Podcast / Start Making Sense / Apr 24, 2024

A Better Two-State Solution—Plus, the UAW’s Victory

On this episode of Start Making Sense, May Pundak explains the vision of A Land for All, and Harold Meyerson comments on the big union victory in Chattanooga.

The Nation Podcasts
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Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

A Better Two-State Solution—Plus, the UAW's Victory | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

Transforming the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel to meet today’s realities: a federation, something like the European Union. That’s the project of the visionary group A Land for All. May Pundak, co-executive director, explains.

Also: History was made last Friday in Chattanooga, when workers at Volkswagen’s factory there voted to join the United Auto Workers — by an overwhelming margin, 73 to 27 percent. This was the first major union victory in the South in many decades, and it may mark the rebirth of a powerful union movement. Harold Meyerson comments; he’s editor-at-large of The American Prospect.

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A Palestinian boy carries salvageable items amid the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli airstrikes in the Rafah refugee camp.

(Mohammed Abed / AFP via Getty Images)

Transforming the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel to meet today’s realities: a federation, something like the European Union.  That’s the project of the visionary group, A Land for All. May Pundak, co–executive director, is on the podcast to explain.

Also on this episode: History was made last Friday in Chattanooga, when workers at Volkswagen’s factory there voted to join the United Auto Workers—by an overwhelming margin, 73 to 27 percent. It was the first major union victory in the South in many decades, and may mark the rebirth of a powerful union movement. Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, comments.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

The Abortion Pill Underground, plus Can Dems Hold the Senate? | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

Since Roe was overturned, pregnant people seeking abortions in Red states have found help from providers operating at the edge of the law. Amy Littlefield reports.

Also: Democrats in the Senate are going to lose the seat vacated by Joe Manchin in West Virginia — can they hold all the others in November? John Nichols has our analysis, starting with Maryland, where Democrat Angela Alsobrooks will face Republican ‘moderate’ Larry Hogan, the popular anti-Trump former governor.

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Jon Wiener: From The Nation Magazine, this is Start Making Sense.  I’m Jon Wiener.  Later in the show: History was made last Friday in Chattanooga, when  workers at Volkswagen’s factory there voted to join the United Auto Workers — by an overwhelming margin, 73 to 27 percent. This was the first major union victory in the South in many decades, and it may mark the rebirth of a powerful union movement, something the nation has lacked over the past 40 years.Harold Meyerson will comment — later in the show.
But first–a visionary proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians: two independent states that share one homeland.May Pundak will explain the idea of “A Land for All” — in a minute.
We want to look beyond the daily news of Israel’s destruction of Gaza and talk about a long-term political solution that will bring real equality and justice to Palestinians as well as Israelis. It’s been clear from the beginning of this war that Netanyahu had no goal beyond what he called “complete victory over Hamas.” But what should happen after the war?
Israeli Jews and Palestinians in the group A Land for All have been working on that for a long time. For an explanation, we turn to May Pundak. She’s co-executive director of A Land for All. She’s also a lawyer and feminist activist. She’s been featured recently in The New York Times and with Christiane Amanpour on PBS. We reached her today in Jerusalem. May, welcome to the program.

May Pundak: Thank you, Jon. It’s great to be here. And I am very lucky to have a Palestinian co-director. Her name is Dr. Rula Hardal. She lives in Ramallah. And we are both the co-directors of this organization and initiative.

JW: The U.S. policy for decades has been support for a two-state solution. Your father, Ron Pundak, was one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, the closest we ever came to realizing a two-state solution. But in the decades since then, the famous “facts on the ground” have made a lot of that problematic or obsolete. What are the biggest problems now with the idea of two separate states – a Palestinian state on the West Bank next to an Israeli state?

