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Labor Unions Choose Sides in Palestine-Israel Conflict, Condemn Mass Arrests of Protesters 

In a significant move underscoring US labor unions’ involvement in foreign affairs, the United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain has vehemently criticized the mass arrests of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on college campuses across the United States.  

Fain, representing one of the country’s largest labor unions, condemned the crackdown on protesters while emphasizing the union’s call for an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. 

“The UAW will never support the mass arrest or intimidation of those exercising their right to protest, strike, or speak out against injustice,” Fain asserted in a statement shared on the social platform X. “Our union has been calling for a ceasefire for six months. This war is wrong, and this response against students and academic workers, many of them UAW members, is wrong.” 

Over the past several weeks, tensions have escalated on college campuses nationwide, with hundreds of students and faculty members being detained amidst pro-Palestinian protests. Demonstrators have taken to university grounds and streets, erecting encampments to denounce Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and demand an end to U.S. aid to Israel. 

The intensity of the protests reached a crescendo in New York and California last Tuesday night, resulting in the arrest of hundreds of demonstrators. In New York City, the police executed a raid on a building at Columbia University occupied by protesters.  

New York Mayor Eric Adams confirmed approximately 300 individuals were arrested in connection with the demonstrations. Meanwhile, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), clashes erupted between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and counter-protesters. The Los Angeles Police Department intervened, though the exact number of arrests remains unclear. 

Within the academic community, the leadership of UAW 4811– the union representing postdoctoral scholars and researchers at University of California campuses– took a decisive stance. Union leadership voted to authorize a strike should circumstances warrant, declaring their readiness to defend members’ rights against any perceived infringement. 

“Should the university decide to curtail the right to participate in protected, concerted activity; discriminate against union members or political viewpoints; and create or allow threats to members’ health and safety, among others, UAW 4811 members will take any and all actions necessary to enforce our rights,” the union chapter stated. 

President Fain reiterated the union’s demand for the release of arrested students and employees, adding: “And if you can’t take the outcry, stop supporting this war.” 

The UAW’s involvement in the Palestine-Israel conflict dates back to December 2023 when the union’s International Executive Board joined other labor organizations in calling for a ceasefire.  

Furthermore, the Executive Board established a Divestment and Just Transition working group to delve into the conflict’s history, the union’s economic ties to the region, and strategies for facilitating “a just transition for US workers from war to peace.” 

As the conflict persists, labor unions around the country are increasingly vocalizing their stance, reflecting their heavy involvement in controversial political issues.

Isabel Blank

Isabel Blank is Communications Director at Americans for Fair Treatment, a community of current and former public-sector employees offering resources and support to exercise their First Amendment rights. Prior to joining Americans for Fair Treatment in 2021, Isabel worked in media relations at Travelers Insurance and held government affairs and communications roles with Yankee Institute. She has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish, both from the University of Connecticut (Go Huskies!). Isabel loves Crossfit and supporting her local Connecticut breweries.