Israel’s brutal war on Gaza promises to drain billions of dollars that could have funded housing, education, and more, all while exacerbating disastrous divisions among workers in the US and abroad. Workers have an interest in demanding an immediate cease-fire.

People take part in a demonstration to show their solidarity with Palestinian people in Los Angeles, California, United States, on October 21, 2023. (Katie McTiernan / Anadolu via Getty Images)

This past week President Joe Biden requested over $14 billion dollars in military aid for Israel’s ongoing war against Palestinians. This comes in the wake of two weeks of Israeli air strikes on — and a total blockade of — the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas-led October 7 attack.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters around the globe have mobilized for a cease-fire to end the bombing and siege of Palestinian civilians. This includes many in the US labor movement, who have issued calls for peace.

A conflict on the other side of the globe can often feel distant to workers in the United States, and understandably so. American workers have plenty of their own concerns to worry about: lack of health care, dilapidated infrastructure, stagnant wages, worsening environmental crises, and housing insecurity. But Israel’s ongoing massacre of Palestinians affects workers in the United States too — and around the world.

The war on Palestinians is at direct odds with the interests of workers. President Biden’s request for $14 billion for Israel’s war on Gaza is $14 billion that could instead be used to fund jobs, health care, and more for American workers. And the Israeli occupation of Palestine divides working people against each other, undermining their ability to come together to fight for a better world.

They Got Money for Wars but Can’t Feed the Poor

The $14 billion Biden is requesting for Israel adds to the nearly $4 billion a year the United States has given in Israeli military aid for the past decade.

This is on top of the $877 billion the US government now spends each year on its own military — the highest military expenditure in the world by many miles. Nevertheless, in an intrview with the UK-based Sky News, US Treasutry secretary Janet Yellen said that the United States could “certainly afford” to fund the wars in both Palestine and in Ukraine.

What else could this money be spent on? That $14 billion could be used to wipe out $10,000 in student debt for 1.4 million Americans. It could also build one hundred thousand new units of public housing, power two million more homes with solar energy, or supply cities with forty thousand new electric buses. It would be more than enough money to wipe out institutional debt of the United States’ historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). And $14 billion could build anywhere between eight and forty-two new VA hospitals.

In addition to direct military aid, New York State–based charities send on average $60 million a year to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The donations to these nonprofits are tax deductible. This means that wealthy New Yorkers are evading taxes that could be going to fund services for working-class New Yorkers — by donating to ethnic cleansing in the West Bank.

But American politicians care more about supporting Israel’s apartheid state than helping American workers. For a particularly dramatic example, look no further than New York congressman Richie Torres, who represents the poorest congressional district in the United States; over 36 percent of his constituents live below the poverty line. Despite this, Torres, a staunch supporter of Israel, has mentioned Israel 236 percent as often as he has mentioned poverty.

The money going to fund Israeli weapons enriches both American and Israeli arms manufacturers. Major defense companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin profit from US weapons transfers to Israel, and Israel exports even more weapons than it imports. American workers are subsidizing not only war on Palestinians, but also the arms industry’s extraordinary profits. If that weren’t bad enough, the war is also causing oil prices to spike — meaning a tighter squeeze on workers’ wallets.

The Labor Movement Can Stand Against Apartheid

Bosses have long used divisions of race, gender, ethnicity, and the like to pit workers against each other, undermining their ability to take collective action to advance their common interests.

The Israeli military occupation divides Israeli and Palestinian workers, as well as workers in the United States.

In the United States, for instance, anti-Palestinian propaganda from the Israeli government and our own government and media are stoking violent Islamophobia. A six-year-old Palestinian boy was stabbed to death in Chicago by his landlord, while others have been assaulted for their pro-Palestine positions.

But — while many workers may not know the full history of the Israeli military occupation — the current call for a cease-fire has mass support among the US public. This demand has the potential to unite US workers around an antiwar position, and hopefully spur a movement to win peace and security by ending Israel’s system of apartheid and military occupation of Palestine.

The labor movement has a long, proud history of fighting apartheid. In South Africa, democratic, militant trade unions played an essential role in bringing down its apartheid system. Here in the United States, Oakland, California’s longshoremen refused to transport South African cargo for eleven days, cutting off profits to South African companies from their American-bound exports. Similar actions were taken by unions all around the world.

Palestinian trade unions have issued a call to their union siblings in other countries to stop the manufacture and transport of weapons for Israel, to pressure companies and institutions complicit in the siege, and to compel governments to stop military trade with or funding of Israel. Many workers in the United States and around the world are heeding their call and taking up the labor movement’s anti-apartheid tradition.

In the United Kingdom, fifteen major unions are affiliated with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, including the Train Drivers’ Union, the Communication Workers Union, and the National Education Union. In Brazil, the Unified Workers’ Central, the country’s largest trade union federation (which represents over 7.4 million workers) has passed a resolution calling for a cease-fire and an end to the military occupation. In France, the CGT, a trade union federation with 640,000 members, has also endorsed an immediate cease-fire.

Here in the United States, labor movement activists have launched a petition demanding a cease-fire, sponsored by major unions and locals, including the United Electrical Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000, and the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel. Starbucks Workers United has released a statement condemning Israeli occupation, apartheid, and genocide.

Other unions like the National Writers Union (NWU) and the Student Workers of Columbia have been organizing in support of a cease-fire and a free Palestine. On Friday, October 20, a rally and march in New York that shut down Manhattan’s Third Avenue was cosponsored by the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), the reform caucus in the New York educators’ union, the United Federation of Teachers. At that same action, rank-and-file union members, union staffers, and labor journalists engaged in civil disobedience outside Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office to demand a cease-fire and were arrested for blocking traffic.

The labor movement is under immense pressure to fall in line behind our ruling class and support more funding for Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza. All labor activists should take a stand against these pressures, signing the petition for a cease-fire and organizing their coworkers and unions to do so as well.

Organized labor is of course divided on this issue, as it is on many. So far, American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein has been the only official in the top ranks of the AFL-CIO to take a strong pro-Palestine stance. And opposition to US military aid for Israel is still a minority position among the US public. It will be up to supporters of peace and justice for Palestine to organize in their unions to make that minority sentiment into a majority one. Thankfully, changing attitudes, especially among young people, give us a promising opening to do so.

The labor movement has long held to the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” Standing by that principle means standing with ordinary people in Palestine — and demanding an immediate end to Israel’s war.

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