Labor Notes, February 2003
$25,000 Pledged to Build Group
Labor Leaders Launch National Anti-War Effort
by Al Benchich
President, UAW Local 909 February 2003
“We here in this room have an historic opportunity to stop this war from happening.” With these words Bob Muehlenkamp, one of ten convenors, opened the “National Meeting of Labor Organizations and Officials Opposed to U.S. War in Iraq,” January 11 in Chicago.
Over 100 representatives of central labor councils, ad-hoc labor committees against the war, and local unions from across the country met to discuss a unified labor strategy against the Bush administration’s move towards a pre-emptive war. In attendance were representatives from such local unions as AFSCME, AFT, ILWU, SEIU, Teamsters, HERE, and the UAW.
During the course of the day-long meeting, held in the historic Teamsters Local 705 hall, delegates exchanged resolutions against the war passed by various labor bodies and reported on union activities and strategies used to pass these resolutions.
A pre-meeting tabulation counted 42 local unions, 13 district or regional bodies, 5 national unions, 12 central labor councils, and 5 state federations who had passed anti-war resolutions, but discussion at the meeting revealed that actual numbers were far higher.
Speakers such as Michael Eisenscher, coordinator of the Labor Committee for Peace and Justice in the Bay Area, David Cortwright of the Win Without War coalition, and Bill Fletcher of TransAfrica and the United for Peace Coalition gave presentations on topics such as: strategies for getting local and international unions to take a stand against the war; prospects for war and peace using the United Nations; and a perspective on what the move to war is really about.
By the end of the day, after a long and spirited discussion, the group had chosen a name–U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), passed a resolution, and agreed to form labor contingents at the anti-war marches in Washington and San Francisco the following weekend.
A continuations committee was created, and over $25,000 in operating funds was pledged from various unions towards the creation of a $50,000 anti-war chest.
DIFFERENCES IN APPROACH
Two different resolutions were presented for consideration, with supporters of each feeling that theirs addressed the issue in a way that would garner greater support from workers and unions. Debate centered on whether to address such issues as the role of the U.N., the legitimacy of inspections, and statements regarding patriotism and U.S. militarism.
“We have no quarrel with the ordinary working class men, women and children of Iraq, or any other country.”
Gene Bruskin, secretary-treasurer of the Food and Allied Service Trades FAST) division of the AFL-CIO and a co-convenor of the meeting, introduced a resolution drafted by the convenors. Michael Letwin of New York City Labor Against War introduced an alternative from the floor, on behalf of a number of participants, that was modeled after the resolution passed by Teamsters Local 705.
The resolution presented by Bruskin was longer (13 whereas’s) and included arguments for the responsibility of union leaders to address the war issue and why Iraq did not pose a threat. It addressed U.N. inspections and international law. The alternative resolution was shorter and simpler, focusing more on the fact that American workers have no quarrel with the Iraqi people and that the war would take billions of dollars from social needs, serving as a distraction from economic problems and attacks by the Bush administration on working people in this country.
After long and sometimes heated debate, the alternative resolution was adopted with amendments that incorporated some of the elements of the first resolution. (A reference to the role of oil profits was deleted without discussion.) While many were not completely satisfied, the resolution passed unanimously in a show of solidarity.
Participants agreed that the most important next step was to get more labor organizations on board with the aims of USLAW, with a goal of obtaining the endorsement of 200 unions and principal officers. (Until USLAW has a website, endorsers of the USLAW resolution can forward their endorsements to NYCLAW01@excite.com.)
The continuations committee was instructed to link USLAW with the existing anti-war movement, develop a website and educational materials, and solicit funds.
A further step not discussed at the meeting would be to elect a national steering committee, to ensure that decisions are made democratically.
WE ESTABLISH U.S. LABOR AGAINST THE WAR
WHEREAS, over 100 trade unionists from 76 local, regional and national unions, central labor councils and other labor organizations (see details below) representing over 2 million members gathered in Chicago for an unprecedented meeting to discuss our concerns about the Bush administration’ s threat of war; and
WHEREAS, union members and leaders have the responsibility to inform all working people about issues that affect their lives, jobs and families, and to be heard in the national debate on these issues; and
WHEREAS, the principal victims of any military action in Iraq will be the sons and daughters of working class families serving in the military who will be put in harm’s way, and innocent Iraqi civilians who have already suffered so much; and
Whereas, we have no quarrel with the ordinary working class men, women and children of Iraq, or any other country; and
Whereas, the billions of dollars spent to stage and execute this war are being taken away from our schools, hospitals, housing and Social Security; and
Whereas, the war is a pretext for attacks on labor, civil, immigrant and human rights at home; and
Whereas, Bush’s drive for war serves as a cover and distraction for the sinking economy, corporate corruption and layoffs; and
Whereas, such military action is predicted actually to increase the likelihood of retaliatory terrorist acts; and
Whereas, there is no convincing link between Iraq and Al Qaeda or the attacks on Sept. 11, and neither the Bush administration nor the UN inspections have demonstrated that Iraq poses a real threat to Americans; and
Whereas, U.S. military action against Iraq threatens the peaceful resolution of disputes among states, jeopardizing the safety and security of the entire world, including Americans; and
Whereas, labor has had an historic role in fighting for justice; therefore
We hereby establish the “U.S. Labor Against the War” (USLAW)”; and
Resolve that U.S. Labor Against the War stands firmly against Bush’s war drive; and
Further resolve that U.S. Labor Against the War will publicize this statement, and promote union, labor and community antiwar activity.