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UC Academic Workers Strike For Gaza!

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On the night of May 1, LAPD, fully clad in riot gear, violently stormed the Gaza solidarity encampment at UCLA. Summoned by university administration, they fired rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades, and arrested 209 student protesters. Further repression took place throughout University of California protest camps. UC academic workers, many of whom experienced these attacks firsthand, refused to take this lying down. 

In short order, the workers filed unfair labor practices (ULPs) against the UC system and voted to authorize a strike. Organized with UAW Local 4811, UC academic workers have taken up a political strike, a rarity in the US and a critical step forward for the anti-war movement. 

Striking marks a new stage in the US movement against the genocidal war in Gaza, potentially bridging the gap between the student movement and organized labor’s biggest sectors. By expanding the Gaza movement from streets and campuses to workplaces, there’s an opportunity to organize walkouts, sick-outs, and strikes at major profit generators, confronting the US war machine where it is most vulnerable.

UAW 4811 leadership adopted the “stand-up strike” strategy used last fall by UAW autoworkers against the Big Three, empowering union leadership to call on workers campus by campus to join the strike. They began with UC Santa Cruz, where some 2,000 members hit the picket lines on May 20. Then they called on UCLA and UC Davis to go out on May 28.

UAW 4811 is leading the way on Palestine, but its leadership is not fully mobilizing the weight of the union. In fact, they seem to be actively dissipating momentum, using the strike more as a pressure release than a ramp-up to further struggle, which is the path supported by many rank-and-file members. When UCLA rank-and-file members made preparations to strike immediately following the authorization vote, the 4811 Executive Board said at a recent meeting it would withhold legal protection for any union members who struck without approval.

During the auto strike last year, the “stand-up strike” was touted as a strategy that keeps bosses guessing and workers fresh. In reality, it’s being used to stifle rank-and-file action from the top – and many workers are now frustrated that their own leadership is keeping them from striking with the union’s full strength! What authority is the 4811 Executive Board appealing to? It’s not their membership, 79% of whom authorized a strike. It’s ‘appealing’ with the threat of legal action against its own members – a parallel of what UC has done to its own students.

While the Executive Board intermittently taps the brakes, UC administrators are doing all they can to end the strike entirely. The UC’s attempt to file an injunction against the strike failed, although the CA Public Employment Relations Board filed a complaint against UAW for allegedly violating its no-strike clause. The UC injunction is part of a broader ruling class backlash against the movement; the president of a small public college in California was removed for making a concession to protest demands. The nationwide wave of student encampments have thrown the universities into panic, but they unequivocally cannot accept a political strike due to the Pandora’s box it opens up. UC called it ​​“a dangerous precedent that would introduce non-labor issues into labor agreements.” They’re not wrong at all. But the danger is not to workers – it’s to the bosses.

Given the ruling class’ fundamental animosity to the Gaza struggle, UAW strikers can’t afford a hesitant and half-committed leadership. It’s to the credit of rank-and-file militancy that the Executive Board was compelled to call for a strike vote in the first place, but the leadership has shown itself to be unwilling to take the strike as far as it needs to go.

And given that UC academic workers are members of UAW, a union with more than 400,000 active members, the strike has real potential to spread. UAW was one of the first major national unions to come out with a resolution supporting a ceasefire in Gaza, and six months later, UAW president Shawn Fain condemned the repression of the student encampments. 

The time for the whole UAW to “stand up” is now, and UC academic workers – along with UC-AFT, UAW Local 872, CUNY professional staff, and even non-union faculty at UT Austin – have shown that organized labor can take action.

UAW locals around the country, especially those involved in military manufacturing, could take 4811’s lead and coordinate ULP strikes through the summer that raise political demands alongside workplace demands to unite the membership. Workers could also organize coordinated days of action, including sick-outs or walkouts. Certainly broader labor action need not be limited to the UAW!

UAW workers would also make waves by passing resolutions to rescind the union’s endorsement for Biden, who signed legislation for $26 billion in assistance to Israel last month. There’s a total contradiction between this endorsement and the union’s generally correct stance against genocidal war based on the shared interests of the international working class. Correcting this means first rejecting Biden, and next, mobilizing workers to demonstrate against the war at the August DNC gathering in Chicago. The union can further lead by supporting the strongest left independent candidate in the November elections and playing a crucial role in building a working class alternative to the two capitalist parties.

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