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University Workers Could Strike To Reject Repression Of Student Protests

Above photo: Police detain students at UCLA in a parking lot. PSL.

UAW Local 4811, representing student workers from the University of California system, are holding a strike vote.

In response to the university’s actions against pro-Palestine protesters.

From May 13 to May 15, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4811 will be holding a strike authorization vote for a potential strike, in response to the University of California’s crackdown on peaceful pro-Palestine student protesters.

On May 3, the union local filed Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) charges against the University of California (UC) system, in response to various UC campuses sending police officers to brutalize student protesters staging Gaza Solidarity Encampments.

Last week, administration at the University of Los Angeles- California sent in the Los Angeles Police Department to clear out the Gaza Solidarity encampment staged by student protesters, peacefully demanding that their university divest from Israel. The encampment had been under several rounds of attack from violent Zionist counter protesters, who released bags of mice and cockroaches near the encampment and deployed fireworks and pepper spray against students. University officials did not respond to these attacks, instead, in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning, LAPD armed with riot gear swept into the camp, deploying rubber bullets and flashbang grenades against the pro-Palestine student protesters.

UCLA student organizers reported that at least five people were shot in the head with rubber bullets, landing students in the hospital with serious injuries. 132 arrests were made and LAPD demolished the encampment.

Similar repression also occurred by police against students at the University of California – San Diego encampment on Monday morning of this week, with hundreds of police forces invading the camp in riot gear and arresting 64 protesters.

“It is important for Academic Employees to vote YES in the strike authorization vote to show UC Administration that this unprecedented crackdown on free speech on University campuses is unacceptable,” writes UAW 4811. “Our members have been beaten, concussed, pepper sprayed, both by counter-protestors and by police forces. As a union, it is our responsibility to stand beside them and demand that UC stop committing these gross Unfair Labor Practices.”

ULP strikes are fully legal in the United States, however, striking for a political cause is banned under the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. This means that in the United States, union members have far fewer rights to express collective political will than in other countries. 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.

Although UAW 4811 are calling for a ULP strike, fully legal under Taft-Hartley, their collective action begins to challenge the longstanding political neutrality of the US labor movement, which has been fostered by a hostile, anti-union system of legislation. Their bold actions as student workers, supporting students who are standing in solidarity with Gaza, echo some other actions taken by organized labor within the student movement for Palestine.

At Columbia University, UAW 2710, the Student Workers of Columbia, staged multiple pickets around Columbia’s Gaza Solidarity Encampment while it still stood, and has called for “full amnesty for all students, staff, and faculty facing disciplinary action related to pro-Palestine protest and speech.” The local has even stood completely with the demands of student protesters for Columbia’s divestment from Israel.

“We do not back down from demanding the full transparency of Columbia University on their investments, full divestment, and amnesty for all the students and student workers who have suffered disciplinary actions for their activism,” the union wrote in a statement. “We vow to use our labor power and the tools we have as a labor union to continue the fight in solidarity with Gaza, the whole of Palestine, and the international worker movement that continues to fight for their liberation.”

Unionized faculty at the City University of New York system also took action in support of student protesters staging a Gaza Solidarity Encampment. On April 29, within the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the City College of New York in New York City, university workers organized under the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY) held a town hall meeting to deliberate on how to use their labor power to support the five demands of the student encampment. The members attending the town hall organized a wildcat sick-out, in which union members will call in sick en masse to disrupt business as usual at the larger City University of New York (CUNY) system. The PSC faculty at the town hall voted overwhelmingly to stage a sick-out.

“Our students are taking incredible risks to support the Palestinian people. They have asked for our help. We must stand ready to struggle alongside them, and to take these risks,” faculty wrote in a statement.

After the Governor of Texas sent state troopers to brutalize student protesters at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of Texas – Austin, faculty at the university announced a 24-hour work stoppage for April 25. These faculty acted together in support of the students, even without a union.

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