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University Of California Workers Vote To Authorize A Strike

Above photo: The University of California – Los Angeles Gaza Solidarity Encampment before students were raided and brutalized by police. Uma Upasani.

Following repression of pro-Palestine students.

With the strike authorization vote, UAW workers are bringing bold, political labor action back to the US labor movement.

On May 15, United Auto Workers Local 4811, which represents 48,000 student workers across the University of California campuses, voted to authorize a strike following police and administrative repression of pro-Palestine students staging Gaza Solidarity Encampments. 

Strike authorization votes took place from May 13 to May 15. Workers voted in favor of striking by a landslide of 79%. There is currently no fixed date for a strike, but the vote empowers the union’s executive board to call a strike at any time. 

Were Local 4811 to strike, it would be the first strike in history to be called for Palestinian liberation. The strike would be modeled on the 2023 UAW Stand Up strike, in which auto workers across the country joined a massive strike movement in waves against the three largest car manufacturers in the country, winning historic victories for autoworkers unseen in decades. A campus “Stand Up” strike would invite student workers around the country, also organized by the United Auto Workers, to join in the strike, potentially marking a new chapter in the pro-Palestine student movement. 

Formally, student workers are striking in a fully legal Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) strike based on their university administrations calling in police to brutalize pro-Palestine students, including students staging Gaza Solidarity encampments at the University of California – Los Angeles and the University of California – San Diego. However, UC student workers have positioned themselves as part of the larger global Palestine solidarity movement, and view their actions as workers as a front in that struggle. 

Desmond Fonseca, UAW 4811 worker at UCLA, told Peoples Dispatch that the local “has long expressed our solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian working class for dignity, justice and liberation. Our bosses have clearly shown that they are on the side of oppression and exploitation and in doing so have attempted to brutally suppress our workers rights to free speech,”

“Our authorization of a strike shows that we will not back down when these institutions attempt to silence our right to peacefully protest a genocide, and that our union will utilize whatever legal means available to continue standing with the movement for a free Palestine. We see a clear path for the university to rectify its illegal activity and show that it is operating in good faith fit to its stated morals: amnesty for our workers who were unjustly arrested, and negotiations rather than repression with the student movement which is righteously protesting for divestment from the Israeli war machine.”

Statements like these, in explicit solidarity with Palestine, mark a bold new phase of action for the US labor movement. Although ULP strikes are fully legal, striking for a political cause is banned under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. In the United States, union members have far fewer rights to express collective political will than in other countries, as other practices banned under Taft-Hartley include jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes (strikes undertaken without the approval of union leadership), solidarity strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing, closed shops, and donations to federal political campaigns. But the actions of UAW Local 4811 workers, as well as academic workers across the country, are bringing US labor back to its radical past. 

Fonseca continued, “regarding Vietnam and South Africa, unions across the US stood up in various ways to oppose our government’s unjust foreign policy and spending—spending which should be used to aid, and not devastate, the working class at home and abroad—the same thing is happening today in respect to Palestine.”

Meanwhile, the University of California system continues to send in police forces to brutalize pro-Palestine students. On May 15, the administration at the University of California – Irvine sent in militarized police officers from several agencies to put down the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on campus. 50 people were arrested, including Dr. Tiffany Willoughby-Herard, UC-Irvine professor who proclaimed as she was led away by riot police, “We cannot have a genocidal foreign policy in a democracy!”

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