What Does the Assault in Gaza Say About U.S. Labor?

The Israeli military has been bombarding Gaza for weeks — dropping thousands and thousands of bombs and killing more than 9,000 Palestinians—including more than 3,700 children — and displacing some 1.4 million. 

On Oct. 16, Palestinian trade unions issued a call to action for organized labor and workers everywhere ​“to halt the sale and funding of arms to Israel — and related military research.”

The Palestinian labor coalition — including the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions — specifically called on trade unions around the world to: Refuse to manufacture weapons destined for Israel, refuse to transport weapons to Israel, pass motions in their individual trade unions demanding the same, take action against companies complicit in the siege of Gaza, and apply pressure to governments to stop supporting and funding the Israeli war machine. 

The call resonated with some union members in the United States, including Alice, a delegate with the Olympia, Washington-based Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council (TLM CLC). The TLM CLC represents the AFL-CIO-affiliated local unions in the western Washington counties of Thurston, Lewis and Mason.

Alice (who asked that her last name not be published because she fears being targeted by anti-Palestinian groups) saw the call from the Palestinian trade unions and was inspired to draft a resolution for the TLM CLC to publicly affirm its solidarity.

After the council discussed and unanimously adopted Alice’s measure on Oct. 18, according to two TLM CLC delegates, an announcement with a link to the resolution was posted on the council’s website and Twitter account.

The resolution stated that the labor council ​“opposes in principle any union involvement in the production or transportation of weapons destined for Israel.” It also encouraged the national AFL-CIO to ​“publicly support an immediate ceasefire and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.”

But the following Monday, an AFL-CIO senior field representative informed the board that the resolution did not conform with the national AFL-CIO’s official position, according to interviews and emails shared with In These Times.

He specifically pointed to a press release issued by the national labor federation on Oct. 11 calling for ​“a swift resolution to the current conflict to end the bloodshed of innocent civilians, and to promote a just and long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” but not explicitly mentioning a cease-fire or opposing the production and shipment of weapons destined for Israel. (Some AFL-CIO-affiliated unions represent workers in the defense industry, including the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and United Auto Workers.)

By differing from the AFL-CIO’s stated position, the field representative explained, the TLM CLC’s resolution was technically void because it violates a governance rule, Rule 4(b), which states: ​“Area labor councils, as chartered organizations of the AFL-CIO, shall conform their activities on national affairs to the policies of the AFL-CIO.” He further clarified to Alice that the rule ​“has long been understood to apply to international positions as well as national.

Meanwhile, the resolution had already gained widespread public attention after the TLM CLC’s statement about it was retweeted by the Democratic Socialists of America’s National Labor Commission.

This partial article originally appeared in full at In These Times on Nov. 2, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a labor historian, educator, journalist and union activist who teaches at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies, SUNY Empire State University in New York City. He has been an In These Times contributor since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSchuhrke.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.