Labor's Gotta Play Hardball to Win!

Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
(November 2011). 
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Chicago Plant Occupation Electrifies Labor
(December 2008). 
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May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down
U.S. West Coast Ports

(May 2008)

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  March 2024

All Out in Solidarity with the Palestinian People!

May Day 2024:
For International Workers Action Against
the Genocidal U.S./Israel War on Gaza!

Labor activists of S.I. Cobas, the CALP (Autonomous Collective of Port Workers) and other "rank-and-file" unions blockade the port of Genova, Italy on February 23-24, preventing loading/unloading of an Israeli Zim Line ship.  (Photo: S.I. Cobas)

With the barbaric war on Gaza now in its sixth month, it is utterly clear that this is an actual genocide, targeting the entire Palestinian Arab population of what has been termed the world’s largest open-air prison. After over 40,000 killed,1 the destruction of more than half of all homes in the densely populated enclave, the bombing of schools and universities and attacks on hospitals, now more than one million people face the spectre of imminent starvation.2 It is also clear that this is a joint U.S./Israeli war, as all the heavy bombs and all the warplanes from which they are dropped are supplied by the Pentagon, while Washington funnels billions in U.S. aid to Israel annually. Millions have marched worldwide to denounce the slaughter and calling for a ceasefire, to no avail. Every appeal to the Zionist/imperialist warmongers has come to naught.

What’s desperately needed is the mobilization of power that can bring the slaughter to a halt, the power of the working class, in the United States and around the world. This coming May 1, the workers day, should become a day of militant international workers action – including strikes and labor-led mass mobilization – to stop the genocidal U.S./Israel war on Gaza. It should be followed up with labor action worldwide to shut down all flights and shipping to and from Israel so long as the Zionist war on Gaza continues. Workers should demand: stop the bombing, stop the massacres, Israeli military and settlers get the hell out of Gaza and all the Occupied Territories NOW!

This is what genocide looks like. Residents of Gaza City gather at site of destroyed building, March 2024  (Photo: Agence France-Presse)

Last October, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) in Gaza and more than two dozen Palestinian unions and professional associations issued an urgent appeal to labor internationally to refuse to build or transport arms for and to Israel. In the U.S., over 200 union bodies have since passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire – but with no action beyond joining “peace” marches. In some cases, notably the AFL-CIO, these appeals are actually support for Israel, denouncing Palestinians for starting the war, not demanding that Israel get out of Gaza and calling for release of all Israeli hostages but nothing about the over 9,000 Palestinians being held hostage in Israeli jails (plus another 4,000 workers from Gaza who were in Israel when the war began and are now being held in military camps).3

The League for the Fourth International and its U.S. section, the Internationalist Group, have called from the outset to “Defend the Palestinians Against U.S./Israel Genocidal War on Gaza!” (The Internationalist, 10 October 2023), “For Workers Action Against Zionist Terror” and “against the shipment of arms to Israel and Ukraine,” where the U.S. and its NATO allies are waging an imperialist proxy war against Russia. We have underlined that, so far, calls for labor solidarity have been mainly on paper, and what port shutdowns there have been were mostly called by community groups rather than the unions, as long-time maritime labor activist Jack Heyman pointed out in his recent article reiterating the call “Dock Workers: Block Military Cargo to Israel” (The Internationalist, 15 February).

Motion calling for ILWU Local 10 to stop work on May 1 in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against genocidal war on Gaza. 

Last week, Heyman and others put forward a resolution for International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area to stop work on May Day, the international workers day, “calling for international workers action in solidarity with the besieged Palestinian people, in opposition to the genocidal Israel/U.S. war on Gaza and to stop the flow of arms to that war.” The motion also urged the rest of the union and dock workers internationally to join in taking May Day Palestinian solidarity actions.

Now the Palestinian General Federation of Labor, Gaza has issued a May Day appeal to unions in the United States calling to do just that. The PGFTU statement says frankly that “we have encountered shocking silence and neglect by the international labor movement.” It spells this out:

“The international labor movement … retreated to verbal positions without taking measures on the ground or pressuring the decision-makers to stop this war of extermination, limiting union activities to conferences and statements and not delving deeply into the need to guarantee humanitarian aid, or influencing international public opinion to expose the truth about Zionist crimes and the practices of the allied countries that continue to support Israel.”  
(Click here or on image below for the full text of the PGFTU, Gaza appeal.)

In response to the PGFTU’s urgent appeal to unions and trade-unionists in the U.S. and internationally “to be our voice and advocate inside and outside America,” the League for the Fourth International urges labor militants around the world to mobilize workers’ power in hard-hitting labor-led actions on May 1 in solidarity with the besieged Palestinian people against the genocidal U.S./Israel war. Such actions can and should include not only focusing May Day marches on Palestine solidarity and organizing workers aid to Gaza, but blocking arms shipments and carrying out labor boycotts of flights and shipping to and from Israel, and wherever possible, strike action and shutting down production. Such actions should demand an immediate stop to the bombing, forced population transfers and any restrictions on emergency aid to Gaza; an end to all aid to Israel, and for Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza and all the Occupied Territories.

