Despite Intimidation, Union Voices Get Louder for Ceasefire in Gaza
In the U.S. and across the world, hundreds of thousands of people have taken the streets to protest Israel’s assault on Gaza, which has killed at least 8,300 Palestinians, including 3,300 children, since October 7. On October 27, the United Nations called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.”
In the U.S., those protesting Israel’s attacks have faced a wave of repression by employers.
Management retaliation has struck journalists and academics. Michael Eisen, editor-in-chief of the open-access science journal eLife, was fired after sharing a satirical article from The Onion that criticized media responses to the loss of Palestinian life. Jackson Frank, a sports writer for PhillyVoice, was fired after criticizing a pro-Israel post by the Philadelphia 76ers.
After publishing and signing a letter of prominent artists and critics for a ceasefire, to stop an “escalating genocide,” Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco was fired after 18 years at the magazine and six in that role. Three other editors resigned from the high-profile magazine in protest.
The National Writers Union is documenting such cases—both to connect writers with individual support, and to push for industry-wide reforms.
Meanwhile in Gaza, at least 25 journalists have been killed by Israeli airstrikes.
COVER FOR UNION-BUSTING
After Starbucks Workers United posted a message of solidarity with Palestine on X (formerly Twitter) October 9, Starbucks executives sued the union in federal court. The lawsuit demands that Starbucks Workers United stop using the union’s current name and logo on the grounds of trademark infringement.
In a letter published in In These Times, Workers United President Lynne Fox says, “Starbucks saw an opportunity to capitalize on the horrific and tragic events in the Middle East to further its unprecedented, illegal union busting campaign, trying to bully workers into abandoning their union name and logo.” The union has countersued.
Starbucks now finds itself the target of a consumer boycott from both ends—pro-Israel customers blaming Starbucks for the union’s statements, and pro-Palestine customers protesting its attack on the union.
In Olympia, Washington, the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council voted unanimously for a resolution against “any union involvement in the production or transportation of weapons destined for Israel,” and called for “our parent federation [the AFL-CIO] to also publicly support an immediate ceasefire and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.”
A library worker and delegate who co-wrote and organized for the resolution, who asked to be identified as Alice, said the demands were “inspired by the call from Palestinian unions to unions around the world” to stop labor from backing the assault on Gaza. A group of delegates has started researching connections between local unions and the Israeli military, particularly in nearby ports.
The national AFL-CIO pushed back. On Monday, a field rep emailed council officers saying “your resolution goes beyond the position that the AFL-CIO has taken. Please let me know if you intend to retract the resolution.” Alice said she was told not to talk to the press.
By the end of the week, the Council president yielded to the push from the national office, and posts about the resolution were taken down.
“It’s just unbelievable to me that they would pressure us like this,” Alice said. “Local labor councils and unions speaking up is how we show the leadership where the rank and file is at.” A few Thurston-Lewis-Mason delegates have been asking other regional councils and union locals to pass resolutions standing with them.
“I’m hoping we can put some pressure on the AFL-CIO to back off, and even endorse a ceasefire, the position that so many international unions have come to, from Ireland, Canada, the U.K.,” Alice said. Regional or national union federations in those countries have passed calls for a ceasefire or an end to Israel’s occupation.
In the past week 27,000 labor activists have signed a letter calling on top U.S. union leaders to “break your silence” and push for a ceasefire.
The national AFL-CIO statement from October 11 closed with a call “to end the bloodshed of innocent civilians, and to promote a just and long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
The New York Times reported on October 27 that Postal Workers (APWU) President Mark Dimondstein, who described himself as an “anti-Zionist Jew,” was a lone voice on the AFL-CIO executive council pushing others to stand for a ceasefire. He spoke for 30 minutes in the council meeting, the Times reported.
REPRESSION, AN OLD FOE
Retaliation for political speech is nothing new.
In 2011, National Public Radio fired host Lisa Simeone after she was quoted in the press as an activist with a local Occupy Wall Street group. NPR claimed it was against policy for employees to take public stances on anything related to coverage.
