- Interview by
- Sara Wexler
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), along with the United Auto Workers and the American Postal Workers Union, is one of the few major US unions calling for an immediate cease-fire in Israel’s war on Gaza. UE and UAW have joined a number of union locals and members across the United States in signing onto a statement demanding that President Joe Biden call for a cease-fire.
Earlier this month, Jacobin contributor Sara Wexler interviewed UE general secretary-treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker about the union’s cease-fire demand, the actions union members and locals have been taking to push for peace, and the importance of international solidarity to the labor movement more broadly.
Why have the United Electrical Workers called for a cease-fire in Gaza?
For UE, the call for a cease-fire represents standing up for humanity and the working class in a global economy. A call was made by Palestinian labor unions asking for labor solidarity and for unions to end all forms of complicity and to stop arming Israel. Many other unions throughout the world are answering this call.
In UE, as has been our practice as a democratic rank-and-file labor union, we have a responsibility to engage in an aggressive struggle for a better life for all workers, and that shouldn’t end at our border. Gaza is in the midst of a massive humanitarian crisis, represented by the tens of thousands of deaths through bombs, shootings, starvation, and the lack of clean water and other needed resources. The recent barrage of bombing and destruction of essential infrastructure, places of employment, and civilian residences in Gaza amplifies the humanitarian crisis to an immeasurable degree.
UE signed onto a statement demanding a cease-fire along with UAW and other unions. How did that come together?
Allies in the labor movement were reaching out to each other on this international issue, and UE said we would be willing to be involved as part of the initial group of unions in a collective statement. At our September 2023 National Convention, member delegates adopted our policy on “For Jobs, Peace, and a Pro-Worker Foreign Policy.” The statement is in line with this resolution.
That resolution outlines that at all levels of our union are to inform and engage members on the need to change US foreign policy to promote diplomacy, democracy, and workers’ rights. In particular, it calls on the US government to end all military aid to Israel and pressure Israel to end the occupation and negotiate a peace agreement on the basis of equality, democracy, and human rights for the Palestinian and Israeli people.
When the horrible incident of October 7 occurred, Israel made clear that its approach toward Hamas included the collective punishment of the people of Gaza. The US government responded by supporting the Israeli government’s plan of action. This made it essential for the voice of labor to respond in opposition to this approach.
Do you see American labor struggles as connected to the Israel-Palestine conflict?
Workers and their families are the backbone of every society, and it is the workers that typically bear the brunt of the tragedy and trauma of war. Workers everywhere want to have living wage jobs, affordable health care, education, housing, retirement, and other necessary services for them and their families.
This is true for workers here in the United States, for workers in Palestine, and for workers in other parts of the world. Peace and security are best found when everyone has the same access to resources and the same chance at prosperity. However, as long as there are economic and political systems in place to hold down workers, where it is common practice to toil for starvation wages without any democratic protections to secure policies and programs that benefit the majority, it is hard to maintain good wages or conditions anywhere.
Poor wages and working conditions in other countries are not natural or inevitable — they are often the result of military intervention (either by the United States or other governments). And the money that the United States is spending on war for Israel are funds that are a theft from improving living conditions for workers here.
What can labor unions here do to exert pressure on the Biden administration to call for a permanent cease-fire?
Being part of any public showing of support for a permanent cease-fire is key. Labor can help to create spaces for discussion and dialogue on what is happening so that all voices are heard in the public sphere.
Labor leaders and members can continue to hold press events in Washington, DC and other cities around the United States. The can visit congressional offices, like when rank-and-file UE members from two locals in Pittsburgh met with staff from Senator John Fetterman’s and Senator Bob Casey’s offices in December. Labor delegations should take part in public rallies and vigils.
In addition, it is important to make sure labor continues to be one of many voices calling out all forms of hatred: racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and so on. We need to continue to fight for full disclosure on what is happening in Gaza, beyond the media and official government reports, especially in understanding the impact on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza. And we should be raising these issues on the campaign trail as candidates seek endorsements and support.
What do you hope the resolution achieves?
The statements help with creating the space for people to speak up and share their view and concerns about what is happening in the Middle East. We are finding that more and more workers are engaging in conversations about the global economy as well as confronting the programs and policies of our governments when it comes to military vs humanitarian aid — not only for the people of Gaza, but around the world.
How have other labor unions responded to the statement? What will it take to get more unions on board?
It has been positive, and we hope that momentum keeps growing throughout the US labor movement. More members are directly engaging their local and state bodies on the issue, and others are setting up appointments to meet with members of Congress.
It is a testament to the labor movement that the push is coming from the ground up, and endorsements are coming more and more from local and state bodies, which then push national leadership. We need to stand together for the working class and the global community, and as such every group should be represented in the fight for a better world.
How do you understand the role of labor unions in international struggles against colonialism or imperialism in general? How has UE related to such struggles in the past?
We hope that this effort builds a real commitment to international labor solidarity and to continuing to underline our opposition to economic and political policies that set one group against another. A key piece is to keep exploring what international solidarity can look like concretely in practice.
Doing this involves building alliances based on mutual respect and dialogue. Once such avenue UE has pursued is worker-to-worker exchanges and forums so workers in the United States can hear the stories and struggles of workers around the globe. This helps us all identify injustice and fight for an inclusive and just global society.
Another path would be using the natural connection of working in the same sector or even sharing a common employer to build action steps that can be taken to push back against global capital in its continual fight to push down wages and working conditions. Last, we can encourage further engagement by the working class in the political process and strengthen democratic practices of accountability when it comes to how taxpayer money is used to further the interests of capital at the expense of the working class and society as a whole.
Over the years, UE has approached international solidarity as a means to connect workers to different struggles around the world and understand that, despite cultural differences, we face many of the same challenges. We also recognize that there are certainly important differences that, if left unacknowledged, can help perpetuate an unjust political and economic system. Listening to each other’s stories will enable us to move forward together and help create a more just world for all.