In the U.S., it is crucial to fight for the workers and oppressed to break with the Democrats, who are financing, advising, arming and jointly waging war on the Palestinians in Gaza together with the Israeli government of hardline Zionists and outright fascists; and to oust the class-collaborationist labor bureaucracy, which for decades has chained the unions to the bosses’ parties. A prime example of this is the leadership of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which in response to clamor from the ranks, particularly in the Detroit area with its large Arab American population, called for a ceasefire in Gaza, and then turned around and endorsed “Genocide Joe” Biden for president! For their part, the Teamster tops are currently flirting with Donald Trump, who said of the war in Gaza that he would tell Israeli prime minister Netanyahu to “finish it up and do it quickly” (Haaretz, 17 March).

The contours of effective solidarity action with the Palestinian people vary from country to country. In Germany, labor action against the genocidal war must necessarily oppose not only the ferociously pro-Zionist Social Democrat/Free Democrat/Green government (which has banned many pro-Palestinian protests) and the equally rabidly pro-Israel right-wing “opposition” but also the Left Party, as all the parliamentary parties explicitly support “Israel’s right to self-defense,” the formula justifying the mass murder in Gaza. In Italy, where fascists lead a far-right-wing government, organizing effective labor solidarity will require united action by the normally fractious “rank-and-file” unions and bringing out key industrial sectors in a direct challenge to the “mainstream” confederations, which despite talk of a ceasefire are solidly pro-Israel.

Everywhere, the opportunist left seeks to build a “broad antiwar movement,” typically centered on calls for a ceasefire, in order to include dissident liberal or “progressive” elements from the bourgeois and reformist parties, who don’t necessarily oppose the war on Gaza but only its “excesses.” Rather than such “popular-front” coalitions pushing impotent pressure politics, what’s urgently needed is independent, militant class struggle against all the capitalist and governing social-democratic parties, which are all cogs in the imperialist system, and therefore, one way or another, complicit in the genocide being carried out in Gaza. Classless appeals for “peace” are a diversion in the face of implacable U.S. and Israeli mass murderers, who can only be stopped by international socialist revolution.

Activists of Class Struggle Workers Portland (above at 11 November 2023 Palestine labor solidarity rally) call to defend Gaza, defeat U.S./Israel war on Palestinians. Four Portland area unions have passed motions demanding an end to Israeli bombing of Gaza, for Israel out of West Bank and Gaza and to end to U.S. arming and funding. (Internationalist photo)

Highlighting the urgency of this independent class-struggle policy are resolutions that have been passed by four unions – Iron Workers Local 29, IUPAT (Painters) Local 10, IBEW (electrical workers) Local 48 and AFT (education) Local 111 – in the Portland, Oregon area of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Rather than calling for a ceasefire, which would leave the Israeli in control of Gaza and which plays into the hands of the Biden administration that is now toying with the word, the resolutions, introduced by supporters of Class Struggle Workers – Portland, call for labor action to stop the shipment of arms to Israel, for “the immediate end to Israel’s bombing of Gaza, for Israel to vacate Gaza and the West Bank, and to end all arming or funding to it now” (click here or on reproductions below to read resolutions on the web site of Class Struggle Workers – Portland).

Above all the fight to halt the genocidal U.S./Israel war against the Palestinian people requires a political fight against the capitalist parties. This was addressed by the Portland Painters, who in a 2016 resolution called to break with all the bosses’ parties and build a class-struggle workers party. The call in that resolution for the national union to repudiate its endorsement of the Democratic presidential candidate should be a beacon to worker militants today as unions in the U.S. join calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, and then endorse war criminal Democrat Biden who is responsible for arming, financing and directing the genocidal war.

August 2016 Resolution of International Union of Painters and
Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 10 for a Class-Struggle Workers Party

“Whereas across the country, from Oakland to Baltimore, police under Democratic mayors regularly murder black men and women with impunity, and

“Whereas the 2016 presidential election offers us the “choice” between a raving, bigoted clown and a career representative of Wall Street, and …

“Whereas Democrats and Republicans are and have always been strike-breaking, war-making parties of the bosses, and

“Whereas so long as the labor movement supports one or another party of the bosses, we will be playing a losing game, therefore be it

“Resolved that IUPAT Local 10 does not support the Democrats, Republicans, or any bosses’ parties or politicians, and

“Resolved that we call on the International Union to repudiate its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, and

“Resolved that we call on the labor movement to break from the Democratic Party, and build a class-struggle workers party.

