and other systems of exploitation, and to democratically ask union members to join the BDS movement to put pressure on Israel to end the military occupation of Palestine.

At a time when Israel is limiting free speech and the principles of democracy by policing and limiting the movement of BDS supporters within the West Bank and Israel and criminalizing advocacy for BDS, U.S. states are introducing resolutions that make engaging in the non-violent strategy of BDS illegal, and parent unions are voiding democratic votes that called for BDS, the TAA still strongly believes in the difficult practice of democracy. It is only by valuing and creating platforms for all ideas and opinions that the labor movement will be strong.

TAA is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States and advocates for a university that is fair to all—including students, workers, and their families. Graduate student workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research. The University works because we do.

[Text of resolution]

Resolution: Standing in Solidarity with the Palestinian Civil Society and Joining the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (TAA/AFT Local 3220)

TAA[Adopted by membership vote, May 18, 2016]

Resolution: Standing in Solidarity with the Palestinian Civil Society and Joining the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement. 

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the Teaching Assistant Association states that one of the objectives of the TAA is to “cooperate with other labor organizations in particular and other segments of our society in the achievement of common goals,” and

WHEREAS, the TAA has a long history of standing in solidarity with oppressed people around the world, including historically calling for divestment from Apartheid South Africa and recently standing against racism and police brutality as evident in the TAA endorsement of YGB demands and joining the nationwide movement in support of racial and economic justice following the recent incidents at the University of Missouri, and

WHEREAS, our day-to-day working conditions and the realities of the students we teach, study, and work with are directly related to the rise of spending on militarism and the consequential disinvestment from public universities and the public sector as a whole, and

WHEREAS, Article II of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”[1] are entitled to the rights enumerated therein, and

WHEREAS, The United Nations has declared in Resolution 242[2] that Israel must withdraw all armed forces from territories occupied in recent conflicts, in Resolution 446[3] that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in Palestine since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East, and in Resolution 194[4] that Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their homes should be allowed to do so, and

WHEREAS, the International Court of Justice has found that Israel has routinely conducted acts of collective punishment, including demolition of homes, land confiscation, and the construction of the wall between Palestine and Israel,[5] all which violate the Fourth Geneva Convention,[6] and

WHEREAS, Amnesty International has stated that “Israeli forces have committed unlawful killings of Palestinian civilians, including children, and detained thousands of Palestinians who protested or otherwise opposed Israel’s continuing military occupation, holding hundreds in administrative detention,”[7] and

WHEREAS, despite these calls by the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and international human rights organizations like Amnesty International, Israel continues to deny Palestinians the human rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through their policies of colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation, and

WHEREAS, examples of these continued violations include not only the fact that over 500,000 Israeli Settlers continue to live within 237 West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements[8] in violation of the Article 49 of Fourth Geneva Convention, which states the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory that it occupies,”[9] but also Israeli businesses in these settlements contribute to continued confiscation of Palestinian water and land[10], and

WHEREAS, this confiscation of Palestinian water rights in the West Bank means that Israeli settlers use six-times the amount of water as Palestinians[11] meaning that many Palestinians who live in the 60% of the West Bank that is under complete Israeli military and domestic control (Area C) live on less than 60 liters per day,[12] well below the World Health  Organization’s recommendation of 100 liters per person per day,[13] and

WHEREAS, these discriminatory water policies are coupled with the expansion of Israeli agriculture projects, the creation of a network of racially segregated roads in the West Bank,[14] and the lack of Palestinian authority over much of its land, its borders, and its water, has led numerous individuals like President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu to compare Israel to an apartheid state.[15]

WHEREAS, Israel has continued to violate the Fourth Geneva Convention by conducting a campaign of housing demolitions under the pretenses of building structures without approval in Area C locations, despite the fact that 94% of all applications for building are rejected, has left more than 4,652 Palestinians homeless in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2011, and

WHEREAS, Israel operates an apartheid legal system, whereby Israeli children under 14 cannot be sentenced to jail and only 6.5% of minors over the age of 14 receive prison terms, but Palestinian children as young as 12 can be incarcerated under Israeli Military Law, and 90% of detained Palestinian children over the age of 12 will face prison, and

WHEREAS, according to official Israeli state data, the state provides three times as much funding for Jewish students as Palestinian students[16], and

WHEREAS, Palestinians living in Israel who represent 20% of the population, but only hold 6% of all civil service employment (the largest employer in Israel),[17] and Palestinian citizens face discrimination in work opportunities and pay and conditions due to inadequate implementation of equal-opportunity legislation and exclusion from military service, which is a major criterion for employment, and

WHEREAS, the United Nations estimates that there are still five million Palestinian refugees who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict,[18] and

WHEREAS, despite this ongoing tragedy, Israel remains the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II, as to date it has received 124.3 billion in bilateral assistance and which continues at the rate of 3.1 billion USD per year,[19] and

WHEREAS, in response to the failure of the world community to hold Israeli accountable for these continued human rights violations, in 2005, Palestinian civil society, consisting of over 170 Palestinian parties, organizations, trade unions, and movements called for their counterparts and people of conscience around the world to launch a campaign of broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives and demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law, and

WHEREAS, this campaign should continue against the state of Israel until it meets the requirements of 1) Ending Israel Occupation and Colonization of all Arab lands occupied in 1967 and dismantling the wall 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality 3) respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194, and

WHEREAS, Universities have frequently been the sites of student activism on issues ranging from the Chicano movement,[20] to the Civil Rights Movement, and divestment from Apartheid South Africa.

