Open Letter from U.S. Trade Unionists to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka

Boycott Apartheid Israel

Sanctions alone cannot eradicate apartheid; that task is ultimately left to the people of South Africa themselves. But economic pressure and political isolation of the South African government can hasten the day when justice and freedom reign in that troubled land.

–Richard L. Trumka, June 23, 1987

We call on other workers and unions to … do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free.

–Congress of South African Trade Unions, February 3, 2009

We urge all international trade unions to heed the call of Palestinian civil society, including the trade union movement, by endorsing BDS. We further urge all trade unions and trade union federations to sever their links with the Histadrut, a Zionist organization that has always played a key role in perpetuating Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of racial discrimination, and that has justified and applauded Israel’s war crimes in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

–Palestinian Trade Union Movement Unanimously Confirms Support for BDS, November 25, 2009


Dear Brother Trumka:

As labor and anti-apartheid activists, we strongly disagree with your October 27 speech denouncing the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The BDS campaign was initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society — including its entire labor movement. Inspired by the international boycott that helped topple apartheid South Africa, it demands Palestinian self- determination, including an end to Israeli military occupation, the right of refugees to return to the land from which they have been ethnically cleansed since the Nakba of 1947-1948, and equal rights for all throughout historic Palestine.

Support for BDS has grown rapidly, especially since December 27, 2008, when Israel broke a truce with the democratically-elected Palestinian government and attacked Gaza. In the resulting massacre, Israel killed more than 1400 Palestinians, hundreds of them children; maimed and wounded thousands more; and utterly devastated Gaza’s infrastructure, including the Gaza headquarters of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions.

In the best tradition of labor solidarity, South African and Australian dockworkers responded by refusing to handle Israeli cargo, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) “call[ed] on other workers and unions to follow suit and to do all that is necessary to ensure that they boycott all goods to and from Israel until Palestine is free.”

Their action echoes the West Coast dock-workers who refused to handle cargo for Nazi Germany (1934) or fascist Italy (1935); those in Denmark and Sweden (1963), the San Francisco Bay Area (1984) and Liverpool (1988), who refused shipping for apartheid South Africa; those in Oakland who refused to load bombs for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1978); and those at all twenty-nine West Coast ports who held a May Day strike against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2008).

Since Gaza, the 2005 BDS call also been endorsed or reaffirmed by numerous other labor bodies around the world, including the trades union congresses of Ireland, Scotland and the UK; UNISON (UK); Transport and General Workers’ Union (UK); L’Union syndicale Solidaires Industrie (France); Canadian Union of Postal Workers; Canadian Union of Public Employees-Ontario; six Norwegian trade unions; and Intersindical Alternativa de Catallunya.

It is no accident that South African workers play a leading role in the BDS movement. They remember that Israel was apartheid South Africa’s closest ally. They agree with Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s observation that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is “worse than apartheid.” They recognize that the Gaza massacre mirrors the infamous Sharpeville massacre of 1960, which gave birth to an international boycott against South African apartheid.

This rising tide of labor support for BDS has only been further vindicated by Israel’s rejection of the war crimes indictments issued against it by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the UN’s Goldstone Report and numerous other bodies — many of them Israeli.

The BDS campaign is particularly relevant to workers in the United States.

In the past ten years alone, U.S. military aid to Israel was $17 billion; over the next decade, it will be another $30 billion. As in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. aircraft, white phosphorous and bullets kill and maim on behalf of the occupiers, while both Democratic and Republican politicians condone the slaughter. Amidst deepening economic crisis, workers in this country pay a staggering human and financial price for U.S.-Israeli war and occupation throughout the region.

Despite all of this, however, many U.S. labor officials — often without the knowledge or con-sent of union members — have ignored Palestinian appeals for justice. Instead, they continue to collaborate with the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation that not only supported Israel’s war on Gaza, but which has spearheaded — and whitewashed — racism, apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians since the 1920s.

They have invested billions of our union pension funds and retirement plans in State of Israel Bonds. They have actively encouraged the U.S. to provide the money and weapons that oppress Palestinian workers, and to ensure Israel’s role as watchdog for U.S. domination over the oil-rich Middle East.

The Jewish Labor Committee has exploited its carefully groomed “progressive” image by hurling hurls false accusations of “anti-Semitism” against those who challenge racism in the U.S. labor movement, who support affirmative action for workers of color, who criticize notorious “AFL-CIA” support U.S. war and empire, and — above all — who oppose apartheid Israel.

