Anti-war movement grows in labor ranks
Author: Tony Pecinovsky
People’s Weekly World Newspaper, 10/26/02 00:00
Growing sections of organized labor are making the connection between U.S. military aggression abroad and cuts in social programs at home. Also, many in the labor movement are openly opposing the curtailment of civil liberties.
Some are also opposing an attack on Iraq. Today, when local, regional and national unions encourage their membership to oppose war with Iraq they are setting an example for the broader labor movement.
This isn’t to imply that there is now a broad-based peace movement in organized labor. Many trade unionists are cautious on this issue. But while they may not like Saddam Hussein many do not see enough reason to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign nation.
It is significant that very few unions have taken a stand supporting the Bush administration, and there isn’t a vocal pro-war section in organized labor, as there was during the Vietnam War.
Many union members are waiting to see how the next few months play out. But some have come out against war, and the speed at which this is happening is almost unprecedented.
Even though the national AFL-CIO hasn’t taken a position for or against war on Iraq, it has allowed room for local and regional affiliates to take independent stances.
An important labor initiative opposing war came from the Washington State Central Labor Council (CLC), representing close to half a million trade unionists.
Its Aug. 19-22 convention resolved that the Washington State CLC “opposes the U.S. government’s open-ended ‘war on terrorism’ and [urges all its affiliates] to pressure Bush and Congress to stop the war … assist laid-off workers, restore and expand services, and promote global justice by providing humanitarian and economic aid …”
The California Federation of Teachers (CFT), representing over 100,000 teachers and school employees, at a recent State Council meeting passed a resolution saying, “the CFT goes on record as strenuously opposing the Bush administration’s march toward war with Iraq …” The resolution urged all affiliates to encourage their members to do the same.
Margaret Shelleda, assistant to the president of CFT, told the World Bush has shown no evidence that Iraq poses a threat to the U.S. and war would only exacerbate the situation in the Middle East. “Unilateral action is a violation of international standards,” she said.
“Twenty-five percent of California’s budget is in deficit,” Shellada commented. “Education isn’t getting enough money. Hardly any schools have nurses. And Bush is on the brink of committing billions of dollars and thousands of lives without attempting a diplomatic approach.”
Most recently, on Oct. 1, the Executive Committee of AFL-CIO Pride at Work, a constituency group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender union members, passed a resolution opposing “pre-emptive war strikes on Iraq or any other country.”
The list of official AFL-CIO bodies openly taking a stance against war is small now. But it is growing.
Independent groups of union officers and rank-and-file union members are forming and seeking official recognition by local, regional and national unions.
New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), a coalition formed weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is one example. The peace movement has found an important ally in NYCLAW. According to Michael Letwin, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325, it has been “both an anti-war pole within labor and a labor pole in the anti-war movement.”
Detroit Labor for Peace and Justice (DLPJ), originally formed in response to the bombing of Afghanistan, is another example. DLPJ issued a Labor Day statement in the Metro Detroit Labor News saying, “We condemn the horrific terrorist attack on Sept. 11. Yet the war in Afghanistan has brought further suffering … We therefore oppose the expansion of the War on Terror to include military action in Iraq … or any other country.”
In an interview, Paul Felton of DLPJ said, “Bush’s foreign policy has little to do with helping the American people. It is designed to further corporate interests.”
Felton, a 22-year member of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Local 480-481, said, “This is the perfect opportunity for labor to break from the legacy of uncritically supporting U.S. foreign policy.” Observing that “sometimes labor participation in the peace movement seems too small,” he said the quick response many unions and union members have shown is “a healthy beginning.”
The backing of the labor movement, with its potential to mobilize its 13 million members, would greatly increase the influence of the peace movement. Organized labor is the only mass group that can mobilize enough votes to defeat the Republicans in November, elect a pro-peace majority, and put the Bush administration on the defensive. By sheer numbers alone, labor, in coalition with progressive, environmental, community, peace and student organizations, can shift the balance of political forces.
Labor can make or break Bush’s war.
Tony Pecinovsky is a frequent contributor in New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org