MP: The reality is so, so, so bleak today. The war on Gaza, and on the Palestinian people also well beyond Gaza, in the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem, and within Israel itself, is continuous and continuing. And children are starving today in Gaza. In a way, it is fair to say that we are all complicit in this. So I think it’s important to start from there, and not make this a conversation that is on another, higher level that is disconnected from where we are. And I’ll say that I honestly believe that political vision and a political horizon can be a mechanism to end this war faster.
And so starting from the more positive component of your question, I think that there still should be two states for two people. I know that at this point, Israelis and Palestinians, the majority of us are still, unfortunately, perhaps, for some, not beyond the nation-state idea. Palestinians have never had the right to self-determination. Israelis and Palestinians still desire the right to self-determination in an Israeli and a Palestinian state. And so what I’m here to say is yes, two states. I think that the pushback and the challenge, and the biggest challenge, and therefore, what we focus on, is the idea of complete partition and separation and even segregation between these two states.
This is where we get to the depth of the idea, which is, at this point of time, it is impossible and also undesirable, if you think about a sustainable future, to think through the paradigm of segregation. And what we are offering is to move beyond that paradigm towards a paradigm based on yes, two states, and a level of integration, very tight cooperation and collaboration. Because the interdependency – this is an important point – the interdependency between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel and the future Palestinian states is so deep that untangling that in order to reach complete partition – that is the biggest mistake.

JW: Two independent states that share one homeland. Is there anything like what you are proposing, anywhere in the world?

MP: Well, it’s a good question. Yes and no. I would say that on one hand, in our work, we are committed to learning from our own mistakes in the past 30 years, and from what hasn’t succeeded and what we haven’t been able to give good answers to, like the classic deadlocks of the two-state solution. We’re also committed to learning from successes of the outside world of Israel and Palestine. Because, as you know, Israelis and Palestinians, as much as the rest of the world, are convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can never be solved. That’s already a problem in solving it if we think it can never be solved. But harder and more complicated conflicts have been solved. That’s the starting point. So yes and no.
I would say that looking at the European Union and thinking about the history of France and Germany in the past 300 years is a good place to kind of push our political imagination.

JW: Say, in France and Germany in 1960?

MP: If you would say to a German person in 1960 that his granddaughter would live in Paris and study in Paris, that would be insane. If you would tell someone that the borders between Germany and France would be open, people would think you are crazy. So I think that starting from that point, that even Europe, even France and Germany, getting to an agreement, understanding that their shared interests are larger and do not have to compromise their separate identities but can actually create a more sustainable future for everyone, that’s the gist of it.

JW: Let me just remind our listeners–Germany invaded France in 1870, in 1914 and in 1940. Three times just in 150 years.

MP: Yeah. And not to mention the blood that was shed during these conflicts over the years.

JW: Millions killed.

MP: By the way, also going to the former Yugoslavia, and thinking about Northern Ireland, the power-sharing there happening today. I mean, there’s a lot to learn from outside conflicts. I would say that the idea of a homeland is unique, a shared homeland. And I think that this is an important point and I think that this is also one of the problems with the classic two states.
Let’s start with what we know. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a very strong attachment to this homeland. There’s nothing we can do about that. Palestinians will forever see Jaffa and Haifa and Akko and Lod as part of Palestine. Palestine is Palestine. And Israel or Eretz Yisrael, and I think needless to say, even with this awful government that needs to go, that Hebron will always be part of Eretz Yisrael.

JW: Hebron of course is an ancient city inside the West Bank, where right now a couple of hundred thousand Palestinians live, and 700 Jewish settlers.

MP: This is just the reality. This doesn’t yet mean anything about sovereignty or division or anything, but we have to start with that. And the next level should be, the amount of emotions leading this conflict are tremendous. If we don’t give a good answer to these emotions, if we think that we can leap over them just by cutting up and dividing this land with a blue line or a green line, it’s not going to cut it. You have to address the sentiment of the people, otherwise it will control us forever. And so the shared homeland is a way to break the binary in the zero-sum game.
Normally when you think about this idea, we say, “Okay, Israel here, Palestine there. We divide it, we build a big wall.” hat if we challenge that assumption? What if the homeland is shared, but within that shared homeland, which is already shared sentimentally, which is already shared in many ways physically and practically and materially, and if we think about sustainability and climate and water, we can get to that later. Everywhere you look, it leads you to understand that this is one piece of land. But there are two nations, two separate, independent, sovereign states within this land.

