“why are we here?” said Brandon Mancilla, a leader of the United Automobile Workers. Mr Mansilla faced a crowd of hundreds of union members gathered on the steps of the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library, rallying for a ceasefire in Gaza, and braving the freezing temperatures.
“Cease fire now, solidarity forever!” Mr Mansilla, 29, said to the cheers of the crowd waving Union banners and Palestinian flags. “Let’s get more unions behind us.”
That December 21 protest – which came shortly after the 350,000-member UAW voted to support the ceasefire – marked a turning point in the US labor movement’s relations with Israel.
For decades, the most prominent American unions were largely supportive of Israel. However, today, amid the resurgence of the American labor movement, some workers are urging their unions to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and succeed – a shift that reflects a broader generational shift.
But many unions remain divided over what stance to take or whether to take any stance at all.
Some American labor leaders have been supportive of Israel’s war against Hamas and have increasingly Condemn Hamas attacks on 7 October. They are disappointed by the views of the younger generation of organizers who in some cases oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
“There’s been a change in society, and it’s reflected in the labor movement as it is everywhere else,” said Stuart Appelbaum, chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee and head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Union support for Israel
The American labor movement’s traditionally close relationship with Israel stems from decades of Jewish labor leaders strongly supporting the state even before its establishment. In 1917, the American Federation of Labor passed a resolution supporting the Balfour Declaration, which called for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, and in the 1920s and 30s unions gave millions to the Histadrut, Israel’s national labor union. Donated Rs.
After Israel’s establishment in 1948, American unions began investing in country bond program, strike and using money from the pension fund. Some people also donated money to build stadiums and children’s homes in Israel. By 1994, $1 billion was invested in those bonds by about 1,700 American trade unions, according to archival research by labor historian Jeff Schuhrke of Empire State University.
“In many ways, you could argue that American unions helped create the state of Israel,” Mr. Schuhrke said.
In 1980, Len Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, declared in front of hundreds of labor lawyers and union officials that a Palestinian state would be “a terrorist state” and “an unmitigated disaster for the United States.” In 1982, the union took out an advertisement in The New York Times declaring support for Israel in the war against Lebanon: “The AFL-CIO is not neutral.”
The union’s support for Israel has sometimes created internal tensions, with some union rank-and-file members opposing the relationship. In 1949, the same year the International Ladies Garment Workers Union purchased $1 million of Israeli bonds, a group of its members asked the union to support Palestinian refugees. In 1973, thousands of Arab American auto workers in Detroit briefly left the job To protest financial aid to Israel by the UAW. In 2002, then-AFL-CIO President John J. After Sweeney spoke at a national rally for Israel, a group of union members circulated a petition condemning his support for the country.
Since the Israel–Gaza war broke out, the debate over the fighting has exposed deep rifts over how unions should represent their diverse memberships, and how to balance political advocacy with professional influence.
The Writers Guild faced the disappointment of more than 300 members when the union did not immediately condemn the Hamas attacks on October 7. Starbucks and its union, Starbucks Workers United, are suing each other over the union’s use of company imagery. Pro-Palestinian social media posts. Amazon labor union head Chris Smalls faced harsh criticism for a pro-Palestinian post that included the phrase “from the river to the sea” — a decades-old Palestinian nationalist slogan that many see as a call for Israel’s destruction — echoing New The Yorkers Union faced outrage in 2021 when it posted the phrase on social media.
When a proposed statement calling for a cease-fire circulated in the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, a UAW sub-union of more than 3,000 public defenders and legal workers, in early November, a heated internal debate erupted. Those who opposed it said they did not understand why the union had to focus on an issue that had no direct relation to their work.
Isaac Altman, a legal aid lawyer, said in an interview that he found the union’s proposed resolution one-sided. He said he could not understand why the resolution did not shed more light on the violence of Hamas militants. But he was also concerned that the statement would anger the legal establishment in Nassau County, potentially harming the clients he represents.
So he, along with three other legal aid lawyers, filed suit to stop the union from voting on the cease-fire motion. A court issued a temporary injunction.
“I thought there was real concern that the judge would look at this motion negatively and take it out on our clients,” said Mr. Altman, 27, who is Jewish.
Mr. Altman’s organization, the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, receives its funding from a contract with the Republican-controlled county. She and her colleagues were concerned about how the proposed proposal could affect their funding.
