Thousands of workers represented by the San Francisco Labor Council in San Francisco for May Day, also known as International Workers Day, May 1, 2021. (Photo/Brooke Anderson)
Thousands of workers represented by the San Francisco Labor Council in San Francisco for May Day, also known as International Workers Day, May 1, 2021. (Photo/Brooke Anderson)

Another S.F. labor group considering BDS resolution against Israel

UPDATED: July 15, 10 a.m.

The San Francisco Labor Council, a local AFL-CIO body representing more than 100,000 workers, is considering a resolution that endorses the BDS movement against what it deems “apartheid in Israel” and calls for the end of U.S. military aid to the Jewish state.

Resolution in Solidarity with Palestine” was submitted by 19 members of the council’s delegate assembly on June 14. It was signed by those 19 and four other supporters, all of whom are members of various unions that represent teachers, longshoremen, service workers, professional employees and others.

Beyond endorsing boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, the resolution expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people, states that it will join a larger call by an alliance of international unions opposed to the economic blockade of Gaza, and says it joins other dockworkers around the world who “have refused to handle military equipment and weapons and other cargo destined for Israel.”

The resolution states that the S.F. Labor Council is “unequivocally” against antisemitism, Islamophobia “and all other forms of racism and discrimination.”

The council will submit the resolution “for concurrence” to its 150 or so affiliates and to the California Labor Federation, which comprises more than 1,200 unions representing 2.1 million union members.

Four members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 signed the submitted resolution, including the union’s Northern California district council vice president, Christopher Christensen. In June, ILWU Local 10 members opted to not cross a line of protesters at the Port of Oakland, which prevented an Israel-owned cargo ship from being unloaded.

“The San Francisco Labor Council expresses our solidarity with the Palestinian people,” the resolution states, “and calls for Israel to end bombardment of Gaza and stop the displacement of people from their homes at Sheikh Jarrah,” a neighborhood in East Jerusalem that was a flash point in the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. The fighting ended with a May 20 cease-fire.

These resolutions, when we pass them, not much comes of them.

A majority of the resolution is composed of recent statements and petitions released by local and national unions in light of the recent violence in Gaza, including those made by the ILWU’s NorCal regional district council, Google’s Alphabet Workers Union and the San Francisco Unified School District teachers’ union.

The resolution is part of a nascent movement among labor groups in the United States that, until recently, did not weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But since the recent violence, teachers’ unions in San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles, as well as a state body in Vermont, have passed resolutions that are critical of Israel and, in some cases, endorse boycotts.

Underlying many of the resolutions from teachers’ unions are critiques of the U.S. government’s aid to Israel — $3.8 billion in 2020, according to the BBC, almost all of it for military assistance — all while public school teachers find themselves operating in financially precarious environments.

This month, the largest teachers’ union in the country, the National Education Association with more than 3 million members, debated two related items during its virtual annual meeting. One referred to Israel’s actions as “ethnic cleansing.” Ultimately, that item was defeated. The other item, which had to do with education surrounding the “Palestinian struggle,” was referred to a separate committee.

Members of the Los Angeles teachers' union celebrate the end of a strike, Jan. 22, 2019. (Photo/Wikimedia-Mike Chickey)
Members of the Los Angeles teachers’ union celebrate the end of a strike, Jan. 22, 2019. (Photo/Wikimedia-Mike Chickey)

The S.F. Labor Council’s resolution is going to be reviewed by a committee recently formed by the council’s executive board. According to SFLC executive director Kim Tavaglione, the committee was set up after the body’s June 14 meeting to review and make recommendations.

The resolution will then be voted on by the council’s delegate assembly, which Tavaglione said varies in size from meeting to meeting but is usually around 60 individuals. Though the council’s next meeting is set for Aug. 9, Tavaglione said she could not give a timeline on when the committee would be submitting an amended resolution to the voting bloc.

When asked about the resolution’s wording and her opinions about it, Tavaglione deferred to the council’s delegates and the review committee.

“It is up to the delegates,” Tavaglione told J. “These resolutions, when we pass them, not much comes of them. I am [also] leaving it up to the committee to review and make changes as they deem necessary.” Tavaglione emphasized that “most” of the council’s energy going forward will be spent on helping working families recover from the pandemic.

One person on the committee to review the resolution is Susan Solomon, who until July 1 was president of the SFUSD teachers’ union (United Educators of San Francisco) and is currently on the S.F. Labor Council’s executive committee.

As president of the teachers’ union, Solomon did not vote on its resolution endorsing BDS against Israel, which was approved May 19 by the body’s delegate assembly. About two weeks later, and in response to increasing scrutiny from some in the Jewish community, Solomon and her executive committee passed a resolution condemning antisemitism.

“The purpose of the committee is to study the issues; as we know, they are complex,” Solomon wrote in an email to J. “As a co-chair of the committee, my role is to facilitate the discussion, but not to open the discussion with recommendations from the outset. Recommendations could also be developed regarding the process the Labor Council will use to address this important issue.”

Solomon wrote in a separate email that the council is “currently establishing the committee” and hopes “to meet soon.”

The S.F. Labor Council, formed in 1893, regularly passes resolutions concerning domestic and international matters. For example, in May, the council approved one resolution to stop human rights violations in Colombia and to end U.S. military aid to that country, and another supporting sanctions against Myanmar.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.