California student vote on BDS – the Jewish Labor Committee responds

On the vote of University of California Graduate Students on BDS – statement of the Jewish Labor Committee

December 19th, 2014 – After reviewing the recent vote by members of UAW Local 2865 on the issue of whether or not to support the local’s Joint Council’s proposal to support a policy of BDS – i.e., boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel, the Jewish Labor Committee has some serious concerns. The statewide union represents between 12,000 and 13,000 graduate student workers – readers, tutors, teaching assistants (TAs), and others – at the nine teaching campuses of the University of California.

A number of election irregularities have been alleged. Prior to the election, members of the local opposed to the passage of the referendum raised questions about the way the election has been conducted. They felt outnumbered and intimidated at meetings of Local 2865’s Executive, and felt that they were unable to get fair access to the local’s membership to explain their opposition to the proposed resolution. They felt that there were an inadequate number of polling places, and that the distribution of the polling places was done intentionally to favor members who might be positively disposed to the resolution.

Moreover, a very small percentage of the membership actually voted. Local 2865 reported that a mere 2,168 members voted, out of 13,000 members total. This represents approximately 17 % of the membership. In addition, apparently graduate students at any UC campus were able to join the local at the polling places immediately before voting, so the potential electorate approached 52,000 individuals.

Out of 13,000 members, 1,411 voted in support of the resolution – 65 % of the total votes, but only 11 % of 13,000 members, and 2.7 % of 52,000 potential voters. This is hardly a “testament to union democracy,” as Local 2865 has claimed.

The referendum also had a second item, to which voters could only check off in the affirmative, with no way to vote “no.” On this item, 1,136 voters – 52 % of the total voters, but only 8.7 % of the local’s membership, and 2 % of the potential electorate — also pledged “not to `take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel until such time as these universities take steps to end complicity with dispossession, occupation, and apartheid.” As with the first item voted on, there is no indication that those who checked off this “pledge” are representative of the membership of Local 2865.

As to the issue itself, in 2007, the highest leadership of the UAW – it’s International President – signed onto a Statement of Opposition to Divestment From or Boycotts of Israel along with the presidents of every other major U.S. labor union. On November 17 of this year, Gary Jones, the Director of UAW Region 5, which includes California, wrote to the leadership of Local 2865 that the UAW’s position had not changed.

The Local 2865 measure contradicts the position of the UAW, as it

1) calls on the University of California to divest from companies involved in Israeli occupation and apartheid;

2) calls on the UAW International to divest from these same entities;

3) calls on the US government to end military aid to Israel.

The Jewish Labor Committee agrees with the vast majority of the labor movement in the United States that – like most other sectors of society in the U.S. – does not support BDS, but rather favors a two-state solution brought about by an honest peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and believes that singling out Israel and Israeli academic institutions in this way in fact undermines these peace efforts.