The embattled Palestinian Arabs have been subjected to “ethnic cleansing” for more than three-quarters of a century, following subjugation by the British imperialists and the Ottoman Empire – and now to outright genocide by the Zionist state of Israel and its U.S. patrons. It will take a revolution to put an end to this oppression, a revolution that can only be successful by splitting and exploding Israeli society from within. This requires intransigent, internationalist class struggle, throughout the entire region. As the League for the Fourth International has emphasized since the beginning of that war, and long before that, the bottom line is that defenders of the oppressed and opponents of imperialism must stand foursquare with the Palestinian people against the Zionist oppressors and their state, and that the only solution that promises a just and equitable future to the two peoples inhabiting this tiny land is for an Arab-Hebrew Palestinian workers state, in a socialist federation of the Middle East.

All out for militant international workers action on May Day in solidarity with the Palestinian people against the genocidal U.S./Israel war!

Break with the “Labor” Operatives of Imperialism and Zionism

One of the calls in the PGFTU appeal is to “ban the occupation’s trade unions internationally, as they are partners in the war of genocide,” and in particular for “American unions to boycott these unions.” The reference is to the Israeli Histadrut, which is not a genuine workers union but an institution integral to the operation of the Zionist state since its inception, that perpetuates the superexploitation of Palestinian and immigrant workers, notably those in the West Bank under Israeli occupation. Unions should certainly boycott the Histadrut, but the “AFL-CIA,” as the U.S. labor federation’s international operations are widely known, is even more sinister. (The AFL-CIO “Solidarity Center” is financed by the government, and has been key to many U.S.-instigated attacks on leftist unions and coups.)

In many European countries as well, the main unions have longstanding ties to the Zionist “labor” body. In Germany, the DGB labor federation immediately supported the Zionist war and even today (in its appeal for the traditional Easter “peace marches”) does not even mention Gaza or the mass slaughter by the Israeli military, instead lambasting Hamas (and attacking Russia over the U.S./NATO imperialist proxy war in Ukraine). In France the CGT union confederation has called for a ceasefire and an “end to the massacre in Gaza,” but raises this only in the form of appeals to President Emanuel Macron rather than action by the unions themselves (for example, stopping arms shipments). In Italy, the once leftist CGIL raises calls for a ceasefire and to end the genocide, usually in conjunction with Catholic “peace” groups like Pax Cristi, but again, such pacifist invocations mean nothing.

The PGFTU appeal notes that “there have been some exceptional examples of unions, clearly demonstrated in leading protests denouncing the Zionist war of genocide being waged on the Gaza Strip.” This is particularly the case in Italy where the “rank-and-file unions” (comitati di base), in opposition to the bureaucracies of the CGIL/UIL/CISL labor federations, have held workers solidarity actions. Last November 17, S.I. Cobas held a nationwide strike shutting many transport hubs in solidarity with the Palestinians, followed by a demonstration in Bologna against the war on Gaza. On February 23-24, a general strike was called by several of these smaller militant unions, blocking the port of Genova with Israeli Zim Line ships in the harbor, followed by a labor-led pro-Palestine demonstration of several tens of thousands in Milan the next day.

Gaza solidarity protest in Port Botany, Australia, November 2023. To bring to bear the power of the workers movement, it is crucial that unions lead protests to shut down shipping to and from Israel.  (Phoro: Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney Branch)

On the U.S. West Coast, in Australia and elsewhere, “block the boat” actions have been called by “community pickets” (often including numerous trade-unionists), which dock unions then respect on “health and safety” grounds, or not. But to mobilize the power of the workers movement, it is vital that the unions declare Israel cargo “too hot to handle” and themselves lead such “hot cargo” actions. In Australia, the Labor Party government is seeking to chain waterfront workers ever tighter to the state, with a “Military Strategic Fleet” of commercial vessels that can be requisitioned by the government “in times of need,” as these social democrats gear up for war on China via the AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States) imperialist alliance.

The subordination of labor officialdom to the capitalist state reflects, as Lenin emphasized during World War I, that with the advent of imperialism a “labor aristocracy and bureaucracy” has arisen for which “morsels of the loot” from the oppression of the rest of the world served as “a justification of their alliance with their ‘own’ national bourgeoisie, against the oppressed masses of all nations.” This privileged layer is the social basis of opportunism, and in “the stage of revolutionary action … the time has come for a complete break with opportunism” and to oust these agents of the bourgeoisie in the labor movement (V.I. Lenin, “The Collapse of the Second International” [June 1915]).

Today, real solidarity action with the embattled Palestinian people requires a class-struggle fight against the labor bureaucracy that marches in lockstep with the imperialists and Zionists. That, in turn, is only possible on the basis of a program connecting today’s burning issues with the struggle for socialist revolution. ■

  1. 1. Includes 7,000+ missing under rubble of collapsed buildings. Euro-Med Monitor, Infographic, The Israeli Genocide in the Gaza Strip, 7 October 2023 – 14 March 2024.
  2. 2. Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, Famine Review Committee: Gaza Strip, March 2024.
  3. 3.9,077 ‘Security’ Inmates Are Held In Prisons Inside Israel,” HaMoked, March 2024.