UE Becomes First National U.S. Union to Endorse BDS
UE, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, held its national convention in Baltimore August 16-20.
Delegates acted on 37 resolutions on collective bargaining, organizing, and political issues, and they upheld UE’s long tradition of courageous stands on foreign policy issues when they adopted the resolution on Palestine and Israel. It points to Israel’s long history of violating the human rights of the Palestinians, starting with the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48 that turned most of Palestine into the State of Israel. It calls for cutting off U.S. aid to Israel, U.S. support for a peace settlement on the basis of self-determination for Palestinians and the right to return. The resolution also endorses the worldwide BDS movement – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions – to pressure Israel to end its apartheid over the Palestinians just as similar tactics helped to end South African apartheid in the 1980s. UE is now the first U.S. national union to endorse BDS.
Five delegates spoke from the floor in support of the resolution. Angaza Laughinghouse of Local 150, composed of public workers in North Carolina, said, “Our government is on the wrong side, We have to stand on the right side of the Palestinian struggle.” Autumn Martinez of Local 255 in Vermont said she had met Palestinian trade unionists at the World Social Forum in Tunisia and learned from them of conditions in the occupied territories. “It’s absolutely disgusting what is going on. Free Palestine!”
The convention also adopted a resolution on numerous military and foreign policy issues from an independent labor perspective. “For Peace, Jobs and a Pro-Worker Foreign Policy” endorses the work of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW); calls for reducing the military budget while improving the pay and benefits of military personnel and veterans and converting to peaceful uses of resources now devoted to the military; demands the end of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and other regions; calls for negotiation to resolve the Ukraine crisis; supports Zenroren’s call for demilitarization in Japan; and supports the agreement to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
“The labor movement needs to have its own independent foreign policy,” said Carl Rosen, UE Western Region president. Several delegates talked about how they had been inspired by meeting members of Zenroren, the Japanese labor federation, 200 of whom came to New York City in late April to march for nuclear disarmament, with two smaller groups then joining UE members in New Haven and Chicago for May Day events. Brandon Dutton from Local 1161 in Wisconsin said, “We have done enough damage. We need to get out of the Middle East.”
UE’s convention included outreach and involvement in local struggles in Baltimore. On Tuesday of convention week, delegates joined local labor and human rights activists in a march to city hall to rally for Black Lives Matter, the Fight for 15, and several local workers struggles, including the contract fight of UNITE HERE members at the Baltimore Hilton where UE delegates were meeting. The march was led by members of UE’s two Baltimore locals. UE delegates also leafleted workers at an Amazon warehouse about organizing.
Two of UE’s national officers did not seek relection at this year’s convention. President Bruce Klipple and Director of Organization Bob Kingsley will be retiring at the end of October. Delegates elected Peter Knowlton, president of the union’s Northeast Region, as the new national president, and Gene Elk, a veteran organizer and bargaining representative, as the new director of organization. Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker was reelected.
UE, founded in 1936, was the largest of the “left-led” unions in the CIO, but CIO leaders turned on UE and other progressive affiliates in the late 1940s as they sought "respectability" andand enlisted in the Cold War. UE was heavily persecuted by the government and employers and raided by “mainstream” unions throughout the 1950s and into the ‘60s. But the union never abandoned its principles, and even through the worst period of “red scare” attacks, UE waged trail-blazing campaigns for workplace equality for African American and women workers.
In 1964, UE became the first national union to oppose the Vietnam War, and it was in the forefront of labor opposition to Reagan’s Central America wars in the 1980s, Clinton’s Yugoslav War in the ‘90s, and Bush and Obama’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. Since the 1950s UE has consistently supported disarmament and called for reduced military spending, with its long-serving late President Albert Fitzgerald frequently telling union members, “You can’t have both guns and butter.”
JUSTICE AND PEACE FOR THE PEOPLES OF PALESTINE AND ISRAEL - UE Convention Resolution
In 1988, delegates to the UE 53rd Convention adopted the resolution “Time for a Just Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” In it they said, “The occupation by Israel of the West Bank and other Arab lands since 1967 has blocked the exercise of Palestinian national rights and resulted in ongoing violations of human, social, political, economic and particularly trade union rights of Palestinians…” The resolution said the U.S. government had “contributed to the continued conflict by its one-sided support for Israel and its failure to take into account the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people,” and it called for the U.S. government to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization and for the creation of a Palestinian state.
For more than 25 years the U.S. has engaged in a so-called “peace process” with Israeli and Palestinian representatives. But the U.S. role has remained extremely one-sided. The U.S. provides Israel $3 billion a year in aid and repeatedly uses its UN veto to shield Israel from criticism of its human rights abuses. The Palestinians are worse off. In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel continues to confiscate homes and land to expand Israeli settlements which violate international law. Since 1967 Israel has settled more than 500,000 of its citizens in the West Bank, and has been building a wall that separates neighboring towns and cuts off farmers from their fields. Many prominent human rights activists including former President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu have called the system of Israeli rule over Palestinian people “apartheid.”
In Gaza, 1.8 million Palestinians are crowded into a tiny enclave under continuous military and economic blockade. In the summer of 2014 Israel waged a merciless war on the impoverished population of Gaza. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed. The vast majority were civilians, including more than 500 children; and the physical destruction was overwhelming. UE’s officers issued a statement expressing our union’s alarm and over 300 Holocaust survivors and descendants signed a full-page newspaper ad, that condemned the Israeli attack as genocide and declared, “never again must mean never again for anyone.” Yet incredibly, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously at the time to endorse Israel’s actions.
The source of the conflict goes back to the origins of the State of Israel. The population was overwhelmingly Palestinian Arab (Muslim and Christian) before 1947-48, when well-armed Zionist militias seized most of the territory of Palestine and expelled 750,000 people from their cities, villages and farms. They executed much of the Palestinian leadership and declared the founding of the State of Israel. As a result millions of Palestinians are refugees both in the occupied territories and in other countries. Israel prohibits their return to their homes.
In recent years racism and extremism in Israel has grown more severe. One-fifth of Israeli citizens are Palestinians who survived ethnic cleansing. Some members of parliament, including cabinet members in Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government, call for stripping their citizenship and expelling them. Some also call for expelling all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and annexing them to Israel. The “peace process”, supposedly aimed at negotiating the terms of Palestinian statehood in those territories, has been dead at least since March when Netanyahu, in his reelection campaign, declared he would never accept a Palestinian state.
In July 2005 Palestinian trade unions and hundreds of Palestinian civil society organizations called for a worldwide campaign of boycotts to pressure Israel to end its apartheid over the Palestinians. This has developed into a global movement called Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions. BDS was modeled after the 1980s international solidarity campaign that put economic pressure on South Africa’s government which helped end apartheid.
The summer 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza increased worldwide support for BDS. UE Local 150 endorsed BDS. The largest union in Britain, UNITE, endorsed BDS in July 2014. UAW Local 2865, which represents 13,000 graduate employees of the University of California, also endorsed BDS last year. COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions that helped defeat apartheid in that country, is a strong backer of BDS. Many progressive Jewish organizations and individuals, in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere actively support BDS as a way to bring about peace and justice for the people of Israel and Palestine.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 74th UE CONVENTION:
1. Calls on Congress and the Administration to end all U.S. military aid to Israel; and to pressure Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza and negotiate a peace agreement on the basis of equality, democracy, and human rights for the Palestinian and Israeli people, including Palestinian self determination and the right of return for refugees.
2. 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.