“We have more of a duty or obligation to our clients that I think trumps people’s right to speak,” said Ilana Koopmar, another plaintiff in the lawsuit and a legal aid attorney of 31 years. Ms. Koopmar said she was also concerned about the impact such a statement might have on Jewish and Israeli customers.
The injunction was dissolved by a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York on December 15, and a few days later, the cease-and-desist statement passed by a vote of 1,067 to 570.
The president of the Neighborhood Defender Service Union, which is also part of the Legal Aid Lawyers Association, resigned on November 6 out of concern that his funding would be in jeopardy if his organization issued a statement on the war. The Bronx Defenders, another public defense organization in New York, faced demands for citywide funding cuts after its union issued a statement in support of the Palestinians.
Other union organizers are concerned about the internal tension created by these debates. NewsGuild-CWA, which is the parent organization of the New York Times union and represents more than 26,000 members as part of the Communications Workers of America, heard from some of its members who wanted the union to take a stance in favor of a cease-fire. Adopt. -Fire. A group of New York Times journalists were concerned that this would dilute their coverage of the war, so they formed an Independence Caucus.
Megan Twohey, a leader in the caucus, said, “We want guild leadership to avoid public positions that compromise the journalistic independence that is essential to many members and could undermine our work.”
The union, which also represents workers outside the media industry, has not taken a position on the war. it has created statement About the journalists killed in the conflict.
There has been hesitation among some new unions to consider a ceasefire. For example, the Alphabet Workers Union at Google’s parent company Alphabet, which has about 1,400 members, has not voted on whether to call a cease-fire, partly because the union is still nascent and potential members, particularly Is formally concerned about alienating technical staff. in Israel. The issue has come up for discussion in membership meetings and on the messaging app Discord.
a generational change
The change in the union’s attitude toward Israel comes at a moment of a broader revival of the American labor movement. According to Gallup, public approval of unions was 67 percent last year, up from 54 percent a decade earlier, following strikes in Hollywood and auto plants.
Mr. Mansilla, the UAW leader, said, “Over the past few decades, with the decline of the labor movement, its vision has become much more narrow.” “It was defensive.”
Now, many workers are eager to see their unions capture the momentum of this period by taking bold stances on progressive issues, which they see as part of the history of American workers’ involvement in national and international politics. (Labor unions helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which included demands for fair wages and civil rights.)
“People who have become very engaged in their unions want their unions to be the full expression of their politics,” said Rebecca Given, associate professor of labor studies at Rutgers. “There’s always a risk that it could alienate some people, and it could excite others.”
And some union organizers feel that if they are fighting a political battle at home, they should also fight the battle abroad.
Peter Lingsow, 30, a part-time package handler at United Parcel Service and a Chicago union activist, drew a parallel between younger union members’ pressure for a new contract and their insistence on speaking out on the struggle. “What you’re seeing is the new activist layer saying these are the same fights.”
Longtime labor experts say the demand for pro-ceasefire statements from American unions is evidence of a generational shift. There is a new wave of leadership from youth activists who grew up after the collapse of the Oslo peace process of the 1990s.
“This social-movement is being generated by youth, Gen Z, millennials,” said Seth Goldstein, a labor lawyer who has worked with the Amazon labor union. “I don’t think they’re necessarily anti-Israel. But what they have seen in Israel is a Netanyahu government.”
At the same time, some American labor leaders have been steadfast in their support for Israel, including Mr. Appelbaum of the Jewish Labor Committee.
Randi Weingarten, 66, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is a longtime supporter of Israel. After the war began she visited Israel to meet with civil society groups, pay shiva calls, and meet families of hostages.
On December 18, dozens of protesters outside the Museum of the City of New York demanded that Ms. Weingarten call a ceasefire. She has since posted that she supports a “bilateral, negotiated ceasefire” that brings hostages home, provides aid to Gaza and “starts the process of 2 states for 2 people.”
Ms. Weingarten said she thinks it is important for unions to engage with geopolitical issues, beyond contract negotiations, even when labor leaders face opposition and disagreement.
“There will be people within the labor movement who say, ‘Just do economics, just do collective bargaining,'” he said. “Then there are those within the labor movement who say intersectionality is inevitable.”