AFL-CIO calls for ceasefire in Gaza
The call for a ceasefire comes as much of Gaza already looks, from outer space, like a wasteland. On the left there is an area of Gaza before the Israeli bombing, on the right there is the same area after Israel bombed the city out of existence. | Satellite image/Maxar Technologies via AP

WASHINGTON—The AFL-CIO issued a statement yesterday calling for “a negotiated ceasefire in Gaza.” The nation’s largest labor federation, representing some 12 million workers in almost every industry, service and retail jobs in the country, issued the call for a ceasefire yesterday The statement also condemned the attack on Israel by Hamas, and demanded that desperately needed food, shelter, medicine, and other assistance be provided to the people of Gaza.

The AFL-CIO also called for the release of hostages and, significantly, emphasized the need for a two-state solution.

“The AFL-CIO condemns the attacks by Hamas on October 7th and calls for a negotiated ceasefire in Gaza—including the immediate release of all hostages and provision of desperately needed shelter, food, medicine and other humanitarian assistance to Gazans—and reaffirms our support of a two-state solution for long-term peace and security,” its entire statement says.

Any call by a union for a ceasefire is extremely important, especially when it comes from the huge AFL-CIO federation. Organized labor is, after all, a key part of Biden’s constituency, so much so that the labor federation endorsed the Biden-Harris ticket for re-election at a special meeting in Philadelphia last year. It is expected that the Biden administration, then, will have to pay attention to the ceasefire resolutions announced by organized labor.

The push by labor and its allies for a ceasefire may already be having a positive effect. President Biden is getting more publicly critical of Israel. He told a February 8 press conference that “I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in (the) Gaza Strip has been over the top.”

He said he was conditioning U.S. “defense” assistance to Israel on them not impeding delivery of humanitarian aid.

John Kirby, the U,S, security spokesperson, has warned Israel against conducting an offensive against Rafa, the last refuge of Palestinians fleeing Israeli bombs and missiles. He said that the secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, had already expressed this to Israeli officials.

While these statements by Biden and Kirby can be considered positive developments, they were unaccompanied by any promise to stop providing the weapons Israel uses to carry out  the genocidal war in Gaza. As horrible as the right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel is, this war and all the repression against Palestinians for decades, could not be carried out without approval of the U.S.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders had introduced in the Senate a resolution for the cutoff of aid, including all military support for Israel. So far his resolution has gone nowhere.

The AFL-CIO resolution also recognizes growing discontent and ceasefire demands from rank-and-file unionists, especially younger workers whom the federation is concentrating on recruiting to labor’s legions, and from major unions.

Many of the younger workers also demand a complete cutoff of U.S. military aid to Israel, as does Sen. Sanders. The younger workers—and younger voters in general—are particularly unhappy with Biden’s policy. The concern is that this could weaken his re-election prospects in key swing states.

Strong opposition to Biden’s policies in Gaza is reflected among young people. Here youth, in an act of civil disobedience, protested that policy by blocking the Brooklyn Bridge. | Andres Kudacki/AP

Many unions issued the call

The Communications Workers, the Auto Workers, National Nurses United, the Postal Workers, the Service Employees—who are not a federation member—and the National Writers Guild also demand a ceasefire. Like the AFL-CIO, most do not mention on a military aid cutoff, however.

Labor’s call for a ceasefire and massive humanitarian aid are critical. The Gazan Health Ministry estimates there are almost 30,000 dead civilians, and double that number injured. Most are women and children.

Most of the 2.2 million Gazans are now refugees within their own state. Israel has bombed and shelled most Gazan homes, along with hospitals, schools and refugee centers. And after the Israelis told Gazans to travel to “safe havens” in their southern area, it bombed them, too.

The bombing also prevented needed humanitarian aid from getting through to Gaza, except in small amounts during past short ceasefires. The U.S., Egypt, and Qatar are trying to broker another halt.

The U.S. still pushes a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel within its 1949 armistice lines, with some modifications, and a rollback of right-wing extremist Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas’s military wing reject the two-state solution.

For years, Netanyahu has strongly advocated “a unitary state.”

U.S.-made and U.S.-bought weapons let Israel accomplish the carnage in Gaza. Israel uses billions of dollars in U.S. military aid for them. Biden wants to send another $14.1 billion in weapons aid, most of it–$10 billion—for offensive arms, but the money is hung up on Capitol Hill.

Some supporters of a ceasefire, including individual unionists, some union locals, and Auto Workers District 9, do demand a complete military aid cutoff.

Other unions, including AFL-CIO members such as the Communications Workers, the Teachers, National Nurses United, the Auto Workers, the Postal Workers, and the National Writers Guild, have long since demanded a ceasefire, putting pressure on the federation to also do so. One or two of them also demand an aid cutoff.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.