— Alan Benjamin
A new situation is developing in the U.S. labor movement in the aftermath of the U.S.-funded Israeli bombing and ground onslaught against Gaza and its people — an onslaught which to date has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians (largely women and children), left more than 9,500 severely injured, rendered up to 400,000 people homeless, and decimated Gaza’s agriculture and industry.
With each passing day the protest actions against Israel’s bombings and blockade of Gaza have increased in size, as growing numbers of working people and youth, witnessing the scope of the horrors in Gaza, are becoming more critical of the U.S. government’s backing of Israel. This is new. Popular support for the Israeli State has been largely uncontested till now.
Speaking at a mass rally of more than 50,000 people in Washington, D.C., on August 2, Carol Gay, president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council and National Steering Committee member of the Labor Fightback Network, expressed the growing sentiment developing across the country, stating:
“As workers, we are here in solidarity with ALL Palestinians — in Gaza, in the West Bank, and with Palestinian refugees scattered around the world. We are here to loudly denounce the U.S. government’s unquestioning support for Israel. This unthinking, blind support for Israel is immoral and illegal. . . .
“These INDISCRIMINATE attacks are not only collective punishment, but are clearly part of a plan for ethnic cleansing. . . . We are here to demand that Obama, John Kerry, and Congress force Israel to stop the bombing, end the blockade of Gaza, halt the settlement expansion, and end the occupation now!
“Does the U.S. have the power to do this? YES, by stopping all aid to Israel. Yes, by stopping the flow of billions of our tax dollars to fund the occupation. We say: Not another nickel, not another dime. We refuse to pay for Israel’s crimes.”
The Labor Fightback Network is a coalition of labor officials and activists who have come together to fight to preserve the independence of the trade union movement and to advance a fightback strategy by workers and their unions against the corporate assault on their jobs, rights, and gains.
– For its part, U.S. Labor Against the War, the national antiwar coalition of unions and labor activists, issued a statement on August 12 titled “Collective Punishment Is a War Crime, Not a Path to Peace.” Characterizing the “siege of Gaza and occupation of Palestine [as] illegal,” the USLAW statement called for lifting the blockade of Gaza, adding that “collective punishment of the civilian population of Gaza is illegal.”
USLAW also called for ending the bombings and attacks on Gaza, noting that:
“71% of almost 1,960 known Palestinian casualties were civilians. Residents of Gaza have no shelters. When they have sought refuge at designated UN shelters, they were no safer. Israel has bombed or shelled 230 schools (of which 25 were totally destroyed), 29 hospitals and health centers (5 hospitals had to close), Gaza’s only power plant (inoperable), water and sewage treatment infrastructure, and three UN civilian shelters, the locations of which had been provided to the Israeli government. Israel declared almost half of all of Gaza as a “buffer” (free fire) zone in which any Palestinian is assumed to be a belligerent.”
USLAW went on to underscore the responsibility of the U.S. government in the massacres being perpetrated in Gaza, stating that:
“The U.S. gives Israel $3.1 billion annually, much of which goes for bombs, missiles and weapons used in attacks like those taking place in Gaza now. The U.S. underwrites 25% of Israel’s military budget. . . . Our government is committed to provide another $3.1 billion every year until 2018. In FY2015, aid to Israel proposed by President Obama will constitute about 55% of all U.S. military aid worldwide.
“Billions of dollars the U.S. gives annually to support Israel’s military and illegal occupation could be better spent putting our country back to work, repairing the social safety net, building affordable housing, developing sustainable energy alternatives, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, investing in education, providing healthcare and innumerable other ways that improve our standard of living.”
This call by the National Steering Committee of USLAW is unprecedented in the U.S. labor movement, which has long been beholden to the Israeli lobby via the national leadership of the AFL-CIO and its Jewish Labor Committee.
Soon after the USLAW statement was made public, a number of local unions and labor councils began passing resolutions calling for ending the Israeli bombings and attacks on Gaza, lifting the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of Gaza, and ending all U.S. military funding to Israel.
– The Alameda County [Oakland, Calif.] Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) was the first local council out the gate, stating:
“According to the UN, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 6,300 have been wounded. Three-quarters of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians. Almost half are women and children. On average, five children have been killed or wounded every hour since the assault began.
“Targeting civilian populations, homes, hospitals, schools, water, sanitation and power infrastructure constitutes collective punishment. These are war crimes under international law.
“On July 13, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu virtually rejected a Two-State solution when he declared, ‘There cannot be a situation, under any agreement in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan’.” (Haaretz, July 16, 2014)
“At the time of the massive Israeli attack on Gaza in 2009 that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, U.S. Labor Against the War, with which Alameda Labor Council is affiliated, said: We reject the use of military means to resolve international conflicts. The road to peace and security can never be paved with war.
“We are guided by the belief that international working class solidarity offers a path to mutual understanding and peace.
“Genocide suffered by the Jewish people does not entitle the Israeli State to perpetrate gross human rights violations, seize property, destroy homes and farms, set up illegal settlements, and impose apartheid-like conditions on Palestinians or lay siege to Gaza.”
– On August 25, 2014, the Delegates’ Meeting of the San Francisco Labor Council (AFL-CIO) adopted a resolution expressing the Council’s “strong opposition to the bombings and attacks in Gaza.”
After acknowledging the “mobilizations against the bombings of Gaza organized by the trade union movement internationally,” the Council went on to “salute the statement issued July 31, 2014, by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) — the international labor body to which is the AFL-CIO is affiliated — when it calls for . . . an end to the blockade imprisoning 1.9 million people.”
The Council concluded by “applauding the effort of the International Transport Federation to deliver medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to Gaza,” adding that “together with the ITUC, we call for lifting the blockade of Gaza. . . .”
These fissures in the house of labor are important. They need to be widened with new resolutions and statements adopted by union bodies nationwide calling for an immediate end to the Israeli bombings of Gaza and the immediate lifting of the blockade.