Samuel Gompers and Albert Shanker were cultural heroes in my childhood home. The two Jewish men had worked relentlessly to build the labor movement in the United States—the American Federation of Labor in the former case and the American Federation of Teachers in the latter. Pete Seeger’s union anthems played so often on the stereo in our New York City home that I still remember the words to “Solidarity Forever.” Despite becoming a conservative as an adult, I retained a deep emotional attachment to the American labor movement.

I still see union membership as a positive good and a partial antidote to the growing anomie in a society bereft of most traditional forms of community. Indeed, I was, until not so long ago, a member of the United Autoworkers 4811 (UAW 4811), which represents academic student employees across the University of California system.

Despite my affinity for the labor movement, however, I recently resigned my UAW membership, and, with the help of the Hamilton Lincoln Law Institute, filed an informational brief explaining that the union’s strike endangers the safety and rights of Jewish workers like myself. If I have become the “scab” and “stool pigeon” reviled in the songs of my childhood, it is because my former union has embraced anti-Israel activism. 

On May 15, UAW 4811 voted to strike, demanding “[d]ivestment . . . from companies profiting from Israel’s war in Gaza” and “[a]mnesty for all academic employees, students, student groups, faculty, and staff who face disciplinary action or arrest due to protest.” While union officials claimed the vote was a response to the University of California Los Angeles clearing an anti-Israel encampment, the strike and its demands applied to all campuses across the UC system.

Within a month, a court struck down the union’s gambit. The UC system’s attorney argued (and UAW disputed) that the union violated a “no-strike” clause in its contract. Without resolving that question, a California state judge temporarily restrained the strike, and the union quietly capitulated on June 25.

The only explanation for UAW 4811’s costly action is that it has been captured by radical left elements, more concerned with revolutionary cosplay than improving the lot of student workers. Those elements are increasingly active in the UC system. For months, Jews have been harassed, denigrated, and sometimes assaulted in our workplaces on campus. Personally, I have been followed, filmed, and waylaid by pro-Palestine activists, including on my way to and from teaching class and grading papers. Last fall, I grew so alarmed at the anti-Semitic, pro-Hamas rhetoric emanating from protests on our campus’s main plaza that I moved my class to a new location. When I tried filming an encampment, a protester told me that Jews should “go back to Europe.”

Union representatives showed no concern for my well-being or for that of Jewish members in similar situations. Instead, UAW 4811, a combination of UAW 2865 and UAW 5810, has intensified its drive to impose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on the entire University of California system. In the run-up to the strike, union leadership often hid details like the times and dates of key meetings about potentially adopting BDS as a goal for our next contract negotiations. Israeli members who wanted to participate in these discussions told me that they wound up excluded from the relevant fora, and at other meetings were ridiculed as they recounted tales of their family and friends being murdered or abducted on October 7.

To see the union call a strike over the closure of UCLA’s anti-Israel encampment, which it has strained to depict as an “unfair labor practice,” even as it abides the mistreatment of its Jewish members, is galling. Many of us feel that we had no choice but to resign our membership. It’s questionable how much support exists for the leadership’s actions: UAW 4811’s social media posts about the strike show sparse picket lines, suggesting a lack of rank-and-file enthusiasm. In fact, only 40 percent of the union’s membership voted on the pro-Palestine walkout, compared with the more than 75 percent who voted on the last strike, in 2022, for improved salaries and working conditions.

With next year’s contract negotiations around the corner, UAW 4811 has prioritized the idée fixes of campus radicals over the immediate needs of its members. That bodes ill for the labor movement at the University of California—and beyond.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images


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