Union Solidarity with Gaza Under Attack

A U.S. House Committee is demanding access to a union’s internal communications after it passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza—a move that threatens both the Palestine solidarity movement and the rights of organized labor.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent the subpoena to the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA-UAW Local 2325) in March, after the union passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire, an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and support for workers’ political speech. 

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys members rally in March 2018 to keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement out of New York City courtrooms.

Association of Legal Aid Attorneys members rally in March 2018 to keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement out of New York City courtrooms. Photo courtesy Iryna Yafimchyk for Working Families Party, published under Creative Commons License 2.0.

The committee, chaired by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), is the same congressional body that held
hearings with the presidents of Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the pretext of investigating antisemitism on college campuses. These hearings, and the ensuing criticisms from neoliberal and conservative voices, led to the resignations of the presidents of Penn and Harvard. Now the committee is using its wide latitude of discretionary powers along with antisemitism as a pretense to silence union criticism of Israel and infringe on workers’ constitutional rights.

The committee justifies its invasive legal inquiry in its cover letter under the pretext that “several of Local 2325’s members were forced to be associated with a union that had taken a critical position affecting their faith, the State of Israel, and Israel’s sovereignty.” Alarmingly, in the text of the cover letter to the subpoena, the committee indicates that it may also be using this investigation to look into “whether there is a need to make reforms to the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act] or LMRDA [Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act] to protect labor union members’ rights, to ensure that labor unions act in a manner that advances members’ interests, and to provide appropriate transparency to all members,” indicating that the Committee may have a larger agenda in play.

The Committee’s reasons for inquiry are dubious. After all, the first amendment of the Constitution protects political speech and the right to assembly in particular. The union’s resolution is clearly within the protections of the first amendment as a piece of political writing. Moreover, the union’s resolution was voted on by its members and passed by a considerable margin (1067 to 570).

The content of the resolution itself was devoid of explicitly or implicitly antisemitic language—a viewpoint reinforced in a statement signed by over 100 Jewish members of the ALAA. Titled “Not in Our Name: Never Again is Now”, the statement affirms that the members “stand with the Palestinian people because of [their] Jewish values, not despite them” and that the members “categorically reject the dishonest conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism”. The statement also condemns the committee’s inquiry as part of a “new McCarthyism” that “attacks all who speak out against the current atrocity in Gaza,” reaffirms the demands made in the ALAA’s resolution, and further demands that Congress overturn House Resolution 894, which states that anti-Zionism is antisemitism—a conflation and obfuscation which has been used to silence criticism of Israel in the past.

The resolution was penned after Palestinian trade unions issued a statement calling for unionists worldwide to pressure governments to stop all military funding for Israel, take action against companies involved in Israel’s brutal and illegal siege, and pass motions to this effect. It also draws attention to the genocidal public statements made by Israeli public officials following October 7, as well as Israel’s genocidal bombing campaign in Gaza and the death toll of 11,000 Palestinians at the time of the resolution’s writing. In accordance with the ALAA’s values as a union of legal workers serving the people of New York City, the ALAA calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, an end to Israeli apartheid and the occupation and blockade of Palestinian land, sea, and air by Israeli military forces. The ALAA opposes all existing and any future military aid to Israel, endorses Not on Our Dime legislation, supports the right of all Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, and resoundingly rejects all attempts to intimidate workers for their political speech on Palestine.

The committee’s inquiry into the ALAA’s activities arrives on the eve of their hearing with the administration of Columbia University, where bad faith allegations of antisemitism were used to punish universities for not fully repressing student protests of Israel and Columbia University’s ties to Israel. The Committee’s recent attacks on the ALAA along with its continued attacks on political speech on university campuses suggest that it is making a concerted effort to silence intellectual dissent and workers’ protest of the government’s continued support of Israel. The government of the United States has long been a funder of Israel and its genocidal and illegal policies towards Palestinians—and callous statements from U.S. public officials show no indication that the government intends to cut Israel’s funding.

The ALAA responded to the subpoena on March 25, 2024 and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and Levy Ratner sent a letter on behalf of the ALAA, rightfully objecting to the Committee’s specific requests as overbroad and invasive. The union has refused to share any documents with the Committee that are not already publicly available. “ALAA stands behind our resolution and the democratic processes that led to its overwhelming passage. We are proud to be part of the growing movement of unions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. We continue to condemn all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia, and reject the harmful rhetoric that conflates anti-zionism with antisemitism. Our membership will not be intimidated into abandoning our core principles, including advancing the interests of working people worldwide by this blatant attack on organized labor” said Leah Duncan, ALAA Financial Secretary-Treasurer.

DSA’s International Committee expressed support for the ALAA when the NY Supreme Court wrongfully blocked the union from voting on its ceasefire resolution back in November 2023. Labor unions have a right to political speech, and, as an organization, DSA recognizes the protection of this right as central to the struggle for socialism. Further solidarity efforts are necessary to support the ALAA in its struggle against the McCarthyite House Committee’s legal probe, however. As the HCEW intensifies its efforts to silence any political speech that is pro-Palestine in both the workplace and in higher education, DSA in turn must amplify the efforts of labor unions to resist congressional overreach. This may well be a critical moment where a positive outcome would strengthen the rights of labor unions and curtail the HCEW’s power and influence.

The just armed resistance in Palestine, as well as Israel’s heinous crimes against humanity perpetrated in the wake of the Palestinian resistance’s counteroffensive, has become a point of primary contradiction in the struggle against American imperialism. The ruling class interests clearly align with continuing to support the settler-colonial entity known as Israel. The working masses recognize that the Palestinian cause is righteous. It is the duty of socialists and the American working class to oppose the government’s imperialist policies in solidarity with, and in the interest of, the global working class and the Palestinian people in particular. To that end, New York City DSA and the National Labor Commission must publicly and institutionally support the ALAA’s fight against state repression, and condemn the House Committee on Education and the Workforce as anti-labor and anti-Palestinian. 

Ask yourselves: what kind of precedent is set when Congress is able to police the speech of the working class? The dual threats of state repression and the rise of fascism are very real. To deny the importance of this legal battle would be to deny the importance of workers’ political speech and the just struggle of the Palestinian people. Every conflict with the state is a battle of principle. We can never lose, as a matter of principle, so long as we remain on the side of the people—and the people demand a FREE PALESTINE!