Wednesday, May 27

Graduate student-workers union passes resolution to support BDS movement

The original version of this article contained multiple errors and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.

The University of California’s graduate student-workers union voted to pass a resolution supporting the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli institutions and companies that some say are complicit in human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Results of the vote were announced Wednesday, six days after the vote. About 65 percent of the union’s 2,168 members who cast a vote supported the resolution, according to the union’s webpage. At UCLA, about 58 percent of those who voted supported the resolution.

The Joint Council of United Auto Workers Local 2865 – which represents more than 12,000 UC graduate student workers, such as teaching assistants – brought the resolution in the summer following the recent conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The resolution has been a subject of controversy, with some opponents saying the union’s stance may hurt other workers who serve in companies that the resolution lists.

The resolution calls on the UC and UAW International to divest from and refuse to do business with Israeli institutions and some international corporations. It also includes a personal pledge members may sign to boycott Israeli academic institutions by not participating in academic activities sponsored by them. About 52 percent of those who voted signed the pledge.

UAW International and the UC Board of Regents have said they do not plan to divest from companies that some say are complicit in human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza.

“It’s a testament that our members are passionate about linking student and worker movements in the U.S. with student and worker movements around the world,” said Alborz Ghandehari, the recording secretary of the San Diego chapter of UAW 2865 and a graduate student in ethnic studies. “We are excited that members have spoken.”

Alexandra Holmstrom-Smith, campus chair for the UCLA branch of UAW 2865 and a member of the BDS caucus that supports the resolution, said she thinks the turnout for the vote was high. In a recent two-day election for officers of the union, about 2,700 people voted, Holmstrom-Smith said.

“It shows that members have really engaged with this issue,” she said.

Jonathan Kummerfeld, a member of Informed Grads, a group of UAW 2865 members who oppose the resolution, said he was disappointed by the results, adding he thinks they were skewed by what he called a one-sided discussion over the resolution.

“I wasn’t extremely surprised,” Kummerfeld said.

Ramon Quintero, a graduate student in urban planning, voted in favor of the resolution last Thursday. He said he voted to stand in solidarity with Palestinians.

“Graduate students get opportunities and privileges sustained by investments that our union and university have, and I think that it is important to be conscious of where this comes from,” Quintero said.

Josh Saidoff, a political science graduate student and member of Informed Grads, led a campaign against the resolution last Thursday near the polling booth. He said he thinks the issue has divided many union members.

“This vote is driving a wedge into the union,” Saidoff said.

Kummerfeld, a graduate student in computer science at UC Berkeley, said some students plan to submit an appeal to the union’s elections committee which supervises election proceedings and the counting of ballots, saying he thinks there were some irregularities in the vote. For instance, he said he thought there were locations at UCLA where pro-BDS supporters served as pollworkers.

Ghandehari said an impartial election committee within the union will investigate allegations as they are filed, he said.

Contributing reports from Rupan Bharanidaran and River Sween, Bruin contributors.

Correction: It is unclear what the voter turnout was for the vote because union officials do not know how many people were eligible to vote, Holmstrom-Smith said. Ghandehari was misquoted as saying the impartial election committee saw the vote as fair.

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