JW: Palestine is the homeland also for 6,000,000 refugees from 1948 who now live in Jordan or Syria or in Gaza. What do you envision their place in this future confederation?

MP: I think that’s one of the hardest and most important points. The acknowledgement of the right of return for Palestinian refugees is a crucial component of any future agreement. There’s a lot of things we need to learn from October 7th, but I think that that is the most important one. This conflict needs to end. It’s not going to be shrunk or managed or normalized. Okay, so the right of return for Palestinians, we again offer a beyond-the-binary-thinking idea.
What we offer is that Palestinian refugees would be able to return to Palestine, to the Palestinian state, and become Palestinian citizens. Nothing so new about this. And of course it will have to happen thoughtfully and gradually and with all the security measures needed. But Palestinians could come back home, first of all, and become citizens of their homeland. The second stage is that in our idea, and again learning from Europe and from the European Union, we are moving towards a future of freedom of movement as well as freedom of residency. Again, slowly, gradually, all the mechanisms of safety and security needed.
But that means that several number of these Palestinian refugees, who, their home isn’t Ramallah and Al-Bireh, it is Jaffa or Haifa or Akko, will be able to reside in Israel but be permanent residents in Israel and citizens of Palestine. So we differentiate between citizenship and residency in order to not create a democratic deficit there of saying Palestinians will vote for the Palestinian parliament. And then the other level, which we can deal with in a moment, of Jews who would be able to live in Palestine. It’s important to separate these issues in order not to compare them. But the idea really is for Palestinians to have a Palestinian citizenship and then gradually will be able to reside in their homeland where they feel a connection to.
And here it’s important to put another principle of A Land for All, which is we are not trying to solve one injustice and rectify one injustice by creating another. So these people would be able to reside in Jaffa and will get the compensation and what they need in order to reside there, but they will not be kicking anyone out of their home. We will not take Israeli Jews out of their homes in Jaffa and give that home back. Although we know that that’s far away from ultimate justice, but right now we’re interested in the most justice we can get and the most peace we can get.

JW: And compensation could contribute to this?

MP: One of the important things about refugees, and we know this from everywhere, is the idea of acknowledgement, first and foremost. This is a collective and individual right. And the acknowledgement goes a long way. And if you can then exercise that commitment, that’s amazing. But that’s already a whole different picture.

JW: A question coming out of the last six months–is there a place for Hamas on the Palestinian side of this confederation? Would they be a legitimate political group in the Palestinian state?  Or who would decide?

MP: My best answer is to say, first of all, this is a question for Palestinians and not for me.

JW: I agree.

MP: What we desire is a viable Palestinian state. A viable, safe Palestinian state is the best insurance for a viable, safe Israeli state. And therefore, what is most important is to allow the Palestinians now to have a regime that they actually respect and see as their own, and that will lead them towards elections in the next couple of years. And in these elections, we will have to see who is voted in. That’s democracy. And let me tell you, I don’t mean to compare, but are we asking questions about Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in our government?

JW: You’re speaking here of Ben-Gvir, the National Security Minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, who is an open neo-fascist, along with Netanyahu’s finance minister, Smotrich, also a neo-fascist.

MP: I don’t know–is the U.S. or Palestine telling us, sorry, these people who have been accused, some of them, some of them have been accused of terrorism, and they’re ministers in charge of security and of every Palestinian from the river to the sea today–are we asking questions about Israel’s democracy? We desire a Palestinian sovereign strong state both in democracy and in the acceptance of the people. So that’s the most important thing.
I will say one thing. I lost some close and dear people on October 7th, and I don’t see Hamas as my partner. But if a Sinn Fein member can be a minister in Northern Ireland, think beyond what we now feel so strongly. But I think that we should understand that the world moves fast. We should think carefully where our red lines are, and be very committed to them, and no terrorism and violence should be accepted. And again, there’s a long future ahead of us.
But I think that what we understand today is that the biggest threat to Israeli security is the ongoing occupation and ongoing conflict. And if we are able to solve that threat, we take away the power that Hamas has. We give people hope, we give people vision, we give people an understanding that a political realm is much better than a military one. I think that’s the most important message today.