CNN fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill in 2018 after he called for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea” in a speech delivered at the United Nations’ International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Grocery workers, retail workers, transit workers, and postal workers have fought disciplines and firings since 2020 over the right to wear Black Lives Matter buttons and masks. Some eventually won, especially when they fought with union backing.
In 2020, editors at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette barred scores of journalists from any coverage of Black Lives Matter protests. Reporter Alexis Johnson’s initial infraction was a personal tweet poking fun at critics who said the protests caused a public mess, by joking a Kenny Chesney tailgate party caused even more ruckus.
After editors barred Johnson from covering anti-racist marches, 100 co-workers posted in support of her. Editors barred them, too.
Post-Gazette workers with the NewsGuild fought back. Their campaign called for resignations from two top editors over the “outrageous sensitivity,” and asked advertisers to stop bankrolling the paper until it reneged.
The campaign didn’t win, but the fight set the stage for workers to mount a strike over management cuts to their health care. That strike has been going for a year.
LOCALS STEP UP
Despite the current crackdown on criticism of Israel’s actions, a handful of union locals have passed calls for ceasefire and solidarity.
In Austin, Texas, Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 520 passed a resolution at its membership meeting to sign on to the ceasefire letter started by the United Electrical Workers (UE) international and Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000.
Electrician apprentice Dave Pinkham, one of the members who brought the motion, talked to members across the local to build support. “The main question that came up was, ‘What does this have to do with us?’” says Pinkham. “We made an appeal to humanity: ‘U.S. military support to Israel is supporting violence there. Let’s stop.’ That worked.”
Along with these Texans, eight other labor organizations have added their name to the ceasefire letter, including the San Antonio educators and school staff, Restaurant Workers United, and the Auto Workers' western regional leadership.
On Tuesday, top leaders of the Painters (IUPAT) put out their own call for a ceasefire. IUPAT President Jimmy Williams wrote on X, “It is the duty of all working people to stand up and say enough. A conflict of this magnitude cannot be fixed by bombs and bullets.”
The board of Longshore Workers Local 5 in Oregon, which includes workers in bookshops, early childhood education, and animal clinics, put out a ceasefire statement that says, “The ILWU’s long history of social justice activism and solidarity with oppressed people around the world is part of what drew the original organizers of Local 5 to the ILWU in the first place.” In recent decades, Longshore Workers at Oakland and British Columbia ports have refused to unload cargo from Israeli ships, honoring picket lines and boycotts.
A new rank-and-file campaign, WGA for Peace, is pushing for the Writers Guild to resist the lead of the Director’s Guild (DGA) and SAG-AFTRA in releasing statements of support for Israel. A group of high-profile members of the Guild had asked the Guild to condemn the October 7 attacks.
A WGA for Peace representative said the group worried the statements would fuel “a one-sided narrative that would lead to the escalating genocide in Palestine that we’re witnessing today.
“As mostly lower to mid-level workers, we knew that if we were going to be successful we would have to show collective force publicly,” said the representative, who asked to remain anonymous.
WGA for Peace published their own open letter, now signed by members of the Animation Guild (IATSE-TAG), the Directors Guild, and SAG-AFTRA calling on their unions to retract statements uncritically supporting Israel’s actions.
In California, the board of the Oakland Education Association called for an immediate ceasefire, organizing a rally with other unions and sharing curriculum and other resources for teachers.
“We have large groups of students who come from Yemen, as well as Palestine and other parts of the Middle East,” said kindergarten teacher Olivia Udovic, a board member. “At my daughter’s high school, students helped lead a teach-in and walked out last Friday. A middle school is holding a circle for Muslim, Jewish, and Arab-American students to process what’s happening together.
“I’d say times like this are a time to show our students how understanding current events is critical—and we have responsibilities, especially when it’s our government that’s funding so much of the atrocities we’re seeing on the news.
“That’s what it means to address the sadness and anger that many of us are experiencing right now. For younger people, it’s even harder to understand the why, and even more important to provide spaces to do something, to not just sit in grief.”