Thus, it was the JLC that in July 2007 mobilized top AFL-CIO and Change to Win officials to condemn British union support for BDS. It is the JLC that seeks to deflect outrage over the Gaza massacres by launching Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, whose stated purpose is to sabotage the BDS campaign, while demanding boycotts against Iran, which — unlike Israel — receives no U.S. aid and has no “weapons of mass destruction.”

In the 1980s, as president of the United Mine Workers, you rightly argued that, “economic pressure and political isolation of the South African government can hasten the day when justice and freedom reign in that troubled land.” Two decades later, the cause of “justice and freedom” for Palestinians requires no less of you as president of the AFL-CIO. As trade unionists, we must immediately and completely:

1. Divest from State of Israel Bonds.

2. Support workers’ refusal to handle Israeli cargo.

3. Break ties with the racist Histadrut.

4. Oppose U.S. military and economic aid for Israel.

Initial Signers
(List in formation — *For identification only)

Monadel Herzallah, President, Arab American Union Members Council, California
Larry Adams, Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; Former President, NPMHU L. 300*
Michael Letwin, Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; Former President, UAW L. 2325/ALAA*; Al-Awda NY; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network/Labor
Brenda Stokely, Co-Convener, New York City Labor Against the War; Former President, AFSCME DC 1707*; Co-Chair, Million Worker March Movement
Sam Weinstein, Former President, UWUA L. 132*; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network/Labor
Stanley Heller, AFT L. 1547*, Delegate, CT Central Labor Council*
Marty Goodman, Former Executive Board Member, TWU L.100*
Fred Mason, Maryland AFL-CIO*
Clayola Brown, A. Philip Randolph Institute, AFL-CIO*
Frank Rosen, General Vice President (retired), UE*
Steve Zeltzer, Producer, Labor Video Project
Anthony Arnove, National Writers Union/UAW L.1981*
Mike Gimbel, Chair, Labor-Community Unity Committee, AFSCME DC 37 L. 375*; Delegate, NYC Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO*
Dave Welsh, Delegate, San Francisco Labor Council*
Lee Sustar, Chicago Labor Against the War
Timothy Kaminski, UAW L. 110* (ret.)
Janice Rothstein, AFSCME L. 3299*
Andy Griggs, UTLA*; LA Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee, Cafe Intifada
Emma Rosenthal, UTLA*; LA Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee, Cafe Intifada
Pete Nowicki, AFSCME L. 145*
Jim Crampton, 1199SEIU/UHWE*
Allan Fisher, AFT L. 2121, SF Community College*
Alan Benjamin, OPEIU L. 3*
Sharon Black, AFT L. 2*; Bailout the People Movement
Bill Balderson, Oakland Education Assn.*
Sarah Ringler, AFT L. 1936, PVFT*
Frank Pinto, UPTE-CWA L. 9119*
Steve Desavouret, TCU/IAM 6608*
Louis LaFortune, AFT L. 1936, PVFT*
Azalia Torres, Former Executive Bd. Member, UAW Local 2325/ALAA*
Patrick Langhenry, UAW Local 2325/ALAA*
Lucy Herschel, Delegate 1199SEIU/UHWE*
Carol Seligman, South San Francisco California Teachers Association*

International Endorsers

Rubina Jamil, Working Women Organization; All Pakistan Trade Union Federation*
Tony Leon, Secretary General, Venezuelan Union of Oil Industry Workers*

To endorse this statement.

Labor For Palestine ( believes that international solidarity, the right of national self-determination, and social justice are among the most basic trade union principles. It opposes the continuing campaign of displacement, discrimination, exploitation and brutality against the Palestinian people. Read other articles by Labor for Palestine, or visit Labor for Palestine's website.

20 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Ismail Zayid said on December 16th, 2009 at 1:47pm #

    It is the height of inconsistency and the practice of double-standards for Richard Trumka to oppose the application of sanctions against Israel after having called strongly, in 1987, for the applications of sanctions against apartheid South Africa. The racist and apartheid practices of Israel, against the Palestinian people, are worse than those that were practiced in South Africa, as confirmed by distinguished persons of priciple, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

    The Palestinan people, undergoing the most oppressive occupation and humiliation under the illegal Israeli occupation, deserve the support of the international community by applying sanctions and boycott against Israel, so that they may be set free and treated as human beings. We must all applaud the principled stand taken by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other Trade Unions in Europe and Canada, amongst others.

