Unions Rally for Ceasefire in Gaza as Climate Crisis Lurks

By Ted Franklin, Nov. 22, 2023

Labor Unions across the country are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, one of the most climate-challenged places on Earth. In the best of times, Gazans live on the frontline of climate change. Now they are living in a warzone rapidly turning to rubble.

U.N. experts say Israel’s bombing campaign has hit wells, water tanks, and other water supply infrastructure necessary to supply the minimum amounts of water needed to sustain human life. In early November, the UN reported that only 5% of Gaza’s water needs are now being met. The enclave lacks potable groundwater and depends on power and water supplies that have been cut off by the Israeli siege. UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, has warned that 70 percent of people in the Gaza Strip are now drinking contaminated water.

In mid-October, Palestinian trade unions issued an urgent global call to action, calling on workers everywhere to halt the sale and funding of arms to Israel and block related military research. The responses of the U.S. labor movement have varied. Some unions have aligned themselves with Palestinian calls for an end to Israeli occupation. Some have focused on ending U.S. support for the Israeli military effort. All are backing a ceasefire that President Biden and most U.S. politicians have so far refused to endorse.

Labor Petition for Ceasefire

Over the last month, 2,300 U.S. trade unions and union members have signed a petition cosponsored by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers and United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 3000 and endorsed by 32 other labor organizations. The petition calls for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the siege of Gaza, and release of hostages. Signatories include labor organizations across the country from the American Federation of Teachers to SEIU’s United Service Workers West.

In mid-November, the 330,000-member American Postal Workers Union became the largest union to issue its own call for a ceasefire. APWU announced that its members are “shocked and saddened by the tragic and ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine.” APWU condemned Hamas’s violence on October 7, but criticized Israel’s response for making “the prospects for peace more remote.”

“Israel has shut off the flow of food, water, fuel and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip, a war crime,” said APWU. “We call on our government, which is the primary foreign benefactor of the Israeli government, to use all its power to protect innocent live and to help bring about peace in the region, and not use our tax dollars for war.” 

Labor for Palestine, a group active since 2004, is urging US workers to sign a statement explicitly supporting the Palestinian trade unions’ call for workers everywhere to refuse to build or transport weapons bound for Israel. 

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, a union with storied resistance to South African apartheid in the 1980s, has also responded to the call. At a November 18 general membership meeting, Local 10 members voted unanimously for a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire. In 1984, Local 10, which now has about 1,700 members based in the Bay Area, refused to unload goods shipped from South Africa in an 11-day boycott of the South African regime.

The rank-and-file labor activist group Labor Notes organized a webinar on “workplace organizing for Palestine” with speakers from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Chicago Teachers Union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, and National Writers Union among others.

AFL-CIO Resistance

As bottom up labor solidarity with Palestine has grown and the US labor movement’s pro-Israel consensus is starting to crack, the changing perspective at the grassroots has not yet tempered the longtime allegiance to the State of Israel at the upper echelons of US labor. US labor officials have a long history of being among Israel’s most stalwart supporters, using union funds to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars in State of Israel bonds from the 1950s onward.

In recent weeks, the AFL-CIO intervened against the Olympia, Washington-based Thurston-Lewis-Mason Central Labor Council after it adopted a unanimous resolution urging the national AFL-CIO to “publicly support an immediate ceasefire and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.” The TLM CLC represents local unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO in three western Washington counties. Their resolution also declared opposition, in principle, to “any union involvement in the production or transportation of weapons destined for Israel.”

An AFL-CIO senior field representative notified the TLM CLC board that the resolution did not conform with the national AFL-CIO’s position. The AFL-CIO calls for a resolution to “end the bloodshed” and “promote a just and long-lasting peace” but avoids calling for a ceasefire. The national federation claims exclusive authority in establishing the organization’s international political positions. Under pressure from the AFL-CIO, the TLM CLC took down posts about the resolution.

US Labor Against Racism and War is circulating an open letter signed by over 30,000 unionists calling on US Labor’s leadership to get on “the right side of history” and “join the fight to stop the bloodshed by demanding an immediate ceasefire now.”  

The Climate Connection

Even before the most recent assault on Gaza, media from Time to Al Jazeera identified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an unfolding climate disaster. The 2.3 million Gazans are encaged inside a small strip of land sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding desert. They have little protection from the climatic changes that have made the Middle East one of the first regions to pass the 1.5C global warming threshold that scientists say marks the gateway to calamity.

“The struggles for Palestinian liberation and climate justice have become intertwined, literally and figuratively, in philosophy as well as tangible consequences,” argued senior political analyst Marwan Bishara in a piece published by Al Jazeera two days before Hamas’s raid on Israel. “Both causes are gaining momentum and widespread international support, but facing pressing realities that cause advocates to feel as if they are running against the clock.”

If Palestinians faced grave difficulties coping with climate change before the Israeli assault on Gaza, the situation has grown dramatically worse. Given the massive destruction of hospitals, schools, homes, and infrastructure in Gaza, hopes for efforts to build desperately needed climate resilience in the beleaguered territory seem remote, at best. UN experts are instead focused on calling on the international community to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people.

