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.


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