AFL-CIO demands rapid withdrawal from Iraq

CHICAGO (PAI) - Following a rousing speech by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, delegates to the AFL-CIO Convention here voted on July 26 for a resolution demanding the U.S. “bring the troops home rapidly” from Iraq.

The resolution, which marked a change from the labor movement’s long past, if not from its recent dissent and criticism of the war, also accused GOP President George W. Bush of lying about why the U.S. entered Iraq and lying about it now.

And it strongly supported the Iraqi labor movement’s demand to write a new, freer Iraqi labor law that codifies the right to organize and bargain, replacing the repressive Saddam Hussein-era law. Neither the U.S.-created Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq for a year, nor the present interim government there, yanked Hussein’s law.

Jackson brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing denunciation of the war’s continuation. “Honor the soldiers,” he said. “Provide them with the equipment they need. And bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home! ...”

The subsequent cheers and applause virtually drowned out his next line: “... To a job when they get home.”

Delegates voting for the carefully crafted resolution on the war gave credit to U.S. Labor Against The War for marshaling opposition to Bush’s war. USLAW recently hosted a national tour by six Iraqi union leaders, explaining the Iraqi labor federations’ anti-war and anti-occupation stand. One of the six met with delegates after the vote.

“All too often, we hear only his lies,” an Office and Professional Employees delegate told the crowd about Bush. The lies, she added, “put us into Iraq to enrich his cronies and Halliburton,” the defense contractor formerly headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

African-American Vietnam veteran Brooks Sunkett, a Communications Worker, said, “Lies were told to me then and lies are told to me now.” He also said Bush is using “war hysteria” against union workers, citing cases of workers at the Defense Department and Transportation Security Administration, and Bush’s invocation of the Taft-Hartley Act against the International Longshore and Warehouse Union after West Coast port management locked the ILWU out.

“As the organized voice for working people, we have the responsibility to stand with Iraq’s labor movement and bring the troops home now,” Sunkett concluded.

The war was not Jackson’s only topic. He urged labor to back an Aug. 6 march in Atlanta commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, while noting Bush is silent on its renewal.

He also strongly backed the right to organize and the Employee Free Choice Act, along with a living wage and universal health care. And he even weighed in on labor’s internal dispute over its future emphasis and direction — organizing versus politics — which saw the Teamsters and the Service Employees leave the AFL-CIO the day before.

“We must agree to disagree and negotiate operational unity within our own family,” Jackson said. “This fight is not ‘us versus us,’ but ‘us versus them,’” referring to Bush and the GOP-run federal government.

“And ‘them’ is coming at us real hard,” he warned.