WHEREAS, the Wisconsin State Legislature recognizes the role of the universities in upholding human rights by stipulating in State Statue 36.29 in reference to the University of Wisconsin System that “No investment of the funds of such gifts, grants, or bequests shall knowingly be made in any company, corporation, subsidiary, or affiliate that practices or condones through its actions discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, creed, or sex,” and

WHEREAS, the Broad of Regents University of Wisconsin System upholds this duty through Regent Policy 31-13[21]: “Social Responsibility and Investment Considerations,” which acknowledges that “all investments made in any company, corporation, subsidiary, or affiliate that practices or condones through its actions discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, creed or sex, shall be divested in as prudent but rapid a manner as possible. Furthermore, The Board of Regents, to facilitate the application of this statute, interprets the language above as follows The words “that practices or condones through its actions” shall be interpreted to mean “employing persons in nations which by their laws discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, creed or sex.”

WHEREAS, in particular the University of Wisconsin – Madison, operates on the “Wisconsin Idea” in that what happens at this school must impact people’s lives beyond the classroom; and

WHEREAS, the University of Wisconsin System has upheld these statues and the “Wisconsin Idea” through the 2006 Regent Policy document 31-16[22] that divests from “business activity that provide support to current government of Sudan,” and previously in 1978 within divestment from the apartheid regime of South Africa,[23] and that these policies have set the precedent for divesting from companies who do business with oppressive regimes as this business activity is a form of condoning those oppressive actions, and

WHEREAS, all major trade unions in Palestine have endorsed BDS and this call has been joined by UAW Local 2865 (Graduate Student Union of the University of California), UAW Local 4121 (University of Washington academic student workers), AFL-CIO Connecticut, United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, the International Long Workers Union Local 10 in Oakland, UK National Union of Teachers (Europe’s largest Teacher Union), Unite (the largest union in the UK and Ireland), the Teacher Union of Ireland, the Norwegian Trade Union Congress, Public Services International, ITUC Africa (Africa’s largest trade union federation), the CUT (Brazil’s largest trade union), the major trade unions of Basque, major unions in Australia, FIOM-CGIL (the largest trade union in Italy), the Scottish Trade Union Congress, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, the Catalan Workers Union, the Canadian Union Postal Workers, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and other unions across Europe, Australia, and Africa to show solidarity with the people of Palestine, and

WHEREAS, we are complicit in financing the occupation of Palestine through our dues, as our parent union of the AFL-CIO owns approximately 5 Billion USD in Israeli Government bonds[24], and

WHEREAS, we believe that to create lasting peace and safety for all people of Israel, requires addressing the structural injustices facing the Palestinians that are at the root of this conflict, and

WHEREAS, the struggle for justice in Palestine has been waged in Palestine and Israel by Palestinian laborers and civil society, and Israelis who are refusing military service, joining in on non-violent struggles, and speaking up for human rights and condemning occupation, and it is our responsibility to join in struggle with those working towards a more just world, and

WHEREAS, as we struggle for labor and fair working conditions in Wisconsin we have a responsibility to honor the radical acts of global solidarity that built and nurtured the foundation that our union sits upon, to acknowledge the intersections our struggle has with global movements against racism, colonialism, and other systems of exploitation, and to explore, dialogue, and imagine what solidarity looks like, therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the Teaching Assistant Association endorses the BDS movement and urges the union at all levels to become engaged in BDS and the movement for peace, justice and equality between the Palestinians and Israelis, and

RESOLVED that Teaching Assistant Association will call on the government of the United States of America to end military aid to Israel, and

RESOLVED that the Teaching Assistant Association will call on fellow local unions and our parent union of the AFL-CIO to divest their investments including pension funds from Israeli institutions and companies complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people and companies that provide revenues to the Israeli government through business with the government, as well as decline to conduct business with said companies, until Israel complies to the precepts of international law by specifically: 1) Ending the occupation of Arab lands and dismantling the wall 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel to full equality 3) Respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

RESOLVED that the Teaching Assistant Association will call on the University of Wisconsin System to divest their investments including pension funds from Israeli companies complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people and companies that provide revenues to the Israeli government through business with the government, as well as to decline to conduct business with said companies, until Israel complies to the precepts of international law by specifically: 1) Ending the occupation of Arab lands and dismantling the wall 2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel to full equality 3) Respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.