On November 2nd, the Stanford Graduate Workers Union, or SGWU, voted 683 to 370 to issue a statement of solidarity alongside various Palestinian trade unions. In this act of reckless hubris, the Union decided to take a side in the ongoing Israel–Hamas war.
The SGWU was founded to represent the needs of Stanford graduate students, yet this partisan pivot does nothing of the sort and unfortunately comes as no surprise, as the Union originated from a left-wing student organization, the Stanford Solidarity Network. Back in May of 2021, the Solidarity Network tweeted about Israel’s “long history of genocide and displacement” against Palestinians, including the message, “We urge our fellow academic workers to respect the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions picket line and boycott Israeli academic institutions.”
In its statement, the SGWU called on Stanford University to “condemn the ongoing and intensifying mass ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, as well as the apartheid system and the illegal occupation under which the Palestinian people live.” It additionally urged “Stanford to immediately divest from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Caterpillar, Boeing, and all companies complicit in and responsible for deadly violence against marginalized peoples in Palestine and across the world.” Although the SGWU agreed with President Saller and Provost Martinez’s condemnation of Hamas’ war crimes, the Palestinian trade unions with which they associated have not done the same.
Since 2011, these Palestinian trade unions have called on other unions to join the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement against Israel, which pushes for the isolation of Israel from the world. The SGWU’s statement on Palestine copies the BDS platform, using the same dog whistles: “illegal occupation,” “mass ethnic cleansing,” a “system of apartheid,” and “collective punishment”. To their credit, the SGWU stops short of claiming genocide. The associated Palestinian trade unions, however, are not so timid, with the term “genocide” appearing numerous times on the website of their media arm, Workers in Palestine.
We must remember that the Union does not apply its moral standards evenly. If ethnic cleansing is a concern, why has the SGWU issued no statement on the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh this September, in which Azerbaijan’s military has forced 120,000 ethnic Armenians to flee from a region they have inhabited for millennia? Does the Armenians’ plight matter less than that of the Palestinians?
If the SGWU actually believes in divestment, why has it not called for the University to turn away federal dollars instead of merely trimming its portfolio of defense stocks? Or would that be too great a sacrifice? The House of Representatives recently passed another $14.5 billion military aid package for Israel. Last fiscal year, Stanford received more than $651 million from the National Institutes of Health, and more than $61 million from the National Science Foundation. The SGWU purportedly wants the University to divest, but it will not put its money where its mouth is and call for divestment from all federal funding.
Those of us who oppose the SGWU’s reckless politicization can take action. Following NLRB protocol, we can decertify the Union. In fact, with thirty percent of coworker signatures, we can call for an election to decertify SGWU as early as July 14, 2024. Given the popular opposition to the SGWU’s ideological mayhem, there is a high likelihood of success. Had those who abstained in the November 2 vote on the solidarity statement voted against it, the “No” vote would have increased from the already significant 35% to 41.5%.
If we are unable to decertify the SGWU, we can still limit the amount of money the Union has to fund political agitation. Under federal law, we can opt to pay “only that share of dues used directly for representation.” Individual students may also object to union membership on religious grounds and pay “an amount equal to dues to a nonreligious charitable organization.”
If we do not act, where will the SGWU’s political agitation end? The Palestinian trade unions have already reposted calls for unions to strike for a ceasefire, and the SGWU’s national organization has called for a ceasefire as well. Will the Union soon call on graduate students to strike for a ceasefire? The limits of the SGWU’s action are not yet known, and one can assume it is acting conservatively until bargaining with the University has concluded.
The SGWU has embroiled Stanford graduate students in a religious and ethnic conflict between Israel and Palestine, as well as a factional struggle between Palestinian political parties. It has allied itself with nationalist organizations tied to a foreign government. If that were not enough, those same organizations have promulgated language calling for Israel’s destruction. It is now time for both original supporters and skeptics of the Union to unite, and to abolish the Stanford Graduate Workers Union before it can do any more damage.