On Friday, at a press conference of union leaders outside the White House, United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 9A Director Brandon Mancilla announced that UAW International, meaning the entire union, had joined calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and had made plans. to investigate his links with the Israeli Army.
The UAW represents more than 400,000 auto workers in the United States (and more than half a million retired workers), making it the largest union in the country. UAW President Shawn Fain followed the announcement of Mancilla’s press conference with a post on the social network “From opposing fascism in World War II to mobilizing against apartheid in South Africa and the CONTRA war (the American intervention in Nicaragua), the UAW has consistently stood up for justice around the world.”
This announcement comes after several weeks of actions by a massive international movement in support of Palestine, in the streets, at universities and within unions like Starbucks Workers United, which have helped draw attention to Israel’s atrocities and helped to dramatically change public opinion.
This movement includes graduate unions, many of which are part of the UAW. UAW members at universities such as Harvard (HGSU-UAW 5118), Columbia (SWC-UAW 2710), and New York University (GSOC-UAW 2110) have been threatened with dismissal or eviction for pro-Palestinian speeches at their venues. of labor, and the struggles on university campuses against neo-McCarthyism, which has played a role as a catalyst for internal pressure on the UAW Executive Board by rank-and-file members.
It is worth noting that these three academic unions are in Region 9A (which represents workers in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Puerto Rico), and that before becoming Director of that regional , Mancilla was president of HGSU (Harvard Graduate Union). Before Friday, regional organizations 9A and 6 (which organizes workers on the West Coast and also includes many academic unions) were the largest in the UAW that had signed a call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The move marks a big shift from top UAW leaders who, as Alex Press told In These Times, historically “have not only largely ignored their Arab Workers in 1973 when they pushed for the union to break up of Israeli bonds; in more recent years, it has also intervened to prevent locals from supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
Beyond joining international calls for a ceasefire, Mancilla announced that the highest decision-making body of the union bureaucracy, made up of the president, the secretary-treasurer, the vice presidents and nine regional directors, will investigate “the history of Israel and Palestine, our union’s economic ties to the conflict, and exploring how we can achieve a just transition for American workers from war to peace.”
Divest from war and the Israeli state
This announcement from the international UAW indicates institutional support at the highest level of the union bureaucracy for two things. First, that regions, locals and individual unions that want to organize for Palestine in their workplaces can have some level of support from union leaders. It is essential that the UAW take all necessary measures to protect its members against McCarthyist attacks, as well as to support non-members in the same institutions; That means opposing attacks on Palestinian-supporting organizations at Columbia University and all attacks on students and non-union workers. Second, that the international union is indicating that after years the UAW leadership is opening a discussion about its ties to Israel and weapons manufacturing.
This UAW announcement appears to follow the framework outlined by labor historian Jeff Schuhrke in Jewish Currents in late November, suggesting that the success the UAW had had in incorporating the “just transition for a Green New Deal” movement into its successful 2023 strikes at the Big Three auto companies (and achieving unionization of General Motors’ new electric vehicle plants) should be expanded into a “conversion” plan to remove unionized UAW workers at Lockheed Martin factories, Raytheon and General Dynamics out of the American war machine and socially placed, instead, in productive manufacturing and engineering. UAW rank-and-file workers are already planning to reach out to their colleagues in these companies and try to organize to get the workshops of these weapons companies to support divestment from weapons manufacturing.
Jeff Schuhrke, however, makes a false equivalence between “the just transition” and conversion plans, ignoring that the UAW was only able to unionize electric vehicle plants that were already planned by GM following legislation by President Joe Biden’s administration to galvanize the production of electric vehicles, an investment in national infrastructure with the main objective of competing technologically and geopolitically with China.
Neither the Joe Biden administration nor the Democratic or Republican parties will lead the effort to convert any part of the US military industrial complex to “peacetime manufacturing.” The calls to arms (or away from them, in this case) must come from the UAW’s own rank-and-file workers, who are the only ones who can find both the will and the power to end these companies’ war efforts. .
Most importantly, Schuhrke notes, “American unions long ago ceded ‘management rights’ to employers, meaning that employers make the decisions about what is produced, when and how, and that any dispute over conversion of plants would require a radical expansion of the limited rights of unions. competition.” For rank-and-file UAW workers, this means organizing to truly take democratic control of their workplaces, right down to deciding what gets made and to whom it is sold. Just like the Lucas Plan of the decade In the 1970s, where highly skilled workers at a UK aerospace company collectively drew up a plan to produce socially useful systems and machines, UAW workers in all workplaces, including weapons manufacturers, could challenge the capitalist status quo and assert power over the production process of which they are a part.
Workers must rise
UAW workers at weapons manufacturers cannot be the only ones fighting, and unions that have made similar calls for a ceasefire cannot be the only ones involved in this fight. All unions to follow their example. Furthermore, the unions that signed this petition must go beyond joining a call for a ceasefire and demanding an end to military aid to Israel from the United States.
All workers should organize in their workplaces to disrupt any connection with the American or Israeli war machine, or disrupt the usual activities of the American ruling class, in solidarity with Palestine. Nothing moves without workers. Using this power could mean that scientists in university laboratories (many of which are now unionized with the UAW) immediately stop working on research agreed to with the Israeli military or the US Department of Defense, or that, in the medium or long term, organize to demand that their research sites sell licenses for their discoveries or inventions to any military power, working to strip scientific research from imperialism. Unionized teachers could also organize to radically change their curricula and study the truth about American imperialism and the Israeli genocide in Palestine. >Tech workers are organizing to cancel their companies’ contracts with the Israeli Army for cloud computing technology that the Israeli security state uses to monitor and bomb Palestinians.
Auto workers, teachers, union workers and engineers will all march in one labor contingent in the next big protest in the streets, shoulder to shoulder with students, writers, health care workers and those mobilizing in solidarity. with Palestine. These workers should demand an immediate end to the siege, an end to American aid to Israel, an immediate divestment from our unions and workplaces in Israel, and oppose the Israeli apartheid state and defend a free Palestine.
Imperialism is incompatible with the interests of the working class. A harm to one is a harm to all, and American-built weapons intended to kill Palestinians do not make American workers safer. The American working class owes a debt of solidarity to all workers around the world, and if our solidarity is with the international working class, our interests here in the imperial core must lie in dismantling the American war machine.
Money spent on war is money not spent on housing, healthcare and other necessary services, the Joe Biden administration’s new funding of $14 billion to Israel alone would pay for 100,000 public housing units. We must fight in our workplaces and join the fight in the streets for a free Palestine, against Israeli attacks supported by American imperialism.