  2. james weatherby said on December 17th, 2009 at 5:59pm #

    How about boycotting good made or delivered by AFL-CIO goons? Union members have shown their brain power by assalting people that are against their agendas. I would be ashamed to be associated with this gangster like organization. But then why would you expect these people to be any different when being led by an idiot maniac, White Trash Trumka.

  3. jon s said on December 18th, 2009 at 8:38am #

    Maybe Mr Trumka simply understands the difference between present-day Israel and apartheid-era South Africa, and realizes that what may have been suitable for one situation is not right for the other.

  4. jeff said on December 18th, 2009 at 5:01pm #

    Jon S,

    Such tripe does not merit much of a response, so you will get little. Putting aside that the labor movement is the only long and self sustaining movement of the left, smattering excrement around your play pen will do little service to the BDS movement. Cavalierly calling labor “goons” and Rich Trumka “white trash” are wrong on both strategy and the merits. Your screeching only hurts BDS.

    In Solidarity

  5. Hilary said on December 19th, 2009 at 12:50am #

    Israel is bad news. I’ll definitely support the boycott.

  6. jon s said on December 19th, 2009 at 4:10am #

    Have you confused me with “james weatherby”, who posted before me?

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 19th, 2009 at 4:55am #

    For once you are correct jon s. There is no comparison between the situation in Afrikaaner apartheid South Africa and Judaic apartheid Israel. The situation for the Arabic untermenschen in Israel and the Infested Territories is far, far, worse than it was for non-whites in apartheid South Africa. This has been attested over and over by South Africans who fought against apartheid. But I understand what you mean, jon. From your point of view, that the Jews are the Supreme Beings of the Universe, and Arabs are ‘two-legged animals’, ‘human dust’, ‘lice’, ‘cancer’, ‘terrorists’ etc, any Israeli crime is sanctified, every act of resistance the inadmissable refusal to accept their subservient status of unruly animals.I do not doubt for a second that you, and your ilk, subscribe to Rabbi Kook the Elder’s infamous dictum that ‘There is a greater difference between the soul of a Jew and the soul of a non-Jew…than there is between the soul of a non-Jew and that of an animal’.

  8. James said on December 21st, 2009 at 4:12pm #

    As a union member, I can say that the vast majority of the rank and file are disgusted with Israel. Israel is a blood sucker sucking $4 billion annually from the US because of the power of the Jews. The union leadership is in the pocket of the zionist. So nothing will happen.

  9. Omri said on December 21st, 2009 at 4:13pm #

    A message from one of your signers:

    Clayola Brown, the national president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute — a leading organization for Black trade unionists in the United States — has sent this email message to “Labor for Palestine”:

    It is with disgust and dismay that I find my name listed as a signer of “Boycott Apartheid Israel: Open Letter from US Trade Unionists.” I demand that my name be removed immediately!

    Prior to seeing the letter on the Palestine Chronicle website, I had never seen such a letter or engaged in discussions about its content. I find it disrespectful that someone would attach my name to a document and circulate such a document without contact with me, or consent from me.

    Please make every effort to convey my demand to and any other publications that you have used or are likely to use your letter with.

    Nice going, guys.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 22nd, 2009 at 10:55am #

    So, oily, the Chosen Ones have some hold over Clayola Brown-what a surprise! Whoever he or she is, their use by Zionazis to justify the decades long brutality of the Occupation, coming, one assumes from a black American, is, in my opinion, deeply disgusting. For a descendant of slaves to join in the propaganda effort for an apartheid state based on the most vicious racism. is a sign, in my opinion, of deep moral imbecility.

  11. Kim Petersen said on December 22nd, 2009 at 11:46am #

    In response to Omri, I received this reply from Labor for Palestine:

    This statement is a response to this attack, orchestrated by Labor Zionist sources. See below, and follow link to see Clayola Brown’s original signature:

    On December 17, two of the letter’s initial signers, Fred Mason (a co-convener of U.S. Labor Against the War and head of the Maryland AFL-CIO) and Clayola Brown (A. Philip Randolph Institute), issued identical written statements demanding that their names be removed from the letter. The statements assert that they “had never seen such a letter or engaged in discussions about its content,” and that it was “disrespectful that someone would attach my name to a document and circulate such a document without contact with me, or consent from me.”

