University of California Labor Union Makes History with BDS Vote in Solidarity with Palestinians


The union that represents 13,000 graduate student-workers in the University of California system has become the first major U.S. labor union to pass, by member vote, a resolution endorsing the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israeli occupation and in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination.
The teaching assistants, tutors, and other UC student workers who belong to United Auto Workers Local 2865 voted strongly in favor of a bill calling on the union’s umbrella organization, UAW International, and the University of California Regents to divest from companies complicit in Israeli occupation, and calling on the U.S. government to end all military aid to Israel. The results were released yesterday, following the counting of ballots cast on December 4, and the measure passed with 65 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed.
The resolution won on all University of California campuses except for UC Irvine and Santa Barbara – it even won at UCLA, which has a notorious history of organized opposition to quash divestment debates.Although academic boycott was not up for a vote, 52 percent of voters checked a box indicating their personal pledge to respect the boycott, which has been called for by Palestinian academic organizations, among others.
Last week’s vote was just the beginning. Consciousness about these issues is spreading, and our work is far from done. Here is the letter that the union’s executive board sent out to the 13,000 members of our union statewide, which will be sure to spark more discussion and organizing in the coming months:

Dear Fellow Student-Workers,
UAW Local 2865 has become the first major labor union in the United States to endorse by membership referendum the grassroots Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). In July, the Joint Council issued a statement in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions in solidarity with the call from Palestinian workers and students under occupation. The Joint Council asked the statewide membership to vote on the issue. After fourth months of internal debate, we held a membership vote and members clearly indicated their support.
65% of voting members approved calling on our parent union, the UAW International, to divest. We also voted to call on the UC to divest financial portfolios from companies involved in the Israeli occupation and to call on the U.S. government to end aid to Israel until Israel ends its colonial and apartheid practices and respects the human rights of Palestinians. In addition, 1136 (52% of voting members) pledged to take part in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions to end their complicity with Israeli dispossession, apartheid and occupation of Palestinian people and lands.
We recognize that our members hold many different views on the proposal. We thank union members from every perspective who shared your views and your life experiences to inform debate and engage vigorously in such an urgent issue for workers and students. We value dissent within our union, and we think that, as shown by the influx of new members during this campaign, vigorous debate strengthens our union.
With the announcement of the results, we reiterate our opposition to discrimination in all forms, and re-commit the union to ending racism. We welcome members from all national origins – including Israelis – to join the union and engage with us in addressing the local and international issues confronting workers.
The goal of this non-violent global strategy is that Israel end the military occupation, land confiscation, and human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; recognize the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and respect; and promote the right under international law of refugees to return to their homes.
We join several labor unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, UNITE New Zealand, CUPE in Canada, COSATU in South Africa, and many dockworker unions around the world. We also join growing voices in the U.S. labor movement to end many U.S. labor unions’ uncritical support of Israel and show labor solidarity with Palestinians. These include the leadership of North Carolina’s Public Service Workers’ Union-UE Local 150, rank and file members of the International Longshore Workers’ Union Local 10 who successfully blocked Israeli ships from unloading goods echoing their historic involvement in the anti-South African apartheid movement, and hundreds of labor organizers who have signed on to the U.S.-based Labor for Palestine statement. Furthermore, our attention to Palestinian struggle is not without precedent in the UAW. In 1973, Arab-American auto workers in Detroit protested the union’s purchase of Israeli bonds that financed the seizure of Palestinians’ lands.
We are also inspired by the substantial turnout of voters; over 2,100 union members voted in this election! We stand together in support of the rank-and-file Palestinian members of our union who brought this call to our attention and the rank-and-file members of all national origins, including Israelis, who have supported them. We are inspired by the incredible displays of solidarity across communities which demonstrate for us that only when all people are given the right and dignity to be free can we enjoy our own freedoms. From Palestine to Ferguson and Ayotzinapa, our union’s commitment to social justice must always ground itself in intersectional politics of solidarity.
The move to support Palestinian freedom, as with all other solidarity with other anti-racist and anti-colonial movements, is only a first step and it is up to us to follow this statement with action so that our solidarity translates into material transformation of living conditions of Palestinians. The union will follow up with the International and the UC Office of the President, and we look forward to working with our members to determine next steps. We invite you to think of creative ways to translate our union’s support for the Palestinian struggle into concrete action.
Thanks for your involvement in this process!
In solidarity with all of our members,
UAW 2865 Executive Board

The overwhelming margin of victory adds to the weight of this historic vote, which union members such as I believe will be the first of many BDS endorsements by major unions in the United States, including UAW International. We hope the UC Regents will heed the voices of graduate student-workers just as they should heed the six out of nine UC undergraduate student governments that have passed resolutions to divest from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses. This vote confirms that a new generation of U.S. students and workers sees how we’re linked to the oppression of Palestinians, and how we can do what is asked of us in their struggle for freedom.
Kumars Salehi is a PhD student at UC Berkeley and a rank-and-file member of UAW 2865.

8 thoughts on “University of California Labor Union Makes History with BDS Vote in Solidarity with Palestinians

  1. UAW International will never go along with this. BDS seeks to deliberately cause economic harm to Israeli Jews. And the so-called right of return that is the goal of BDS would necessarily end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. The slogan chanted by many BDS supporters, “from the river to the sea,” gives away the true intent of the BDS campaign — an end to Israel.
    BDS is evil.

  2. The BDS movement is motivated and informed by racism against Jewish people and hate. The goal of BDS is the elimination of Israel because it is a Jewish majority country. Please refer to any of the organizations supporting BDS such as JVP and Mondoweiss and one will quickly learn of their extreme hate and racism.

