US and World Politics

AFL-CIO’s Ceasefire Call Shows Power of the Movement for Palestine

By Otto Fors

On February 8, 2024, the AFL-CIO called for a ceasefire in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. The statement came after months of silence, during which the largest union federation in the United States had gone as far as to force a Washington-based labor council to remove its ceasefire resolution. The AFL-CIO’s call shows that the movement for Palestine and rank-and-file ceasefire organizing has forced labor to shift its position on the assault—and this movement must go further.

The AFL-CIO’s statement comes after more than 28,000 Palestinians—40 percent of whom are children—have been killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Around 80 percent of the population is internally displaced, as over half of all buildings in Gaza have been destroyed. To survive, Palestinians in northern Gaza are subsisting on rice, animal feed, and contaminated water. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now planning a ground invasion of the crowded southern city of Rafah, where around 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

In response to the Zionist state’s genocide, hundreds-of-thousands across the world have flooded the streets for Gaza. Protests in the United States have been the largest since the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, and the largest ever for Palestinian liberation. Young people are reinvigorating the student movement by mobilizing on college campuses against the genocide, and people are taking to their workplaces to show solidarity with Gaza.

This powerful movement, and rank-and-file labor organizing for Palestine, are what have forced union leaderships like that of the AFL-CIO to shift their stance.

The AFL-CIO is just the latest in a growing list of labor organizations supporting a ceasefire. As early as October, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000 and the United Electrical Workers (UE) sponsored a ceasefire resolution. More recently, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) made similar statements.

Of course, despite these ceasefire calls, labor organizations are still far from demanding Palestinian liberation. In fact, the AFL-CIO’s tepid call mentions a need for “humanitarian aid” for Gazans, without mentioning that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are directly responsible for the destruction and dire conditions in Gaza. The AFT’s statement is even worse: Israelis are described as being “slaughtered” by Hamas, while the “tens-of-thousands of civilian Palestinian deaths” seemingly lack a known perpetrator.

While a ceasefire is a progressive demand that all unions should have taken up months ago, it is far from enough. Unions should demand an end to U.S. funding and arms shipments to Israel. Workers must force their leaders to, like Starbucks Workers United and UAW Local 551, condemn the apartheid, occupation, and state violence inflicted on Palestinians, and support Palestinians’ self-determination. And unions must end their direct, long-standing support for Zionism, including buying millions of Israeli government bonds.

A key limit and contradiction in the ceasefire calls is also union bureaucracies’ ties to the Democratic Party. While the movement has forced labor to break from, or at least rhetorically oppose, the bipartisan regime’s policy of supporting genocide, major organizations including the AFL-CIO, the AFT, and the UAW have endorsed Biden—Israel’s chief ally—for president. In other words, these unions are calling for an end to Israel’s bloody assault while supporting the imperialist regime that is directly funding and providing weapons for the mass slaughter. This is a betrayal of workers everywhere, not just the U.S. workers who’ve spoken out against their leaders’ hypocrisy and opposed the presidential endorsements.

Labor leaders’ embrace of imperialism is no accident. As Jason Koslowski explained,

“Our union leaders’ position there, atop the federation, helps drive those leaders into the U.S. government’s arms. They earn their (substantial) paychecks from playing the role of national go-between for labor and the U.S. government, building relationships, and fostering their prestige with government officials like presidents. Union leaders’ jobs are tied up with those of the imperialist state politicians they are linked to. And so they tend to see the U.S. government and Western imperialism as allies, or at least potential allies, helping secure capitalist profits around the globe in a way that they think will help them, too.”

Union bureaucracies’ need to toe the Democratic Party line is evident in their ceasefire statements, in which they attempt to tie this demand to support for a two-state solution—which is increasingly becoming the line of the Biden administration. In this context, these organizations are trying to co-opt the rank and file and the movement in the streets by granting a concession. In other words, unions are offering a lukewarm ceasefire statement while trying to convince us that what we are fighting for is actually a two-state solution instead of actual liberation for the Palestinian people from the river to the sea.

Workers need to fight to wrest back control of our unions and definitively break from imperialism, from Zionism, and from both Democrats and Republicans. Neither Biden, nor Donald Trump—who has been courting an endorsement from the Teamsters union—are friends of the working class, whether in the United States or abroad. A ceasefire demand is a first step, but the 12.5 million workers across 60 unions that make up the AFL-CIO have the power to grind the war machinery everywhere to a complete halt. It’s time for workers to use our power to stop this genocide and ramp up the struggle against imperialism.

Left Voice, February 11, 2024