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February 19, 2019 5:24 pm

Columbia Grad Union Reps to Call for BDS in Negotiations With Administration

avatar by Algemeiner Staff

Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Photo: Alex Proimos.

As Columbia University prepares to negotiate with its graduate student union on Monday, members of the union’s bargaining committee are looking to urge support for “social justice” causes including the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israel.

A referendum held in February by the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC) — which Columbia’s administration recognized in November, after refusing bargaining efforts for years — saw the election of six new committee members, four of them from Columbia Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU) slate, the student-run Columbia Daily Spectator reported.

According to its platform, the committee seeks to address issues beyond those immediately impacting the GWC, including by advancing “struggles” for solutions to “the climate crisis, immigrant rights and dignity, free on-demand abortion, Medicare for All, civil rights for all people, no matter race, religion, gender, sexuality, national origin, physical ability, immigration status.”

It described BDS as a movement to force the Israeli government to end “its military occupation of Palestinian land,” dismantle the West Bank security barrier — which Israeli officials say was erected to stop suicide bombings and other Palestinian terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada — and respect the rights of “Arab-Palestinian citizens” and “Palestinian refugees and exiles.” Critics of the movement — including top Jewish leaders in the United States and globally — warn that it uses antisemitic tactics and denies Jewish rights to self-determination.

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Dominic Walker, who ran on the AWDU slate, said the committee was seeking to link such broader social justice issues to those of workplace culture.

Helen Zhao, a bargaining committee colleague, likewise said she would like to see negotiations used “as a tool to advance the common good, not only the bread and butter issues and interests of the bargaining unit it represents.”

Other union members expressed reservations on whether such an approach was appropriate.

“They see the union as a vector for social justice,” Miles Richardson, who sought election to the bargaining committee position with the United for a Strong Contract slate, told the Spectator. “It has larger goals, like supporting BDS. I’m a super liberal person but I don’t consider the union the place to address those issues. I think democratic means like voting is how you address those things.”

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