The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign is shaping up as one of these historical moments when everyone has to choose which side they are on. Trade unionists have good reason to know what this feels like. Labor history is punctuated with similar contests, when nuanced views on strategy have run their course and we are left with a stark moral choice. For too long, the debate about how best to oppose the occupation of Palestine has been clouded, often intentionally, by strenuous deliberations over tactics. As for those in official positions, the formidable sway of pro-Zionist lobbying has been disturbingly effective. Elected politicians have AIPAC watching their every move, and high officialdom within the AFL-CIO has the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) to placate. As Richard Trumka put it plainly at a JLC dinner gathering in 2009: “Tonight, let me tell you that, so long as I’m president, you will never have a stronger ally than the AFL-CIO. That’s why we’re proud to stand with the JLC to oppose boycotting Israel.”
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its continued control of movement in Gaza is unjust and inhumane. It must be ended as quickly as possible. Israel and Palestine must exist as two states side by side. How can this be achieved? I don’t believe that boycotting
Israel, or the overall BDS prescription for change, is the correct response—not for the labor movement, nor for other movements or individuals.
The current Israeli government is a right-wing government with a smattering of centrist parties devolved from a very complex—and partly dysfunctional—parliamentary system. I don’t support it. But boycotting this government will only make it stronger. That’s because the tendency inside Israel—and especially on the right—is to hunker down in response to boycotts. Poll numbers rise for the right when there are visible attacks on Israel, and savvy politicians—especially Israel’s Prime Minister—make ample use of these opportunities to strengthen their own base at the expense of the left.
Eric Lotke, Senior Research Analyst, Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Heather Ann Thompson, Professor History, Temple University, Nicole Porter, Advocacy Director, The Sentencing Project, moderator, Ed Ott, Distinguished Lecturer, Murphy Institute on “The U.S. Prison Industrial Complex: Is it a Labor Issue?” (April 18 2013)
Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, David Coles, President, Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union, Canada, Bhairavi Desai, Executive director, New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Hector Figueroa, President, Local 32 BJ SEIU, Moderated by Sean Sweeney, Director Cornell Global Labor Institute on “Confronting the Climate Crisis: Can Labor Help Shape an Effective Strategy?” (January 17, 2013)
Kevin Harrington, Vice President, Rapid Transit Operations, TWU Local 100, Nastaran Mohit, Occupy Sandy and the Laundry Workers Center, Michael Premo, Occupy Sandy, Judy Sheridan-Gonzales, NYS Nurses Association, Moderated by Amy Muldoon, CWA Local 1106 on “Resist Recover Rebuild: Labor Speaks out After Sandy” (December 7, 2012)
Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU, Leina Bocar, writer and organizer, Chris Kasper, artist and organizer, Suzanne Collado, labor and student community organizer, NYU Moderated by Stephanie Luce, Murphy Institute for Worker Education on “Drowning in Debt: An Organizing Challenge”(November 30th 2012)
Penny Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute
Years of organizing, agitating, occupying and strategizing have brought the issue of low wage and precarious work to the forefront of contemporary economic discussion. Fast food and retail are not the only sectors where such low wage work has become the norm: higher education is increasingly structured along the same logic. One of the central slogans taken up by students and professors at today’s May Day march and rally is “May Day $5K” – a call for a minimum payment of $5,000 per college class taught by part-time and contingent faculty. This demand is being made alongside calls for job security, health benefits, and other improved working conditions for the contingent instructional staff that now comprises 75 percent of all college faculty members. Shamefully, CUNY pays adjuncts closer to $3,000 per class, and it’s not an outlier.