JW: And what about Jerusalem? Everybody wants Jerusalem.

MP: Yeah. That’s, I think, exactly the important starting point. Have you been to Jerusalem recently?

JW: Not recently.  An intense place.

MP: It’s an intense place. And we always say at A Land for All that everything is possible. But as someone who lives in Jerusalem and has learned a little bit about how Jerusalem is functioning in the past years, I don’t think it makes any sense to divide Jerusalem into two. I don’t think we can build a big wall anymore between Jerusalem and say, “Oh, this is for Palestinians. This is for Israelis.” I don’t think that makes sense to the city itself, but also it doesn’t make sense to, again, where the sentiment of the people is. Jerusalem is one, and I think that’s one of the things that is so beautiful about it, that it holds everything together. So our starting point is Jerusalem will be a shared city.
I think there are a lot of models for shared cities that we can learn from. I don’t think that will be our biggest challenge. And maybe there would be a potential border, a porous border that if we need to, we can close. But Jerusalem, again, is so integrated at this point, even economically, to separate Jerusalem would be nearly suicidal for West Jerusalem. And so we are definitely offering a model that would be unique for Jerusalem as a shared city. And I think that that in a way is the heart of this conflict and therefore also needs to be the example of how to move beyond the partition, the classic partition and separation and segregation.

JW: You mentioned the word interdependency. I’ve heard that before this war started, there were hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who worked in Israel. Not just in construction; in healthcare and all kinds of things. What else is involved with interdependency in this future?

MP: What we’re offering at A Land for All is trying to be very committed to reality and to be very practical and pragmatic with the reality on the ground. COVID doesn’t stop at the checkpoint. We need to deal with pandemics thoughtfully and sustainably. That cannot happen through segregation. When you think about water, water knows no borders. The water in Ramallah gets to Tel Aviv, it’s the same water.  It’s the same soil, it’s the same air pollution. And we always give this example of an incredible organization called EcoPeace who were doing very important work–they studied the sewage in Gaza that goes into the Mediterranean Sea, and after one day it gets to Ashkelon, and after two days it gets to Tel Aviv. If we think about climate, we can’t deal with climate separately.
I’ll give you one last example just to push it even further: security. On October 7th, the place where we have had the most segregation, 16 years of siege, segregating for Palestinians and putting them behind a wall and forgetting about them and thinking that that’s the way we’ll solve the Palestinian problem, we’ll put them behind a wall and forget about it. Well, guess what? That’s where the most horrific violence came from.
And we always say that 2,000,000 Palestinians who are the siblings of these folks in Gaza live inside of Israel, and they are our doctors and colleagues.
For 20 years before October 7th, the security that I have had as an Israeli Jew has been in many regards, thanks to very tight collaboration between the IDF and the PA, the Palestinian Authority, not only because of the separation barrier that hasn’t even been completed, the cooperation is what keeps us alive. Cooperation is what gives us the power to be here.
The cooperation has to be the mechanism to ensure a sustainable future, and we learn this from every other place around the world. We have to integrate that logic, that reality speaks to us.  We have to create these very tight cooperation mechanisms of shared institutions that will both keep equality and justice and peace and shared interests, but will also be able to ensure to tackle these challenges jointly.

JW: The half a million Israeli Jews who have moved into settlements on the West Bank have been one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Their purpose is to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. But your solution for them is pretty simple. They don’t have to leave.

