Union leaders exhort members to organize for Gaza ceasefire
Sean Fain, president of the United Auto Workers | UAW

WASHINGTON—Top union leaders Shawn Fain of the Auto Workers and Becky Pringle of the National Education Association exhorted unionists to organize workers—in and out of their own unions—to demand a ceasefire now in the Middle East war, a conflict where the Israeli military ravages Gaza and its people.

Their urging came at a February 22 webinar, organized by Labor For A Ceasefire, an organization of seven national unions, 220 locals, central labor councils and state federations, plus two allied groups. The session drew more than 500 watchers.

Campaigning for a ceasefire is a moral value for unionists, Pringle and Fain said, urging listeners to recruit more backers. “We have to save lives, no matter the faith, no matter the ethnicity,” the NEA chief declared.

To try to achieve that ceasefire, NEA’s 3.3 million members will lobby their lawmakers—and Democratic President Joe Biden—to push Israel into a ceasefire, and into peace talks to reach a long-term two-state solution to the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And the NEA, the nation’s largest union, will take the ceasefire drive international, working with sister unions worldwide on the struggle, Pringle added. “We have to think of solidarity as an action. To quote the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, ‘We are each other’s business.’

“So everyone has to fight for fairness and freedom and equality and justice.”

“We should stand up for each other and stand up for humanity,” Fain stated, after invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “No one can be ignorant of the effect of war.”

“Today we find our government boosting the supporters of war. And working-class people and poor people are always going to pay the price for the acts of those in power.

“There is nothing more patriotic than the pursuit of justice and humanity.”

Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, chimed in during the short question-and-answer period after the exhortations from Fain, Pringle and Reps. Summer Lee, D-Pa., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. NNU, NEA and the UAW are among the coalition’s seven national unions.

“You can’t put a band-aid on a bleeding wound,” Ross said. “This is a public health catastrophe.”

The webinar marked the ever-growing union call for ceasefire in the war—a call which even Biden has noticed, since organized labor is a key part of his electoral coalition.

Biden recently termed the Israeli military’s constant bombing and shelling of Gazans “over the top,” though he hasn’t put his money where his mouth is by threatening to condition or cut off U.S. military aid to the Jewish state.

Seeks more for military

Instead, he seeks $15 billion more for military aid for Israel, with two-thirds of it for offensive weapons.

That’s far more than he seeks—about $1 billion—for humanitarian aid for the Gazans.

U.S. military aid to Israel actually buys U.S.-made weapons, benefitting arms contractors here. The ceasefire campaign, at www.laborforceasefire.org, doesn’t call for an arms aid cutoff.

The Israeli military money is hung up in Congress in wrangling over an immigration crackdown and military aid to the Ukraine. And the House’s ruling Republicans reject aid for the Gazans.

That’s despite the mounting carnage the Israeli military, armed with U.S.-made weapons, has caused in Gaza: 29,000 dead, more than 60,000 injured, 85% of homes and apartments damaged or destroyed, 1.9 million refugees out of a total population of 2.2 million, and hospitals, schools, community centers and mosques bombed.

“We must be pursuing peace and diplomacy” to halt that death and destruction, added Tlaib, a Detroiter and the first-ever Palestinian-American in Congress.

Only one speaker, Rep. Lee, who represents Pittsburgh, told the group she favors a cutoff of U.S. military aid, and the ceasefire campaign itself is silent on that. But Rep. Tlaib confronted the president face-to-face months ago to demand the military aid end. Biden then refused, and still does.

“We must support life, not death,” said Tlaib. Added Lee: “Ours is a movement of peace. Ours is a movement of human rights. Ours is a movement for all people impacted by this conflict.”

In a note of how Biden’s backing of Israel could cost him politically, Tlaib said 53% of the American people support a ceasefire. “And that includes 74% of the Democrats in Michigan” a swing state Biden narrowly carried in 2020. Michigan also has the nation’s largest Muslim-American community.

Pringle took a different political tack. Without naming Biden’s likely Republican foe this fall, former Oval Office denizen Donald Trump, the NEA chief said there would be no chance for peace or negotiations if Trump wins the White House back.

Trump, even more than Biden, is an uncritical backer of the right-wing nationalist-dominated Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump’s trumpeting for Israel is part of his catering to “Christian” white nationalists in the U.S. Meanwhile, the PM’s aim is a complete triumph over Hamas, which invaded Israel October 7, regardless of what happens to Palestinian civilians.

“To do this”—achieve a ceasefire and peace talks—“we have to win the fight here at home,” Pringle told the webinar, trying to counter the disgust and dismay many ceasefire supporters feel about Biden’s pro-Israel stand.

“The Biden-Harris commitment to a two-state solution is absolutely critical. We know the alternative,” Trump, “will diminish both our democracy” in the U.S. “and our hope for a lasting peace.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.