The U.S. labor movement has a decades-long history of supporting Israel wholeheartedly, punctuated by moments of pro-Palestine actions by rank-and-file activists. As Israel wages its war on Gaza, those pro-Palestine moments are becoming increasingly common.

by Jeff Schuhrke, In These Times

As the Israeli government carries out what experts describe as a potential genocide in Gaza — with full political, financial, and military backing from the United States — millions of people around the world are mobilizing to demand an immediate cease-fire and a free Palestine. Workers in the United States, including numerous rank-and-file unionists and local union representatives, are similarly speaking out against the ongoing siege and bombardment of Gaza and pledging their solidarity with Palestinian trade unions, which have called on organized labor to refuse to manufacture or transport weapons destined for Israel.

Labor leaders in various countries have joined in these calls, but top US labor officials — especially those in the AFL-CIO, the country’s top labor federation — have mostly refrained from supporting a cease-fire, with a few making tepid statements about the ​humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. After a central labor council in Olympia, Washington, unanimously passed a cease-fire and Palestine solidarity resolution a few weeks ago, the national AFL-CIO even stepped in to quash the measure.

Palestinian protesters at the Save Sheikh Jarrah rally for a Free Palestine, urging the UK government to take immediate action and stop allowing Israel to act with impunity.

The flare-up over Gaza is hardly the first time disagreement on foreign affairs has erupted within US labor. During the Vietnam War, conservative officials like AFL-CIO president George Meany unstintingly backed Washington’s adventurism, even as health care workers with Local 1199 and some United Auto Workers (UAW) leaders were among the earliest voices in the antiwar movement. Eventually, a majority of union presidents opposed the war — helping pressure the US government to finally end it — but not before millions of Vietnamese civilians and tens of thousands of US troops had been killed.

It is therefore urgent for rank-and-file activists to know the history of US labor’s close relationship with Israel — as well as the brave cases of US unionists working to alter that relationship to achieve peace and freedom for everybody in historic Palestine.

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