THE CHIEF-LEADER, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2001
‘Justice, Not Vengeance’
Some Union Heads Oppose ‘Bush War’
By DEIDRE McFADYEN
In a political climate where those who question U.S. foreign policy run the risk of being called unpatriotic, nearly 300 New York City trade unionists-including 12 union presidents-have come out publicly against the war.
“We want justice for the dead and safety for the living,” said a statement they signed. “And we believe that George Bush’s war is not the answer.”
`Don’t Need Vengeance’
Michael Letwin, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325, spearheaded the petition drive, which calls for “justice, not vengeance” and no labor austerity.”
Mr. Letwin called the petition an organizing and educational tool. “We wanted to show that labor was not of one mind on the issue,” Mr. Letwin said.
Communications Workers of America Local 1180 President Arthur Cheliotes, Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen and Council of Supervisors and Administrators President Jill Levy were among the municipal union leaders who signed the petition. They signed as individuals, not as representatives of their respective organizations.
District Council 1707, which represents workers in the nonprofit sector, was also among the signatories.
AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President Brian McLaughlin, whose organization supports the Bush Administration’s response to the terrorist attacks, said those who signed the petition were entitled to express their views. “We respect the difference of opinion of others, particularly when it comes to these moral questions outside the realm of labor,” he said.
Mr. McLaughlin added, however, that he believed the overwhelming majority of New York City labor leaders backed the war in Afghanistan.
“No one should suffer what we experienced on September 11,” the anti- war statement said. “Yet war will inevitably harm countless innocent civilians, strengthen American alliances with brutal dictatorships, and deepen global poverty.”
The possible death toll on the American side was another cause for concern : “For Americans in uniform–the overwhelming number of whom are workers and people of color–it will be another Vietnam,” the statement said.
The critics contended that the people of Afghanistan shouldn’t be punished for the crimes of individuals. They called for convening an international tribunal to try the terrorist suspects.
The petition also warned that financing the war effort would drain resources from education, health care and the Social Security trust fund. “In New York City and elsewhere, it will be a pretext for imposing `austerity’ on labor and poor people under the guise of `national’ unity,” the statement said.
`Band-Aid on the Cancer’
Mr. Cheliotes linked the attack on the Twin Towers to U.S. support for free-market policies worldwide that do not address pressing social needs and widen the gulf between the rich and the poor. “A military response is like putting a Band-Aid on the cancer if you don’t deal with the causes of the problem,” he said. “We can’t be seen as the cause of the misery of the rest of the world. Those two great oceans don’t protect us anymore.”
Mr. Cheliotes said that the government should concentrate on freezing the financial assets of the terrorist network and closing the gaping holes that the attack revealed in American intelligence. He acknowledged that he had no easy answers for how to track down and capture Osama bin Laden and his cohorts.
Ms. Levy said that she supported targeted military forays into Afghanistan aimed at the bid Laden forces. But she opposed a full- scale war involving U.S. ground troops, citing the many oppressed Afghani civilians who would be killed. “These people are victims,” she said. “We will victimize them more.”
A protracted war against Afghanistan, she said, could backfire by stirring up anti-American sentiment in other Muslim nations. “Rather than get respect, you’d get the hatred of the rest of the people,” she said.
Mr. Cheliotes said it was appropriate for labor leaders to take a stand on the war because workers would be asked to bear the greatest burden. “When it is time for the nation to sacrifice, who is put on the sacrificial block?” he said. “It’s always, always working people.”