The UC Student-Workers Union represents “over 13,000 student-workers across the University of California system.” They are affiliated with the United Auto Workers. The union exists to bargain with the University of California concerning “salary, benefits, workload, grievance procedures, fair hiring processes and other issues.” On Wednesday, the union announced that its members had voted, 1411 to 749 to “join the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” against Israel. In accordance with this resolution, the union will call on the University of California and the United Auto Workers to divest from Israeli state institutions and from companies complicit “in severe and ongoing rights human rights violations as part of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.” They are the first union in the United States to vote to support BDS.
Others have explained why the BDS movement is not merely a call for solidarity with Palestinians or to end the occupation but a call for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. If you don’t believe them, just listen to boycott activist, Lara Kiswani, who explained on a panel organized by UC Student Workers that BDS is “resisting colonialism in Palestine, and colonialism entails all of occupied Palestine from Haifa to Jerusalem to Ramallah.” Or “Bringing down Israel will really benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society, particularly workers.”
But other union members don’t see how joining BDS will help workers. Most obviously, as Informed Grads, a University of California student group organized to oppose the resolution points out, BDS advocates in the union have been “spending time and money on this agenda that should be going to improving our working conditions.” Moreover,if the union really were to succeed in getting UC to divest, it would be harming those of its members whose employment, research funding, and travel depend on grants from organizations, like the Israeli Binational Science Foundation, that the boycott targets, or on companies, like Northrop Grumman, that are targets of BDS because they sell to the Israeli military, and are therefore, activists argue, profiting from the oppression of Palestinians.
Other unions have noticed. The California Teamsters, representing almost 250,000 workers, including 14,000 in the UC system, sent a scathing letter to the executive board of UC Student-Workers, which actively supported the resolution. The authors of the letter note that the board has been demanding a boycott of companies that provide a livelihood not only for members of the Teamsters Union but also for UAW members. “We cannot conceive,” they conclude, “of an action more hostile to the interests of our members and more antithetical to the most basic principles of the union movement.” That may be one reason the UAW itself opposes BDS.
The left of which the UC Student-Workers is part likes to denounce “privilege.” But the Teamsters have it right. “Unlike the members of your union, who are graduate students and therefore union members for a short period of time, our members are working in jobs that must support them for a lifetime and it is our job to protect them for all of their working lives.” The teaching assistants, tutors, and graders of the University of California ignored them and voted overwhelmingly against the interest of the workers with whom they have affiliated themselves.
Talk about privilege.