Union leaders demand Gaza ceasefire, call out Biden’s ‘complicity in war crimes’
UAW President Shawn Fain speaks at a D.C. event where labor leaders and progressive members of Congress called for support for H.Res. 786, the ceasefire resolution in the House. | Photo via UAW

WASHINGTON—Labor leaders from across the United States met in the capital on Thursday, Dec. 14, to demand President Joe Biden call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in occupied Palestine.

Joined by Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Andre Carson, D-Ind., and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., union members and national leaders assembled to make their demands for an end to the genocide in Gaza clear.

Officially represented were the United Auto Workers, the American Postal Workers Union, United Electrical Workers, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and the National Labor Network for a Ceasefire. The event was called to build awareness and support for H.Res. 786, a ceasefire bill in Congress.

Bush and Tlaib, who are currently co-sponsoring the bill, opened the event, which took place just outside the U.S. Capitol. Bush said that “the union members and leaders here today are part of a growing coalition of national and local unions who are standing up and calling for an immediate and lasting ceasefire” and urging “the Biden administration to end its complicity in war crimes.”

The ‘Unions for Ceasefire Now’ event held just outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 14. | Bennett Shoop / People’s World

Tlaib, the daughter of a UAW member, recalled how the union taught her father that “he deserved human dignity, even though he only had a fourth-grade education, even though he was Palestinian, even though he was Muslim.”

She emphasized that the American people are “tired of funding wars” and that “transformative change does not come from the people in power…it comes from the movement in the streets,” pointing to the strength of the unions represented.

She pointed to the contradiction of Biden calling himself “the most pro-union president in American history” while “ignoring the voices of working people across the country who are demanding human dignity not only for their own families but for families in Gaza.”

Reminding those assembled of the power of organized labor, she noted how businesses are closing and workers are walking off the job to demand a ceasefire, showing “there’s power in withholding our labor.”

UAW President Shawn Fain declared, “We cannot bomb our way to peace.” He said, “The only path forward is to build peace and social justice through a ceasefire.” Addressing himself to union members and leaders across the country, he said labor had to “fight for all workers and suffering people around the world.”

Fain said that means “Restoring people’s basic rights and allowing water, food, fuel, humanitarian aid to enter Gaza” and negotiating “the release of all hostages.” He called on the entire labor movement to join the UAW and other unions in “this mission for peace and social justice for all of humanity.”

Speaking of rank-and-file auto workers, Fain thanked them “for speaking out and pushing us to come out in support of a ceasefire.” He said, “It was the right thing to do,” and that it was now up to “the rest of our elected officials to step up and do what it takes to end the violence.”

“The labor movement is the conscience of America,” Brandon Mancilla, a UAW regional director, said. “We promote a vision for a just society, and we put the power of our membership behind it.”

As such, he said, “the labor movement needs to stand for a vision that goes beyond our work here in this country…. So long as the bombing continues, it is our moral obligation to speak out.” Concluding, he issued an important reminder that “a pro-worker economy…is a peace economy that takes care of the least among us.”

Janvi Madhani, a representative of the United Electrical Workers, provided a summary of the recent violence against the people of Gaza, noting how Israel’s escalation has taken the lives of over 18,000 people and displaced almost two million more.

She pointed out that “Israel does this all with impunity and with the United States’ explicit support” and that “time and time again our government has initiated wars and destabilization campaigns around the world.”

Madhani emphasized that “in no other country is it more true than here that we, the workers, have a direct say in the plight of Palestinians.” She said that workers’ “hard-earned tax dollars go directly towards the bombs being dropped in Gaza, but not towards healthcare, housing, or education at home.”

Arguing that unions are “fundamentally a means for building power,” she urged that “this is the time for workers to leverage our labor power and electoral power to stand in uncompromising solidarity with the cause of Palestinian freedom.”

Addressing Biden directly, Madhani declared: “We the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America demand that you immediately call for a ceasefire, halt unconditional aid to Israel, and immediately restore the basic rights of Palestinians who have been deprived of food, fuel, water, and lifesaving medical aid so that the real work of justice for Palestinians can begin.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., pointed to the contradiction of Biden calling himself ‘the most pro-union president in American history’ while ‘ignoring the voices of working people across the country who are demanding human dignity not only for their own families but for families in Gaza.’ | Photo via UAW

“We don’t just believe that an injury to one is an injury to all, we believe that we can do something to stop those injuries,” Judy Beard said on behalf of the American Postal Workers Union. Highlighting the importance of this issue to the APWU, she read a statement by APWU President Mark Dimondstein, Executive Vice President Debby Szeredy, and Secretary-Treasurer, Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Powell.

Representing the National Labor Network for a Ceasefire, made up of over one million workers, Gene Bruskin, speaking as “a lifelong Jewish trade unionist in a proud tradition of U.S. Jews in labor,” declared that “the right-wing government of Israel is taking the lasting trauma of Israeli Jews from the Holocaust and using it to traumatize generations of Palestinians, whose trauma will inevitably result in a new generation of resistance to occupation.”

Additionally, he voiced his concern that Israel’s attack on Gaza “threatens to separate Jews from many of our allies in our fight against the real threat [of] anti-Semitism in the United States: the white supremacist movement.”

Bruskin made it clear that “only the United States can stop this madness.” Speaking of the endless aid, he said, “We’ve provided Israel with tens of billions of dollars of the most advanced military weapons in the world for decades.” Bruskin expressed the concern—widespread among many labor leaders—that “the president is undermining his own re-election with this unpopular war.”

Chelsea Bland of the Coalition of Labor Union Women made closing remarks, reminding attendees, “When armed conflict erupts, women and girls pay a devastating price…nearly 12,000 women and children have been killed in Gaza.” She urged the U.S. labor movement to put itself “on the right side of history and demand a ceasefire now.”

As more and more unions join the calls for a ceasefire, the demand for Biden to keep his word on his support for unions is building. Just last week, the National Education Association, Dr. Jill Biden’s union, came out to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

As the Palestinian solidarity movement grows by the day, the Biden administration is facing ever-growing pressure to side with the majority of the American people and call for a permanent ceasefire. With increasing numbers of union workers now throwing their weight behind the effort and threatening to withhold their labor, it’s getting harder for the White House to resist the demand for peace.

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Bennett Shoop
Bennett Shoop

Bennett Shoop is Washington, D.C.-based activist for the LGBTQ+ community and the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.