This Day In History: November 28

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On November 28, 1973, approximately 2,000 Detroit auto workers, led by Arab Americans, walk off their jobs at Chrysler’s Dodge Main plant, demanding that the leadership of their union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), divest from Israel. The strike, which was organized by the union’s recently formed Arab Workers Caucus, was centered around an event taking place that same day in Detroit: Leonard Woodcock, the president of UAW, was set to receive a humanitarian honor from a Zionist organization, B’nai B’rith International.

This local push for divestment began a month prior to the strike, when UAW workers in Detroit became aware that one of its union locals used member dues to purchase over $300,000 in Israeli bonds—and that, at the national level, their union’s pension portfolio invested almost $1 million in the State of Israel. In response, Arab American workers protested outside the local’s office, demanding the bonds’ liquidation. This action was followed by the formation of the Arab Workers Caucus, which included 70 workers from auto factories across the city.

In advance of the strike, Caucus members distributed tens of thousands of flyers calling on their fellow workers to join their protest for divestment. Approximately 1,000 people also protested outside the event honoring Woodcock, who left through a back door, evading protesters. Ismael Ahmed, a community organizer, remarked of the effort that the Arab Workers Caucus “wanted to point out the hypocrisy of this leader who would force his constituency to finance the murder of their brothers and sisters back home with their union dues.” Hundreds of strikers were disciplined and many recent Arab American hires were fired.

The Arab Workers Caucus continued to organize for divestment, taking its fight to its 1974 union convention. While they did not successfully win divestment at the national level, by 1975 they did push multiple locals to divest a total of $48,000 in Israeli bonds. In recent years, workers across unions have waged similar battles in favor of divestment from Israel, in alignment with Palestinian cilvil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). 

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