Stunning Development for Union Democracy and Palestinian Justice as UAW Locals Across the Country Call Upon UAW International to Recognize UAW 2865’s BDS Vote
Elizabeth de Martelly
In December 2015, the International Executive Board (IEB) of the United Auto Workers (UAW) nullified a membership vote conducted by University of California academic workers’ union local UAW 2865 which endorsed joining the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli apartheid. The first major U.S. labor union to endorse BDS, members voted in support of this position by a landslide, in an unusually high-turnout election. Since then, numerous organizations, including other unions, have supported UAW 2865 and called on the IEB to reverse the nullification and respect local union democracy.
So far, UAW Local 4121 (University of Washington, Seattle), GSOC-UAW Local 2110 (New York University), and a caucus of members in GEO-UAW Local 2322 (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) have issued resolutions supporting UAW 2865 and expressed commitments of solidarity with Palestinian workers facing occupation. GSOC-UAW Local 2110, representing 1200 academic workers at New York University, declares: “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?…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.” UAW Local 4121, representing 4,000 academic workers at the University of Washington, issued a similarly powerful resolution which states: “The UAW International Executive Board has intervened to nullify a democratic vote of the Union’s membership in support of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel’s abuses of Palestinian human rights. In so doing, the International Executive Board attempts to set a dangerous precedent that infringes on one of the fundamental rights of workers: the right to stand, even symbolically, in solidarity with oppressed peoples.” Washington workers reiterated that Palestinian trade unions have called on unions internationally to implement BDS. A caucus of UAW workers from GEO-UAW Local 2322 at UMass Amherst also declare their firm support for BDS and union democracy: “We stand with UAW 2865 and its support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. We urge you to reverse your decision, in the interests of the most basic standards of union democracy, and to send a clear signal that the US labor movement does not support apartheid.”
It is clear that a member’s appeal of UAW 2865’s vote, itself part of the anti-Palestine backlash following UAW 2865’s resolution, has backfired. If the intention was to silence debate on this issue and foreclose solidarity with Palestinian workers as a viable activist concern for U.S. labor unions, the opposite has happened: The IEB’s nullification has emboldened labor activists from other locals within and outside of the UAW to step up and voice support for BDS and for Local unions’ rights to take independent democratic stands. Before the nullification, the IEB had only UAW 2865 to contend with in its disagreement on the issue of Palestine. Now, it must contend with an increasing number of other locals who have taken steps to support UAW 2865’s right to have a position on this matter. Petitions by Jewish Voice for Peace, Labor for Palestine, and U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation have called on the IEB to reverse the vote nullification, collectively receiving nearly 18,000 signatures, many of them labor activists and prominent labor leaders across the country. Instead of having the chilling effect that opponents of the resolution desired, the IEB’s nullification has prompted an even greater response in support of BDS in the labor movement. Momentum is growing.
UAW 2865 has appealed the IEB’s nullification to the Public Review Board, a body that functions as an appellate authority for disputes between the IEB and its subordinate locals, and is awaiting a ruling.
This statement is issued by the BDS Caucus, a group of rank-and-file UAW 2865 members spanning every UC campus dedicated to organizing and advocating for equality and justice for the Palestinian people.