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50,000 union workers of the Western Mass Area Labor Federation call for ceasefire in Gaza

Western Mass Labor Federation

The Western Mass Area Labor Federation voted unanimously this week to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Israeli military reprisals against the densely populated region have killed 11,000 – including at least 4,500 minors – after a surprise attack by Hamas left 1,200 dead on October 7th. The federation, which represents 50,000 unionized workers in Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin, and Berkshire counties, is urging the state and national AFL-CIO and elected representatives in the region to back an immediate ceasefire. None of the four Democrats who represent the region in Washington have done so despite growing public pressure. President Biden has rejected a ceasefire. WAMC reached out to both state and national offices of the AFL-CIO for comment on this story. To find out more about the move, WAMC spoke with Western Mass Area Labor Federation President and UFCW Local 1459 President Jeff Jones.

JONES: We think it's vitally important for the labor movement to play a role in what's going on over there, and we think United States government is an integral player of what's going on in the Middle East right now. And our basic position was to call for immediate ceasefire to just stop the violence. And we're not supporting one side or another- We're just saying stop the violence.

WAMC: Now, this calls on representatives like Jim McGovern and Richie Neal as well as senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to actually respond to this legislatively. Can you break down what this calls on them to do?

There's a couple bills- There's a House bill whose number escapes me right now that's been put forward by some of the progressive Democrats in the House, and we'd like to see them support that, and we'd like to see a similar version in the Senate calling upon United States government to do more than it is right now, and actually push for a ceasefire. And we think the United States government has the ability to do that, instead of calling for these what they're calling pauses right now. We think a full and immediate ceasefire should be implemented ASAP.

President Joe Biden continues to refer to himself as the most pro-worker and pro-union president in American history. Is that a stance that at this point the Federation feels like is resonant among the rank and file?

I think it's somewhat of a mixed bag. I think there are certain things that have been very positive, and I think there are other things where we feel the administration could have done more than they have. And I think their- Frankly, their position on foreign policy right now is a part of that because we have domestic fights going on about funding Social Security, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or student loans, and at the same time, we seem to have an open checkbook when it comes to military aid to other countries around the world.

Going off of that, can you break down what do you see as the major correlations between the values of the labor movement and the value of a ceasefire in Gaza?

I think a large part of the labor movement first and foremost is about respect and dignity. Whether that's respect and dignity on the job, or respect and dignity in the community, or respect and dignity within a country and relations between countries, so I think it all links up. And I think, since the – probably, globalization – whenever one wants to date that, I don't know, 1980s, or whatever in one form or another – there have been closer and closer relationships between labor movements around the world with one another. Certainly, with multinational corporations operating in multiple countries, that's been a natural magnet. But there was a call put out by the Palestinian trade unions to try and urge the American labor movement as well as others to push for a ceasefire, and our resolution in part is based on that call.

Here's the Western Mass Area Labor Federation's full statement on the call for a ceasefire in Gaza:

The Western Mass Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO (WMALF), voted unanimously at its delegate body Monday, November 13, 2023, to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. As unions across the country are increasingly advocating a ceasefire, the WMALF joined by signing onto a letter titled “The US Labor Movement Calls for Ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.” The letter was initiated by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 3000 and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), and has been signed by a growing list of unions and labor organizations including the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 6, UAW Region 9A, and many others.

In calling for an immediate ceasefire, the WMALF urges the Massachusetts state chapter of the AFL-CIO to recommend to the national AFL-CIO that it endorse this statement. Jeff Jones, president of the WMALF and of UFCW Local 1459 said “We are demanding that the labor movement call upon the US government to join a vast majority of the American people, and a vast majority of the world population in demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.” The WMALF also calls upon Representatives Jim McGovern and Richie Neal to cosponsor H. Res 786: Ceasefire Now, and for Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to introduce a corresponding resolution in the Senate.

Hoang Phan, a delegate from the MTA who helped to organize the resolution, said, “As American workers, it’s necessary for us to demand that elected officials endorse an immediate ceasefire. In the past month, our taxes have paid for Israel’s military killing over 11,000 Palestinians, with 4,000 of the dead being children.” Rose Bookbinder, of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said “As a Jewish member of the Western Mass Area Labor Federation and president of the Hampshire Franklin Labor Assembly, I am proud that we have unanimously supported this resolution. It’s imperative that as labor leaders we recognize how war harms works and the most vulnerable among us. Working people must condemn this war and call for a ceasefire now. Never again means never again for anyone.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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