Opposition to a war in Iraq is growing steadily, week by week and even day by day within American society. Up until recently, this had been the strongest amongst the youth and students. But there are clear signs that the working class, and trade union members especially, are increasingly joining the ranks of those opposed to war in the Middle East. The same weekend of the massive January 18 anti-war demonstrations in Washington D.C. and San Francisco also saw a conference of 110 trade union officers and shop stewards firmly declare itself against any war on Iraq. This is a big step forward, and increasingly, events like this are on the agenda, which will involve ever wider layers of workers in the United States.
Contingents from the SEIU (service workers) and other unions participated in the January 18th demonstrations on both coasts. Even AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has issued public statements against a war, albeit cautious ones. The AFL-CIO, the labor federation which includes all of the major United States trade unions, has already made it nationally known that it is willing to involve itself in the anti-war movement. Herb Johnson, Secretary of the 260,000 member Missouri state AFL-CIO, said in an interview with the St. Louis Post – Dispatch that "if they [anti-war activists] contact us and ask us to do something, we’ll endeavor to get people together to join some kind of concerted effort [against the war]."
This is the attitude of many trade union officers nationally. San Francisco, one of the main points of attack by the bosses and Bush on the ILWU longshoremen, is seeing big developments in terms of working class involvement in the anti-war movement. January 25th saw fifty Bay Area unions participating in another huge anti-war march, effectively drawing the 558,000 strong San Francisco-Bay Area AFL-CIO into the movement. They marched under several banners, one of which said "Stop Bush’s War on Working People Here and Abroad."
This is precisely the kind of slogan which is needed - one which links the war on working people here at home with the war on the workers of other countries. Commenting on what is drawing working class people to these kinds of demonstrations, Bob Muehlenkamp, a former Teamsters organizer who organized the US Labor Against the War conference in Chicago, said "every union family knows somebody in the military. Their children will be the ones fighting this war." (San Francisco Chronicle)
The developing anti-war sentiments within the Labor Movement are remarkable given that things have built up so quickly. In the words of Jerry Zero, President of Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago "It’s early, it’s very early, no military action has started yet, and people are really organizing against this thing. People don’t trust politicians as much as they used to. We’ve been saying we know they have this stuff – weapons of mass destruction – yet we don’t direct the inspectors to it …. And we have supported Iraq in the past against Iran. It’s hard to explain to a factory worker how that is." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) After three years of recession and two years of the "War on Terror" working people are beginning to question the events and crises which are unfolding all around them. First in 2000/2001 came the recession, then September 11 and the War on Afghanistan, and now the buildup to war against Iraq which has already drawn the broad opposition of students and workers the world over.
The US Labor Against the War conference, which met in Chicago, also raised $30,000 for anti-war campaigning within the 14 million member AFL-CIO as well as committing itself to use all of its energies into bringing the anti-war message to the rank and file. This conference did not appear out of thin air. Since 9/11, 42 union locals, 14 regional councils, 13 central labor councils, five state federations, four national labor organizations and 22 local trade union committees have passed anti-war resolutions. In total, these labor bodies represent at the very least more than two million people, and several more trade union organizations have passed anti-war resolutions since the conference. Recently seven national trade unions have come out against the war; AFSCME (government workers,) APWU (postal workers,) CWA (communications workers,) ILWU (longshore workers,) SEIU (service workers,) UE (electrical workers,) and UFW (farm laborers.)
The USLAW conference was called and hosted by the 20,500 member Local 705 of the Teamsters Union in Chicago. This union voted 402-1 in favor of a resolution declaring its opposition to the war. This is the second largest local of the Teamsters. Their resolution adopted a strong class position. To quote the resolution, "we value the lives of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, more than Bush’s control of Middle East oil profits," and "we have no quarrel with the ordinary working class men, women and children of Iraq who will suffer the most in any war."
This resolution served as the template for that of the US Labor Against the War conference with some additions and alterations. Members of the union, which include truck drivers and UPS workers, have posted copies of their resolution at every workplace and garage of their Local, as well as around the Chicago area. On opening the conference, Jerry Zero of local 705 commented "Our membership is split 50/50. Fifty-percent don’t believe a thing President Bush says, and fifty percent think he’s a liar." This is a big event, the Teamsters Union is widely seen as one of the most conservative unions and its national leadership has actively supported the Bush Administration for the last three years. In fact, during the Persian Gulf War of 1991, then Teamsters International President Lane Kirkland publicly expressed his support to President Bush (the First) not once, but twice. What a difference twelve years makes! From the public enthusiasm and total support of Labor for war just a decade ago, we are now seeing broad opposition and a wide lack of support from Labor for a war that hasn’t even begun yet!
