US auto union calls for ceasefire in Gaza as 2024 election campaign hits pace

Unions are an important source of Democratic support

Shawn Fain, president of UAW, joins politicians at a press conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Getty Images / AFP
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United Auto Workers, the union representing car, aerospace and agricultural implement workers, joined progressive Democrats in Congress on Thursday to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, putting the powerful organisation at odds once again with President Joe Biden as he seeks endorsements heading into the 2024 election year.

UAW representatives, including its president Shawn Fain, spoke on Capitol Hill alongside representatives Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and other pro-ceasefire members of Congress, calling “on the rest of the labour movement to join us in this mission for peace and social justice for all of humanity”.

The progressive representatives who hosted the press conference are part of a small but growing group who have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause and led congressional calls for a ceasefire since the eruption of war in October.

“As union members, we know we must fight for all workers and suffering people around the world. We must fight for humanity … So now it's time for the rest of our elected leaders to step up and do what it takes to end the violence,” Mr Fain told reporters.

When asked about the Biden administration's track record of financial and material support for Israel as it continues its campaign in Gaza, Mr Fain emphasised that any 2024 presidential endorsements must be “earned”.

“We haven't had direct contact [with Mr Biden] on this issue yet. We look forward to that … our endorsements are going to be earned and not freely given any more.”

The pro-ceasefire press event came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that Israeli forces will fight “until absolute victory” in Gaza, according to a statement from Mr Netanyahu's office.

Israel's siege on Gaza has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians since October 7.

Union support has been an important source of political backing for the Democratic Party.

A Centre for American Progress analysis of the 2020 election found that “stronger unions are crucial for keeping the Democratic Party coalition together and victorious”.

In the 2020 presidential election, union members voted for the Democratic Party candidate in much greater proportions than did non-union workers, especially among white working-class voters.

“Even though on the whole, these groups favoured [Donald Trump] in large numbers in 2020, the union voters within them helped maintain some Democratic support,” the centre said.

Despite describing himself as the most pro-union president in American history, Mr Biden has had a rocky relationship with Mr Fain and the UAW.

Mr Fain has not yet endorsed the US President for the 2024 election, after the administration attempted to become involved in the UAW’s negotiations with three major car makers – Ford, General Motors and Stellantis.

“We’ll just see how things proceed,” Mr Fain told The Associated Press at the time. “That’s up not just to me. It’s up to our leadership and our membership. And we have our process we follow. So as I said we’ll do that when it’s time.”

Updated: December 14, 2023, 7:55 PM