  3. Stop saying the union has 13,000 members, it doesn’t. It “represents” 13,000 workers, meaning that’s how many workers are covered by its contract, but its actual active membership is much lower, definitely not numbering over 10,000.

  4. Unless Israeli Jews stop using birth control and stop having abortions, Israel will cease to be a majority-Jewish state in 50 years. The Israeli right knows this very well, that’s why they’re constantly bringing in Jews from all over the world and making them citizens (and giving them good deals on mortgages in the Occupied Territories) while systematically ignoring the rights of Israelis of Palestinian descent.
    And I hate to break it to everyone, but the land that Israel currently occupies didn’t have a majority Jewish population between around 70 CE and 1950. I’ve never understood why a historical homeland suddenly gave tens of thousands of European Jews the right to take other people’s land. Israel should have been created out of parts of Germany and Poland in the first place. The Palestinians didn’t murder 6 million Jews. That was European Christians.

    • Luc, it is called the law of return and it has existed since the creation of the state. Many of those who settled in Israel were refugees from neighboring Arab countries who booted them out. I always wondered why many anti Semites such as luck assume Jews came only form Europe.
      I have a bit more news for you, prior to 1917, there was no demarkation line that identified Palestine as anything, It was all part of the Ottoman Empire which has no provinces or separate jurisdictions. It is nearly impossible to identify the true demographics of a territory when much the population was fluid. do yo know that that the father of the PLO, Arafat, was born in……Egypt? Do you know that the Palestinian Mandate encompassed what is today Jordan? Arabs migrated to what became British mandated Palestine as the economy developed under the British. The came for jobs that never existed in that forgotten corner of the Ottoman Empire.
      Jews have had a continuous presence in in what became Israel. Jewish identify wit the region never ceased. They have as much claim the a piece of the region as any so called Palestinian
      Finally, the states that were carved out of the Ottoman Empire never existed as well. There as never and iraq, Syria, Lebanon or Jordan.
      Try doing your homework rather than parroting an anti Semitic narrative.

      • The law of return was created by a state that was created by Europeans who felt guilty that they allowed 6 million Jews to be murdered by other Europeans. No one living in what became Israel had a say in that decision, and as you very well know, it was Zionism that created a pre-Shoah groundswell for a return to a historical and religious homeland that hadn’t been majority-Jewish in 2,000 years.
        Yes, and did you know that the father of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (whose real name was David Gruen), was born in Poland? What is your point, exactly? So according to your logic, Arafat shouldn’t have had any say outside of Egypt, and Gruen shouldn’t have had any say outside of Poland. But wait, did you know that Abraham was born in what is now Iraq? And that Moses was born in Egypt as well? If God gave you the right to commit genocide on the Canaanites (which is how many Zionists justify the occupation of the land of Canaan), I guess there’s no arguing against Israel and whatever it chooses to do. It’s God’s will, right?
        So you’re saying with a straight face that Jews and Arabs roughly numbered the same in what is now Israel? Or are you using the old canard that Israel was just a desert with a bunch of backward Bedouins riding around on camels until European Jews came and made a garden bloom in the desert, because they were just so much smarter and more civilized than those unwashed masses of dirty, evil Arabs? What percentage of the population of what is now Israel was Jewish in 1880?
        Sure, Jews can and should live wherever they want. But neither they nor any other ethnic or religious group gets to take other people’s land or make laws that discriminate against other people. And that’s exactly what Israeli law does, and you know that just as well as I do.
        And how am I anti-Semitic when I’m criticizing the State of Israel? Do you know what a Semite is? It’s a descendant of Shem, one of Noah’s sons. And guess who else is descended from Shem? That’s right, Arabs. So I’m not being anti-Semitic, I’m being anti-colonial.
        And speaking of colonialism, what percentage of Israelis living in settlements were born in Israel proper? Tell me that. Why are Argentinian Jews and Polish Jews and Russian Jews given sweetheart mortgages on property that was knowingly built on land that Israel has no right to sell property own, let alone to occupy? Are Arab Israelis offered the same mortgage deals? Tell me, my friend, I really want to know.

        • What is now Israel was part of the Ottoman Empire. There were no borders defining a Palestine, nothing.The Ottomans did not govern with provincial rule. People within the empire were free to move around, so much of the population was fluid. Much of the land was owned by absentee landlords.
          As for Europe “creating Israel? That’s plain ignorance. No one “created” Israel. It was a partition plan to create 2 states. It resembled a similar plan aired in 1938,, prior to the Holocaust.
          “And how am I anti-Semitic when I’m criticizing the State of Israel? Do you know what a Semite is? It’s a descendant of Shem, one of Noah’s sons. And guess who else is descended from Shem? That’s right, Arabs. So I’m not being anti-Semitic, I’m being anti-colonial.”
          You’re not criticizing Israel, you’re dismissing its right to exist. Understand the difference? Israel is not some “colonial” project. The term “anti Semitic”, my friend, was created by Europeans as a way of terming their hatred of Jews.

          “If God gave you the right to commit genocide on the Canaanites (which is how many Zionists justify the occupation of the land of Canaan), I guess there’s no arguing against Israel and whatever it chooses to do. It’s God’s will, right?”
          That was thousands of years ago. Do yo know how many lands were conquered and surrendered over that period of time? Where did your ancestors come from?
          Jews have their historic ties to the land of Israel. Ever part of their heritage rests in that small piece od land.
          Sad how you make up a narrative that smells of anti Semitism. Thankfully there is ia Jewish state. I would not trust the likes of your to assure our survival. I feel sad for you.

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