Labor’s Opportunity (Labor’s Opportunity)

Labor’s Opportunity
by IMC Staff
8:40am Tue Oct 29 ’02

From the October Indypendent

Organized labor, with its 13 million members, has the potential to become one of the most powerful voices for peace and justice.

Though AFL-CIO, hasn’t taken a stance for or against a unilateral invasion of Iraq, it has allowed room for local and regional affiliates to take independent stances.

Most rank-and-file union members don’t think Bush has justified the need for an attack. Like most Americans, they are taking the middle road. While they may not like Saddam Hussein many do not see enough reason to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

That very few unions have taken a stance in support of the Bush administration is also important. Even among those unions that have, there isn’t a vocal, pro-war section of organized labor, as there was during the Vietnam War.

Many union members are waiting to see how the next few months play out. But in an encouraging trend, some have come out against the war.

An example of a labor-led initiative to oppose war came from the Washington State Central Labor Council (CLC) AFL-CIO. The Washington State CLC, representing close to half a million trade unionists, held its convention August 19 – 22, in Spokane, Washington.

At that convention it was 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) at a recent State Council meeting passed a resolution against war on Iraq. The resolution said, “the CFT goes on record as strenuously opposing the Bush administration’s march toward war with Iraq. . .” The resolution also urged all affiliates to encourage their members to do the same.

The CFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), represents over 100,000 teachers and school employees and has a history of being involved in social, political and economic struggles.

In a phone interview Margaret Shelleda, Assistant to the President of CFT, said, “Bush has shown no evidence that Iraq posses a threat to the U.S. And a war would only exacerbate the situation in the Middle East.” She added, “unilateral action is a violation of international standards.”

On the top of Shelleda’s priorities list were domestic issues. “Twenty five percent of California’s budget is in deficit,” she said. “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.”

And most recently on October 1, the Executive Committee of the AFL-CIO Pride at Work, a constituency group of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender union members, passed a resolution against “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 the list is growing.

Independent bodies, comprised of union officers and rank-and-file union members, seeking official recognition from their local, regional and national unions, are forming much more quickly.

New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) is a perfect example. The peace movement has found an important ally in NYCLAW, which formed weeks after the attacks of September 11. According to Michel 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) is another example. Originally formed in response to the bombing of Afghanistan, DLPJ issued a Labor Day statement in the Metro Detroit Labor News. It said, “We condemn the horrific terrorist attack on September 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 a phone 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) area local 480-481, suggested that the labor movement as a whole has been “cautious” and added, “This is the perfect opportunity for labor to break from the legacy of un-critically supporting U.S. foreign policy.” He continued, “Sometimes labor participation in the peace movement seems too small,” but the growing response many unions and union members have shown is “certainly a healthy beginning.


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