SEIU Calls for Cease-Fire, Joins UAW and a Shifting Labor Movement

“SEIU members understand that working people often feel the impact of war most deeply and bear the brunt of its terrible consequences.”

Jessica Corbett

SEIU'S International President Mary Kay Henry at a rally in Chicago on March 30, 2022. "SEIU's almost 2 million members believe that wherever violence, fear, and hatred thrive, working people cannot," she said. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

This article was originally published in Common Dreams.

With more than 25,000 Palestinians killed so far in the U.S.-backed Israeli assault of the Gaza Strip, the Service Employees International Union on Monday became the largest union in North America to join a growing coalition of labor groups calling for a cease-fire.

SEIU’s almost 2 million members believe that wherever violence, fear, and hatred thrive, working people cannot,” said Mary Kay Henry, the union’s president, in a statement. We condemn antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and hate in all its forms around the world. Our union includes many members and their families — Palestinian and Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian — who have been impacted by the recent violence.”

As a union family strongly committed to justice and democracy, we believe all people across the globe deserve to live safely and free of fear, with dignity and respect for their human rights, as well as access to food, water, shelter, medicine, and other necessities,” she continued. SEIU members understand that working people often feel the impact of war most deeply and bear the brunt of its terrible consequences.”

An aerial view of a Palestinian home in Gaza on Jan. 16, 2024, that was destroyed by the Israeli military. Photo by Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

The SEIU leader condemned the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, as well as the Israeli military’s response, which has included widespread attacks on innocent civilians, including the bombardment of neighborhoods, healthcare facilities, and refugee camps.”

In addition to killing and wounding tens of thousands of Palestinians, the war has displaced the vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, who are facing starvation and disease. Henry said that we call for an immediate cease-fire, the release of all hostages, and the delivery of lifesaving food, water, medicine, and other resources to the people of Gaza.”

Our call for a cease-fire is a call for peace, rooted in the pain that SEIU members are feeling, from the Jewish member concerned for her son’s safety in Tel Aviv, to the Muslim member who immigrated to this country from the Middle East to escape war and violence, to the hundreds of thousands of SEIU healthcare workers who see themselves in the healthcare workers in Gaza who have been killed trying to save lives,” said Henry, a U.S. labor leader whose union also represents Canadians.

An infographic titled "11,000 children killed in 108 days in Gaza." Photo by Elif Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images

We call on elected leaders to come together to bring an end to the violence and demand a peaceful resolution that ensures both lasting security for the Israeli people and a sustained end to decades of occupation, blockades, and lack of freedom endured by the Palestinian people,” Henry added. This war must end, as it is expanding into a regional conflict. It is time for long-term solutions that will bring safety, peace, democracy, and justice to all in the region.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group in the United States, welcomed the cease-fire demand from SEIU, which followed similar calls from the United Auto Workers; American Postal Workers Union; United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America; and various other unions.

We thank SEIU officials for taking a principled stand and demanding an end to the Israeli government’s genocidal campaign in Gaza,” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad. Every day, more people in our nation and around the world are waking up to the reality of the Israeli government’s crimes against humanity. It is time that our government does the same.”

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) — who spearheaded a cease-fire resolution with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the only Palestinian American in Congress—declared that every day, our pro-peace, pro-humanity movement grows larger and stronger. Thank you SEIU for standing up for humanity.”

Destruction from Israeli assaults on Gaza seen from Israel on Jan. 17, 2024. Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

Mondoweiss noted Monday that across the country rank-and-file union members are also pushing for their leadership to take action on the issue. Members of the National Education Association (NEA) want the organization to rescind its endorsement of President Joe Biden until the administration supports a cease-fire and stops sending weapons to Israel.”

Advocates, scholars, and world leaders have increasingly accused Israel of genocide in Gaza, leading to an emergency hearing before the International Court of Justice earlier this month. The U.S. government has also faced mounting criticism. The United States gives Israel at least $ 3.8 billion in annual military aid, and Biden responded to the October 7 attack by asking Congress for a new $14.3 billion package while also bypassing congressional oversight to arm Israeli forces.

Although Biden last month called out Israel’s indiscriminate bombing” and said that I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives,” progressive critics still argue that he is enabling Israeli forces’ ongoing violence against civilians in Gaza. The president is also under fire for stoking fears of a wider war with U.S. airstrikes on Yemen that lack approval from Congress.

Jessica Corbett, a former In These Times intern, is a Maine-based staff writer at Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @corbett_jessica.
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