Pro-Palestine demonstrators protest at Columbia University

Pro-Palestine demonstrators protest at Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City.

(Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

More Than 4 Dozen Unions Demand 'End of Repression' of Columbia Protests

"The right to protest is necessary for every struggle, and the direct attack on this right is an attack on labor as well," said the labor groups. "An injury to one is an injury to all."

More than four dozen labor unions across numerous industries on Tuesday signed a letter expressing solidarity with students who have been suspended and arrested in recent days for protesting at Columbia University, including members of the on-campus labor group Student Workers of Columbia.

Unionized student workers in SWC-UAW 2710 were among the hundreds of picketers who have been protecting the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, which students set up at Columbia on April 17 to pressure administrators to divest from weapons manufacturers, tech companies, and other entities that benefit from Israel's apartheid policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Ivy League institution, protesters say, will remain complicit in Israel's bombardment and blockade on Gaza, the killing of at least 34,183 Palestinians in the enclave since October, and the intentional starvation of dozens of people, until it entirely divests from Israel.

"As workers, we stand in solidarity with our union siblings in SWC-UAW 2710 who were arrested and face suspension," said the unions, including the Mother Jones Staff Union, Irvine Faculty Association, and Cleveland Jobs With Justice. "We call for their and their classmates' immediate reinstatement and for Columbia to drop all charges against them, both legal and academic. We deplore [Columbia president Minouche Shafik]'s actions and call for Columbia to immediately end the repression of protest."

The protests at Columbia—where more than 100 students were suspended, arrested for trespassing, and in some cases, evicted from their housing—have galvanized college students and faculty members at a growing number of universities in recent days.

Campus groups at the University of Minnesota and the University of Pittsburgh both announced early Tuesday that they were setting up their own encampments in solidarity with Columbia students and victims of the Israel Defense Forces' relentless attacks on Gaza, which the International Court of Justice said in January was "plausibly" a genocide.

After police arrested students at the University of Minnesota Tuesday afternoon and broke up the encampment, thousands of members of the school community rallied to demand that the university divest from all arms manufacturers.

Encampments were also erected Monday at University of California, Berkeley and University of Michigan.

Jessica Christian, a photojournalist for the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that students were stopping to "ask what supplies the campers need as they walk by to class" at Berkeley, where roughly 50 tents were set up on Tuesday.

On Monday night, dozens of students at Yale University and New York University were arrested for protesting, setting up encampments, and "disorderly conduct."

The arrests at Columbia last week have not stopped students and educators from speaking out against the administration. A new encampment was set up last Friday and hundreds of faculty members staged a walkout Monday in support of the students.

In their letter, the unions on Tuesday warned that "the repression and criminalization of activists, students, professors, and academic workers across the country are violations of our elementary rights to free speech and protest."

"The right to protest is necessary for every struggle, and the direct attack on this right is an attack on labor as well," said the unions, "An injury to one is an injury to all—if the Columbia students can be repressed for protesting, Columbia workers and all workers could be too. Workers stand in full solidarity with this student movement."

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