    Brown’s statement has been posted on the website of “Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine” under the heading, “Leading Black trade unionist expresses ‘disgust and dismay’ at misuse of her name by pro-BDS campaigners.” As explained in LFP’s Open Letter, TULIP was founded to derail the growing international labor support for BDS that has followed Israel’s massacres in Gaza.

    LFP immediately honored the requests to remove both names. However, the claim that either had been listed without their knowledge of permission is a complete fabrication.

    In fact, Fred Mason and Clayola Brown were among 21 people who signed the letter at a USLAW national meeting held in Chicago on December 5. Their endorsements, written in their own hand (signatures 5 and 6.) can be viewed at: Nonetheless, “TULIP” has refused to remove Brown’s defamatory statement from its website.

    These false assertions come as no surprise. Dishonesty underlies the entire attempt to undermine BDS, and to shore up Israeli apartheid, occupation and oppression.

    Clearly, she changed her mind, as is her right, but she signed it in her own hand at a public meeting in Chicago on December 5.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 22nd, 2009 at 1:38pm #

    So the question remains-what threat or inducement was mobilised by the Zionists to get these two to develop an attack of amnesia, allied to what is, in my opinion, a virulent case of moral insanity in aligning themselves with a racist apartheid state? For African-Americans to ally themselves with a vicious racist state, once the closest ally of Afrikaaner South Africa, is, in my opinion, simply detestable.

  13. Shabnam said on December 22nd, 2009 at 2:44pm #

    Some of the African American think that they should cooperate and support the zionist policy because the Zionists put a black face in the White House, of course with string attached, meaning Obama carries a chain around his neck and his ankles at all times and be directed by Rahm Emanuel to implement the zionist foreign policy to put Israel interest First.
    The black elite such as brother Cornel West and Jesse Jackson who has gained at least 50 pounds due to stop of his ‘struggle’ against racism since Obama’s selection by the Zionist Jews, are doing the same and are going to different shows including black shows to sell Obama’s racist wars and his Health care for the Wall Street to the fools with NO SHAME.

    I am surprised they have sent a letter to Richard Trumka to address him (Dear Brother Trumka) while he already has sent a clear message out to show his LOVE for the racists and apartheid entity to support foreign policy of the United States ahead of the interest of both works and humanity.
    In addressing the Jewish Labor Committee (do we have Muslim Labor Com. or Christian Labor Committee???) he went extra miles to prevent any misunderstanding about HIS LOVE for Zionism and apartheid Israel:
    [Trumka, has spoken out clearly and forcefully in opposition to calls to boycott Israel.
    Trumka stated that “we’re proud to stand with the JLC to oppose boycotting Israel.” Trumka was elected President of the national AFL-CIO in September of this year. The AFL-CIO is composed of 57 national and international labor unions, represents 11.5 million members.
    Trumka added that “in America, we sometimes think that anti-Semitism is part of the past, but the truth is that it’s like a weed that can always grow back. And that’s especially true during hard times. You know, sometimes it’s couched as `anti-Zionism.’ Other times there’s no effort to disguise it at all.”]

    And many more nonsense similar to the statement above. We should not be surprised because AFL-CIO is the right hand of US foreign policy and was involved in number of ‘color revolution’ around the world and its agents, as ‘workers’, continue to be working among ignorant and opportuniests in the targeted countries around the world, including Iran. The Iranian workers have been infested by these agents and money from NED in Iran and the supporters abroad. These agents were exposed to the public and situation got out of hand, so one of the opposition, Jasmine Mather, had to act in order to save the ‘labor union’ in Iran:
    [Many of us in the solidarity movement have shown a lot of restraint in exposing International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran (IASWI), mainly to save further embarrassment for this ‘Alliance’. However as they seem keen to endure total exposure let us give facts, dates, links to their politics. Of course the Farsi reader is already familiar with their recent history and no research is necessary, it certainly isn’t rocket science: over the last three months our mailboxes have been full of resignation letters from activists of this organisation, each exposing yet another aspect of the group’s shady politics and lack of principles.
    None of this is new; their soft line on imperialism was publicly exposed in 2004 during open discussions held for setting up a unified campaign in solidarity with Iranian workers and plans for a fund to support them. During those discussion, some of us were adamant that the campaign and the fund should take a principled stance in opposition to imperialist war in the region and that the activities of a campaign in solidarity with Iranian workers should not be tarnished by association with right wing unions such as ICFTU, AFL/CIO, which have a history of collaboration with successive US administrations. This line was opposed by some of the leading activists of IASWI, who defended ICFTU text and audio files of some of these meetings exist on line and can be verified. Indeed they disrupted all attempts to set up a united campaign and continued with this ‘Alliance’ precisely so that they can continue with such collaborations.
    At the same time a number of leftist activists in Canada were telling us that ICFTU and the CLC were working closely with Solidarity Centre and we should be weary of approaches by these organisations.]
    On the other hand, the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) is actively involved in pushing for Iran sanction and boycott of Iran and I’m sure the Zionist LOVER, Richard Trumka, supports and cooperates with his BROTHERS in JLC against Iran, but go public against any sanction or boycott of Israel
    This is disgusting. American people must kick the supporters of apartheid entity, Israel out.