MP: Yeah, but it’s not that simple. I think, again, what we’re trying here is two things. What we offer is, one, not letting the settlers control our lives anymore. Right now, the settlers have been the biggest obstacle, or at least I wouldn’t say biggest. The biggest was a lack of political will. But one of the excuses and one of the reasons were the settlers. And maybe it’s also fair to say that there are more than 700,000 settlers today, including East Jerusalem.
So what we are offering is, first of all, settlements are illegal. Occupation needs to end. Superiority needs to end. No questions about that. Human rights need to be not in the hands of the IDF. We need to have a human rights court that is joint and probably with an international aspect of it as well.
But the idea that Jews in general would be able to live and reside as permanent residents – again, permanent residents, not citizens – in Palestine is not insane, is not crazy at all.
The idea is that private land has to go back to private owners. Settler terrorism needs to be accounted for. People who do not accept the sovereign Palestinian state will have to leave. I can assume that there would be compensations for Israelis moving back into the green line, into Israel, meaning that a lot of the economic settlers – which is an important point. A lot of the settlers today, most of them are economic settlers that were sent to Palestine by all of our governments over the years. So we’re already coming to a smaller number. But the idea that some Israeli Jews would be able to stay in their homes without a system of oppression and superiority, in a Palestinian sovereign democratic state, that’s not so crazy.

JW: And be subject to Palestinian law, Palestinian police, Palestinian courts?

MP: Go back to thinking about the Germans in France. It’s an important example just to, again, expand our political imagination. We are so stuck in what we think we know and that is not working, that we are unable to push beyond those boundaries and say, “This is not working. What can?”
And I think that this is a very important moment to say something about the work at A Land for All.  I feel very awkward, especially as a 20-years anti-occupation activist, but especially as not being a Palestinian, to talk about how Palestinians don’t have a problem with Jews living in Palestine. That’s not true. Of course Palestinians have a problem with Jews living in Palestine!   We are living in Palestine. All of this is Palestine for them. The two-state solution is already a compromise for them.
But I think the most important thing is justice and equality in the future. And within that, the mechanism that we have built at A Land for All is co-creation. These ideas have been co-created by Israelis and Palestinians for 12 years. That’s the strength of it. That’s the magic. There might be a million other ideas to how to solve these very difficult issues. We are not an exclusive organization thinking that we have all the answers, not at all. We understand how complicated they are. But what we know is that if Israelis and Palestinians do not analyze the problem together and then come up with very good ideas together that actually represents the need of both people, then the solution will not be sustainable and achievable and acceptable.
That’s the magic, and that’s the most important thing, and that goes back to the interdependency. The interdependency is physical. It’s when you think about the past and the present and the future, and we need to integrate that mechanism into the way we think. That’s the most important point.

JW: For people who agree with you, what should they do? What can they do?

MP: Yeah, thank you for asking. I mean, at this point, the reality in Israel-Palestine is, on one hand, the worst it’s been, ever. And on the other hand, I think that this is a historic window of opportunity that we haven’t seen in many, many years. This is the time for all of us to push. And for us at A Land for All coming up with a relevant, updated version of the two-state solution that can actually work, that is based on pragmatism and practicalities and is on the model of co-creation, and on what can really happen here and how we can ensure that there will maybe be a two-state solution that can work. We need to create a new common sense that this conflict will and can end, and how. And A Land for All needs to become the new thing that people talk about.
You can argue with it, you can share it, you can make art with it, write about it. Everyone needs to know that this exists. Because if we again go back to, “Oh, there’s nothing we can do,” or, “It’s not going to work,” or the answers we give are going to be not good enough and take us backwards, we might miss this opportunity.
And as an Israeli mother, a young woman living in Jerusalem, I cannot afford that. I cannot afford another war like this. This is the time for all of us to commit to the idea that this conflict needs to end once and for all, and that this is the last war.

JW: Two independent states that share one homeland, instead of separation. A future based on shared power and shared interests. That’s the proposal of A Land for All. David Myers of UCLA calls it “a group that engages in precisely the kind of political imagination we need right now.” You can find more information at alandforall.org. May Pundak is co-executive director of A Land for All. May, thank you for all your work, and thanks for talking with us today.

MP: Thanks, Jon.

Jon Wiener: History was made last Friday in Chattanooga when workers at the VW factory there voted to join the United Auto Workers by an overwhelming margin, 73 to 27%. For comment and analysis, we turn to Harold Meyerson. He’s editor-at-large of The American Prospect. Harold, welcome back.

Harold Meyerson: Always good to be here, Jon.

JW: When was the last time a big union won a big victory in one of the states of the former confederacy?

