Union Activists Mobilize (War Times)


April 2002

Union Activists Mobilize

How are unions responding to the “war on terrorism?” “There is a real reluctance to get out there and raise hell, because they’re afraid to appear unpatriotic,” comments Bill Fletcher, former AFL-CIO education director and new president of the TransAfrica Forum.

Despite official reluctance, union members and staff are organizing against the war and its effects at home. Michael Letwin, a co-convenor of New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) and president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325, explains, “We witnessed the World Trade Center attack so close up. For the same reasons that we are horrified by that, we are horrified by an American war in response.”

About a thousand labor activists have signed a NYCLAW statement calling for “justice, not vengeance.” NYCLAW also helped to organize a day of labor solidarity with immigrant detainees on March 23. Union members joined the 10,000 strong October 7 demonstration against the war in New York.

Airport screeners, dockworkers, hotel employees and other “domestic casualties” of the war demonstrated at a California rally on March 23, sponsored by the Labor Committee for Peace and Justice. Marta Domínguez, a member of People Organized to Win Employment Rights, an organization of low- and no-wage workers, told the audience, “We were impacted by the cuts in the budget in the City of San Francisco. Last year we won a campaign for living wage jobs. But all those jobs now have been cut which we struggled long and hard to get.”

Labor committees for peace and justice have also formed in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Albany, New York and Sacramento.

Dianne Feeley, a UAW autoworker, says the Detroit committee is addressing the changing realities of the war and labor’s response. “A number of unions are trying to defend themselves and their workers from the effects of the war at home, but they don’t put it into this broader context. As long as there is this huge ballooning of the defense budget, there’s going to be no money for anything else. And as long as there’s this foreign policy that is a rather violent and unjust foreign policy, it’s going to be difficult for there to be anything but a violent and unjust policy at home.”

More and more labor activists are realizing this and taking a stand. For more information, contact labor-for-peace-and-justice@igc.org or LaborAgainstWar@yahoogroups.com.

Adam Dylan Hefty is an antiwar activist in Oakland, California, and is a former organizer for SEIU.


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