  14. Omri said on December 23rd, 2009 at 7:58am #

    While you’re all talking about how “racist” Israel is, the last Jews of Yemen are gearing up to leave.

    Clearly they’re just leaving for a lark. No real reason.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 23rd, 2009 at 9:38am #

    Yes, oily, the Yemeni Jews must be mad not to stay in Yemen, the latest battleground in the Zionazi genocide against Islam, and possibly be obliterated, accidentally, as’collateral damage’ in ‘friendly fire’ by US airstrikes.

  16. mebosa ritchie said on December 23rd, 2009 at 9:54am #

    they are leaving to avoid persecution by muslims

  17. Maryb said on December 23rd, 2009 at 11:16am #

    Another Zionazi lie above just like the one about Christians leaving Israel which Jonathan Cook knocked on the head in his usual tight journalistic style.

    btw somebody (I wonder who that was?) has taken my usual user name so now I am Maryb

  18. Deadbeat said on December 23rd, 2009 at 6:36pm #

    Thanks Shabnam for the link. It ties nicely with Petras’ recent article.

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 24th, 2009 at 12:53am #

    mary, we all know the facts regarding Jewish migration from Arab countries. Despite the barbarities inflicted by Zionist Jews on the Palestinians, Jews in Arab lands were not generally persecuted in response.That is a lie, the Zionazi speciality. They were subjected to an intense Zionist campaign urging them to move to Israel and take up some of the Jewish lebensraum recently cleansed of the ‘two-legged animals’. Where they proved reluctant, Mossad engaged in provocations, bombings etc, to induce panic and flight. Even today Jew sremain in Iran, unaffected, represented in Parliament and, together with their Persian compatriots, threatened with obliteration in an imminent aggression by the Judaic Reich. Of course a couple of years ago there was a sordid effort, of complete lying, concocted from thin air, to accuse the Iranian authorities of making Jews wear special identifying clothing. This was another Zionazi lie. In the end the truth is that Jews in the Moslem world live in a paradise compared with the hell of the internment camps where millions of Palestinians are imprisoned by the Judaic Reich, and no amount of Zionazi lying can hide that fact.

  20. Maryb said on December 24th, 2009 at 7:21am #

    Hu Mulga. Yes as you say. There is also some demonisation of Muslims occurring on the BBC (Radio 4 and the World Service) to coincide with Christmas saying that Christians are being driven out of Muslim countries. I have looked on the internet but there are no reliable sources other than Jewish Zionist supporting blogs.

    Of course there is absolutely nothing on the BBC about the Viva Palestina convoy or the marchers assembling at Rafah, where incidentally the crossing has been closed by the Egyptian stooges.

    Nor will you find any report in the British MSM on Gaza one year on from Cast Lead like this one.

    Feature: Homeless Gazans live in bleak camp one year after war

    Homeless and handicapped Palestinian man Mohammed Daher, 60, sits outside his tent with his handicapped 80 years-old mother in eastern Jabalya refugee camp March 14, 2009. (Xinhua/Reuters, File Photo)
    Photo Gallery>>

    by Saud Abu Ramadan

    BEIT LAHIA, Gaza Strip, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) — Grief could be easily seen in his eyes when Marwan al-Attar, a 55-year-old resident of Biet Lahiya town in northern Gaza Strip spoke about his camp life.

    Al-Attar and his family, as well as thousands of Palestinian families in the impoverished coastal enclave, had their homes destroyed and demolished during a 22-day Israeli offensive that ended on January 18.

    A camp sponsored by international humanitarian organizations, was erected a year ago in the town’s al-Atatra district, one mile from the Israeli borders.

    “I left the camp 45 days ago after rain and wind destroyed the tent I lived in,” said the half blind jobless al-Attar.