HM: Well, it’s been a while. To put it mildly. There was a one-off, if we want to go back to the 1970s or early ’80s: the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers finally unionized J.P Stevens in the South, but that was followed quickly by the closure of those factories and the flight of virtually every textile manufacturer to developing nations.

JW: The UAW lost two earlier votes at VW in Chattanooga in 2014 and 2019. How did they win this time?

HM: Well, to begin with, the strike that the UAW conducted late last year against the big three automakers, GM, Ford, and Stellantis, resulted in very terrific contracts raising some of the lowest-tier workers’ wages by more than 40%, getting most workers up to a $40 an hour wage. And unlike previous strikes in the UAW’s history, the new regime headed by President Shawn Fain was all over social media and old-fashioned media sort of publicizing the strike – publicizing what the points of contention in the bargaining were and very much publicizing the settlement. And the settlement was so good that workers at VW and pretty much every other auto factory in the country are aware of what the UAW won.

JW: Next on the UAW agenda for the South is a vote at Mercedes in Vance, Alabama, outside Tuscaloosa next month. Alabama Public Radio just posted a piece declaring that the UAW “is likely to face a tougher test at Mercedes in Tuscaloosa.” The UAW there has accused that German carmaker of violating US and German labor laws with aggressive anti-union tactics, which was not true in the case of VW in Chattanooga. What do you know about this?

HM: German corporations by law have boards of directors that are one-half representatives of management and shareholders and the other half representative of workers. At Volkswagen, it actually tilts a little more towards the workers, basically because the company was founded by Adolf Hitler and the allies at the end of World War II wanted to ensure that the Ancien Regime there would be swept out. So to begin with, Volkswagen plays a little less hardball, I think, than other companies, and the UAW recently filed a complaint. There’s a new German labor law that threatens to punish employers who thwart workers’ free choice to whether or not to join a union much more severely than American labor law does.

JW: And this law applies outside of Germany?

HM: Yes. That’s what’s really intriguing about this law. It applies to the supply chain and other, as it were outside of Germany’s borders, factories of German-based companies, which Lord knows that’s certainly Volkswagen and that’s certainly Mercedes. It’s really pretty much every big German company is global in scope. So that’s something the UAW has going for – even if Mercedes is maybe somewhat of a tougher climb than Volkswagen.

JW: I know the UAW has said it already has a majority of the 5,000 or so eligible workers at the Mercedes plant in Alabama supporting them. A UAW policy is to push for a vote only when they have 70% of workers signing the union cards. So that suggests they’re going to win next month.

HM: It probably does. Yes. We should keep in mind that in American history, unionization comes in waves. It’s usually not a sort of steady incremental progress. And then the greatest wave of unionization was kicked off by the UAW in 1937 when it won a contract with General Motors by occupying General Motors’ factories and shutting them down until they got a contract. History may not quite be repeating itself, but it may rhyme if the UAW can kick something like this off.

JW: There’s one more big German car company in the South, BMW in Spartanburg, South Carolina. This is an immense operation. 11,000 workers – that’s more than twice as many as Mercedes in Alabama – and an 8 million square foot “campus,” they call it. This was the first German auto plant built in the United States back in 1992. I think we should note that South Carolina is the state with the lowest unionization rate in the entire nation. It’s going to take a while longer for the UAW to organize BMW and Spartanburg, I think.

HM: I think so as well. Although again, it is a German company which potentially can somewhat constrain the employer in the usual kinds of mischief that employers indulge in. Illegal mischief.

JW: So we’ve talked here about the German car companies in the South. Of course, there are Japanese and Korean car companies in America too. How do they compare with the German ones when it comes to resistance to unions?

HM: Well, they have more resistance to unions. There’s more tension. They don’t have the regular meetings, which are a part of a fundamental German law and workers’ councils where workers meet with management regularly. They certainly don’t have what’s called co-determination, which is workers taking up half the seats on the corporate boards, but they are all unionized in their home country. It’s in the United States where unionization is viewed as the exception, not the rule, and particularly in the southern part of the United States.

