UE Becomes First National Union in U.S. To Endorse BDS Against Israel

Mario Vasquez September 1, 2015

The American labor movement seems to slowly be joining the BDS movement. (Adrien Fauth / Flickr)

On August 20 in Bal­ti­more, the last day of its 74th nation­al con­ven­tion, Unit­ed Elec­tri­cal, Radio, and Machine Work­ers of Amer­i­ca (UE) became the first nation­al union in the Unit­ed States to heed the 2005 call made by Pales­tin­ian civ­il soci­ety groups for a glob­al Boy­cott, Divest, and Sanc­tions (BDS) move­ment to protest Israeli vio­la­tions of inter­na­tion­al law.

The Pales­tin­ian call for BDS, inspired by sim­i­lar dis­plays of inter­na­tion­al protest in the 1980s that helped bring about the fall of apartheid in South Africa, first gained for­mal sup­port from orga­nized labor last Decem­ber when UAW Local 2865, the 13,000 cam­pus work­ers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, endorsed BDS and asked the uni­ver­si­ty to divest its finan­cial invest­ments in com­pa­nies involved in Israeli occu­pa­tion of Pales­tine. Local 2865 became the first Amer­i­can union local to endorse the movement.

The over­whelm­ing mar­gin of vic­to­ry [in the local’s inter­nal vote over endors­ing BDS] shows that a con­sen­sus is emerg­ing that BDS is a legit­i­mate and jus­ti­fied strat­e­gy of inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty,” Kumars Sale­hi, a Ger­man Stud­ies grad­u­ate stu­dent at UC Berke­ley, told In These Times then. Pales­tine is a social issue in the Unit­ed States: Israel is now some­thing you either boy­cott or you don’t, and these results sug­gest for a new gen­er­a­tion of work­ers and stu­dents the answer is increas­ing­ly to boycott.”

Endorse­ment pro­po­nents at UAW Local 2865 said their res­o­lu­tion was not only an answer to the broad­er BDS call, but also a spe­cif­ic response to Pales­tin­ian trade unions who hoped for imme­di­ate aid in the midst of the Israeli shelling of Gaza in July 2014. The mil­i­tary action, though giv­en unan­i­mous sup­port by U.S Con­gress then, was wide­ly con­demned by inter­na­tion­al lead­ers — and is part of the cat­a­lyst for UE’s action on the issue, accord­ing to UE West­ern Region pres­i­dent Carl Rosen.

We reached a break­ing point when Israel launched the war on Gaza in 2014, killing over 2,000 peo­ple includ­ing 500 chil­dren. Because Israel has been unwill­ing to engage in real nego­ti­a­tions to bring about a just res­o­lu­tion to the occu­pa­tion, this is a nec­es­sary step for labor to take in order to bring about a peace­ful end to the con­flicts there,” Rosen said in a state­ment released by the union.

The res­o­lu­tion adopt­ed by UE also calls for an end to U.S aid to Israel, cit­ing year­ly eco­nom­ic and mil­i­tary pack­ages of $3 bil­lion, and for any peace agree­ments between Israel and Pales­tine to include a right to Pales­tin­ian self-deter­mi­na­tion and the right of return for refugees cre­at­ed when well-armed Zion­ist mili­tias seized most of the ter­ri­to­ry of Pales­tine and expelled 750,000 peo­ple from their cities, vil­lages and farms.”

The BDS endorse­ment was one of 37 res­o­lu­tions act­ed on at UE’s 74th Nation­al Con­ven­tion. Oth­er approved res­o­lu­tions includ­ed a vari­ety of issues sur­round­ing police bru­tal­i­ty, an end to the Cuban embar­go and oth­ers that fol­low UE’s long his­to­ry of left-wing activism in labor. After the Red Scare of the 1940 and 50s, UE, along with 10 oth­er pro­gres­sive unions, were kicked out of the Con­gress of Indus­tri­al Unions over a schism that dat­ed back UE’s refusal to sign anti-com­mu­nist affi­davits and the sub­se­quent raid­ing of its mem­ber­ship by oth­er com­pli­ant unions.

Per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly, the only union oth­er than UE that man­aged to sur­vive its CIO expul­sion and remain active today, the Inter­na­tion­al Long­shore and Ware­house Union (ILWU), has indi­cat­ed sym­pa­thy for BDS as well. ILWU Local 10 hon­ored pick­et lines for last year’s Block the Boat” protest of an Israeli ship attempt­ing to unload goods at the Port of Oak­land in sup­port of BDS. The ship was left at sea for four days, cost­ing Zim Inte­grat­ed Ship­ping Ser­vices Ltd., Israel’s biggest car­go ship­ping com­pa­ny, an unknown amount of mon­ey.

The BDS move­ment, as a whole, both in actu­al eco­nom­ic logis­tics and chan­nel­ing of polit­i­cal con­scious-rais­ing, seems to be tak­ing a mea­sur­able toll on Israel. A June 2015 report by the Unit­ed Nations Con­fer­ence on Trade and Devel­op­ment found that for­eign direct invest­ment in Israel has decreased by 48% between 2013 and 2014. One of the report’s authors, Dr. Roni Manos of the Open Uni­ver­si­ty of Israel’s Depart­ment of Man­age­ment and Eco­nom­ics, told the Israeli news orga­ni­za­tion Ynet News, We believe that what led to the drop in invest­ment in Israel are Oper­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge and the boy­cotts Israel is facing.”

With an increased pres­ence for BDS in the labor move­ment, it seems there is room for even more impact. Accord­ing to Leah Fried, Direc­tor of Inter­na­tion­al Strate­gies at UE, Now that BDS is UE pol­i­cy, we will be eval­u­at­ing any invest­ments in our pen­sion fund for ties to the occupation.”

React­ing to UE’s endorse­ment, Omar Bargh­outi, a Pales­tin­ian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS move­ment, told Pales­tin­ian online news pub­li­ca­tion The Elec­tron­ic Intifa­da, UE’s endorse­ment of BDS shows that, despite the extreme intim­i­da­tion, bul­ly­ing and/​or coop­ta­tion prac­ticed by Israel and its pow­er­ful lob­by­ing groups in the US against crit­ics, let alone advo­cates of a boy­cott, BDS is spread­ing the fastest in the US.”

The res­o­lu­tion can be read below:

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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