UN experts “noted that half of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza has been destroyed, including more than 40,000 housing units, as well as hospitals, schools, mosques, water pipes, sewage and electricity networks, in a way that threatens to make the continuation of Palestinian life in Gaza impossible.”

The war threatens progress on climate in other ways besides direct harm to Palestinians. New York Times correspondents Somini Sengupta and Jim Tankersley provide one take on how the war imperils action against global warming, declaring “the winners so far [to be] the producers of weapons and … oil.” Sengupta and Tankersley write, “All of this makes the next round of climate negotiations, scheduled for late November in the United Arab Emirates, itself a Persian Gulf petrostate, even more complicated.”

Smoke cloud from wildfire rising over Jerusalem in 2021. Credit: Dov Wachtfogel CC BY-SA 4.0 International.

“The renewed violence in Gaza could not have come at a less opportune time for the climate agenda in the Middle East,” writes Karim Elgendy, a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute

“The conflict will invariably intrude on COP28,” agrees Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow Frederic Wehrey. “Civil society activists who attend will likely raise the plight of Gaza, drawing attention to how an escalating Israeli invasion, with its attendant destruction of water infrastructure and services and massive displacement, will have catastrophic and generational effects on Palestinians’ already severe vulnerability to climate change.” 

War itself is a climate-killer.  Everything from production and transport of weapons and ordinance to actual battles add huge amount of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  But war’s impacts don’t end there.  Wars leave in their wake destroyed environments, toxic waste, unexploded ordnance and buried land mines, and massive destruction, in addition to the human casualties of conflict. Reconstruction, to the extent it follows the war, will add even more to the carbon load created by war. War is a multiplier of all the devastating effects of climate change.

Although major climate and environmental organizations have largely remained silent about the crisis in the Middle East, the more grassroots-oriented Climate Justice Alliance staged a “Free Palestine is a Climate Issue Teach-In” and some individual climate activists, including well-known leaders, are speaking out for a cessation of hostilities in Gaza.

“The best reason for a ceasefire there is that the war is a humanitarian disaster,” writes Bill McKibben. “The macabre evil of the Hamas raid on Israel has long since been repaid by the industrial terror of Israel’s response. The proverbial eyes and teeth are attached to altogether too many literal and bloodied bodies. But if you need another reason: on a rapidly heating planet the world cannot afford to have its attention endlessly diverted.”

Greta Thunberg has stood with Gaza, including at major climate rallies. Reports Le Monde: “On Sunday, November 12, the Swedish environmental activist spoke at a climate march attended by 70,000 people in Amsterdam. Sporting a keffiyeh, Thunberg had just called for a ‘ceasefire’ in Gaza when a man tried to snatch the microphone from her. ‘I came for a climate protest, not a political point of view,’ he raged, before being shoved aside. Thunberg and activists began chanting, ‘No climate justice on occupied land!’” Thunberg’s stance on Gaza has earned her accusations of naïveté, anti-semitism, and betrayal of the climate movement.

Labor Groups Taking a Stand

Some of the growing number of labor organizations speaking out in resolutions or public statements in support of Palestinians include the following:

Alphabet Workers Union

Amazon and Google Workers No Tech for Apartheid Campaign

American Federation of Teachers – Oregon

American Federation of Teachers – Wisconsin

American Postal Workers Union

Boston Teachers Union

California Nurses Association/National Nurses United

Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)

Democratic Socialists of America Union

Faculty Staff Union, University of Massachusetts  (Boston)

Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation- University of Oregon

GSOC-UAW Local 2110

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 520

International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 5

International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 10

Industrial Workers of the World (Mid-Valley Branch)

Industrial Workers of the World, NYC General Membership Branch

International Union of Painters & Allied Trades, District Council 35

Labor Express Radio

Make the Road UAW Local 2320 Staff Union

Malden Education Association

Massachusetts Teachers Association

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers

Natl. Domestic Alliance Workers Staff Union

NJ State Industrial Union Council

New Seasons Labor Union

National Writers Union

Oakland Education Association

Oregon Education Association

Pacific Media Workers Guild (CWA Local 39521)

PNWSU 3000

Pride at Work/Eastern Massachusetts

Restaurant Workers United

Roofers Local 36

Saint Paul Federation of Educators, Local 28

San Antonio Alliance of Teachers & Support Personnel NEA/AFT Local 67

SEIU Local 1021

SEIU Healthcare PA

SEIU-United Service Workers West (USWW)

Southern Poverty Law Center Union

Starbucks Workers United

The Bronx Defenders Union – UAW Local 2325

UAW Local 2865

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1459

United Food & Commercial Workers Local 3000


UNITE HERE Local 17 

United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America

United Steelworkers Local 9544

Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation (AFL-CIO),

Ted Franklin is a member of Labor Rise Climate Jobs Action Group and the National Writers Union.

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