The Los Angeles Country Federation of Labor has adopted a strong anti-war resolution, this time with zero opposing votes. The resolution cited the redirection of funds from education and social welfare to war expenses; the denial of the right to join a union for the 50,000 plus workers in the Homeland Security Department; the shrinking economy; and the curtailment of the rights of foreign-born citizens and legal aliens (non-citizens) under the USA Patriot Act. This large trade union body also resolved to fully commit itself to joining with other trade union bodies and community groups in publicly demonstrating against Mr. Bush’s drive for war. In Texas, the Department of Labor has censored the AFSCME newsletter of the National Council of Field Labor Locals for what was relatively mild criticism and for including items covering the decision of the Administration to privatize over 125,000 federal jobs. Helen Thomas, the White House Press Corps Dean, was quoted saying that Bush was "the worst President ever. He is the worst President in all of American history." Apparently Bush II is too much for even parts of the US media’s upper crust!
Never before has Labor become so involved in the anti-war movement, let alone before a war has actually begun! After 30 years of relative dormancy, the US Labor Movement is heating up to an extent that has never been seen before on a national scale. The heavy battalions of the US working class are entering into conflict, not for Bush’s war but against it.
In every corner of the earth, people have made it known that they will not stand for the organized murder of thousands and millions in the name of profit, otherwise known as imperialist war. They are specifically opposed to a war waged by the ruling elite of the world’s most powerful military and state machine against one of the poorest and most desperate countries on the planet. To top it off, this "world policeman" cannot even furnish a valid pretext for war! This is more than the workers and youth of the world can stand, and the US working class is no exception. In fact, the working people here in the US are in a key position to put a halt to Bush & Co’s drive for war.
It is the working class that will be expected to not only provide the labor needed to move armies and equipment and to provide them supplies, but also to give up their sons, daughters, co-workers and friends to the military. The workers are the ones who will have to sacrifice themselves for the oil profits of Bush and his pals. The working class is beginning to make clear that it is not willing to do this. Military funerals and extended stays at the Veterans Hospital are not worth ten drums of oil. Far from the promises of Bush the First ten years ago, we have yet to see the "New World Order" of peace and prosperity or any ‘Pax Americana.’ Instead, we have before us a world filled with crisis after crisis, with the US government not only assuming greater powers at home but intervening around the globe unfettered by any of its previous promises or by the rules of diplomacy. This will only lead to more wars, terrorism and general instability. And as always, the working class will have to bear the costs.
The example of the Motherwell train drivers in Scotland, who refused to move ammunition between Glasgow and the Glen Douglas weapons dump should be held up high as an example. If the working class refuses to prepare for the war, the war cannot go on! Were all the longshoremen in the US (there are only a few thousand nationally) to refuse to load ships with munitions, equipment, and supplies, the war machine would grind to a standstill. These are the sorts of decisive actions which are required! The movement against the war on Iraq has become a truly global one. In Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, North and South America the students and workers in increasing numbers are hitting the streets to oppose the war. ‘Globalization,’ really just another word for global capitalism, has not only integrated the world economy to a staggering extent, but has also made discontent and opposition global. Divisions into nation states aside, in reality there are really only two sides in any conflict – the capitalist class and the working class. Government after government has either sided with Bush or has gone into meek opposition to the war out of their own self interest. France and Germany are opposed only because they do not see any personal benefit in the US controlling the oil wealth of the Middle East. They don’t believe that the Texas oil man is generous enough to give them a piece of the pie. The governments of the Arab world quite rightly fear that any US invasion of Iraq would deepen already extensive crises within their own countries. But the working class and the students worldwide are more and more coming to the understanding that Bush’s war, and the "War on Terror" in general is really a war against their rights and their class interests. US imperialism is more than willing to spill the blood of the Iraqi and American working class for oil.
Any war would incur untold civilian casualties in Iraq, which has already been starved and decimated by economic sanctions. On the US side, General Tommy Franks himself has estimated 30 percent US casualties if the military assaults Baghdad. The casualties in this war will only come from the working class’ side. And do the people who are expected to fight each other have any quarrel? No. The workers of Iraq and the United States in fact have the same interests at heart – to be able to live in peace and to have all the necessities and joys of life. Capitalism has proved incapable of providing any of this. It can only furnish us with more wars, crises, inequality and oppression in the future. This is a class problem and requires a class remedy. The strongest weapon in the working class’ arsenal is solidarity in its greatest form - internationalism. The workers and the youth of the world have to join together in global coordination and solidarity if they are to ever end the system of global capitalism. They have to break out of the narrow confines of the nation state and unite on an international level. They must also break the stranglehold of the ruling elite over society – the banks, the corporations and the state itself. Only by awakening to their real class interests and to the power of united, mass action can a lasting solution be achieved. This task has faced the working class ever since the birth of capitalism 300 years ago. The closing words of the Communist Manifesto, written over 150 years ago, ring very true today: Workers of the World, Unite!
* No to the War on the Working Class at Home and Abroad!
* No War But The Class War!