JW: Of course, the biggest Asian operation on the books in the South is Hyundai, which is building right now a gigantic electric vehicle plant in Georgia. I think it’s outside Augusta. They say they’re going to build 300,000 electric vehicles there every year. They also have a battery factory adjacent to that that’s going to manufacture all the batteries. That plant is going to employ 8,500 workers. It’s the largest economic development project in Georgia’s history and got tremendous tax breaks from the Georgia State government. It’s supposed to be getting production this fall. The UAW knows about Hyundai in Georgia.

HM: Yes, I think they’re aware of this. I think the plan was to go to the factories owned by German companies first and then the Japanese and Korean companies thereafter. And despite the opposition of the southern political and economic establishment, that’s what they’ve already made inroads into.

JW: Yeah. The governors of six southern states the day before the VW vote in Chattanooga warned Southerners that joining the UAW would threaten jobs there and also what they called “the values we live by.” What values are they talking about?

HM: Well, that part of the letter I thought pretty much rather closely echoed such previous southern political figures as Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun who said the North had no right to intrude on southern values, which essentially were using slave labor and opposing any efforts to get rid of slave labor. I mean, you couldn’t circulate any abolitionist literature in the South – that was made against the law in every southern state. And this is an echo of that. In many ways, the regional civil war has never ended. If you look at the states that have never passed a minimum wage law, it’s Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. That should ring a certain bell.
Georgia being missing from that list, we should note that Georgia’s own minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum wage, it’s $5.15 an hour. Now, the federal wage supersedes any state wage if the state wage is lower. But that’s indicative of the South’s historic attitude. I mean, as soon as slavery was abolished, they went to sharecropping. They went to providing employers with convict labor. Your conviction might’ve been for being Black, standing around on a sidewalk. They vehemently and sometimes violently opposed efforts to unionize in textiles in the 1920s, the CIO efforts in 1938 and 1946 and consistently, this has been a through line in southern history, and that’s why the UAW’s victory at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga is so important. It deviates from that line and gives southern workers some hope that southern values need no longer bring their wages, benefits, and lives downward.

JW: Finally, news from America’s campuses. You are a graduate of Columbia University, which has been in the news this week. The new president Minouche Shafik last week before a congressional committee investigating campus anti-Semitism. One member of the committee, a Republican from Georgia named Rick Allen, asked Shafik whether she knew Genesis 12:3. And she said she didn’t know it offhand, so he explained it to her. “It was the covenant that God made with Abraham.” He quoted it. “If you bless Israel, I will bless you. If you curse Israel, I will curse you.” Then he asked her, “Do you want Columbia University to be cursed by God?” And the president of Columbia responded, “Definitely not.” Allen then continued, “Young people are being indoctrinated by these professors to believe this stuff, and they have no idea that they’re going to be cursed by God, the God of the Bible, and the God over our flag.”  She did not dissent from this view.
Then she went back to New York, called the cops to arrest students who had set up a nonviolent tent camp on campus and protest against Israel’s war against Palestinians, and then Shafik suspended 100 students. It was the first time the university called the cops to arrest protesting students since April 1968, 56 years ago, and now the faculty Senate is expected to vote possibly on Wednesday – we were recording this before that meeting – on a resolution, censuring President Shafik. The resolution charged her with violating the fundamental requirements of academic freedom and staging an unprecedented assault on student rights.
Meanwhile, the member of Congress who runs this committee, Elise Stefanik, called for the resignation of Shafik on the grounds that she has failed to protect Jewish students. You are a Columbia graduate. What do you think of all this?

HM: Well, I distinctly recall that the president of Columbia who was the president in April of ’68, when they called in the cops and made 700 arrests, Grayson Kirk, was not long for his job either. In this case, the pressure was not coming from the right. It was mainly coming from the faculty, that was appalled that the number of students arrested was essentially equal to a full class, like the class of ’69, the class of ’70. So I mean, it’s kind of old home week. I’m remembering the Yogi Berra quote, “It’s Deja vu all over again.”

JW: Harold Meyerson—you can read him at prospect.org. Harold, thanks for talking with us today.

HM: Always good to be here, Jon.

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