AFSCME, Cleveland Fed.: No rush to war

With passage of resolutions by AFSCME and the Cleveland AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, more than 80 labor organizations and labor leaders have spoken out in opposition to the Bush administration’s mad dash to war with Iraq.

In their resolution, the national executive board of the 1.3-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) called on the Bush administration to 'fully support and respect' the United Nations in resolving the Iraq crisis.

In their call for a 'thorough debate on the issues,' AFSCME leaders expressed regrets that some have challenged the patriotism of those who raise concerns about the Bush war drive. In a thinly veiled reference to the defeat of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland on Nov. 5, the resolution blasted those who attempted to 'taint' the debate over the Department of Homeland Security by equating a stand for the basic right of workers with a lack of patriotism. 'Such efforts obstruct and undermine honest debate about important, complex issues to which the American people are entitled,' the resolution emphasized.

In a statement following adoption of the resolution AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said, 'We must assure that war is the last option, not the first, used to resolve this [Iraqi] conflict. It is vital that the president provide Americans with clear evidence so a sound judgment can be made before our forces are sent to war.'

McEntee said the United States should not go to war with Iraq 'until there has been a thorough debate of the issues and the American people are fully informed and supportive' of such a venture.

In its resolution the Cleveland Federation of Labor, representing some 100,000 union members in 57 affiliated local unions, said UN experts were 'combing' Iraq for evidence of weapons of mass destruction and so far had found no proof that Iraq has such weapons. In their call for the Bush administration to devote 'more attention to the economy than a first strike, preemptive war,' delegates to the federation’s monthly meeting pointed to the fact that millions of people are unemployed and more millions are without health care insurance.

The resolution called on the Bush administration 'to suspend its plan for war with Iraq' and, instead, to 'intensively seek' a peaceful resolution to U.S./Iraq differences within the United Nations framework.

The resolution pledged the federation to carry on an educational campaign to educate union members and working people on the difference between the war on terrorism and an unjustified war against Iraq.

In closing, the resolution said the Cleveland AFL-CIO Federation of Labor would continue to speak out in opposition to war with Iraq. 'If our nation goes to war, absent demonstrably legitimate concerns about weapons of mass destruction, we will continue to express our opposition to that war,' the resolution concluded. It was adopted unanimously.

The growing opposition to war within the ranks of the labor movement found further voice in an anti-war resolution adopted by the San Francisco Labor Council on Dec. 9 that called upon the labor movement 'to stake out a clear, forthright and fighting stance against Bush’s war.'

The resolution, adopted without a dissenting vote, added that 'national security,' in the hands of a thoroughly anti-labor Bush administration, is being used as a bludgeon against labor, with the intent of rolling back all the gains workers have won since the 1930s, including collective bargaining itself, as well as social programs like welfare, Social Security and unemployment insurance.

The resolution called for revival of the movement led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that brought together the labor, anti-war and civil rights movements during the upsurge of the 1960s, saying such a coalition was needed to defeat Bush’s war and the racism that underlies and promotes it.

It concluded by saying the San Francisco Labor Council would 'work to ensure that organized labor and the national AFL-CIO take a clear and early stand against Bush’s war.'

Although AFSCME is the first international union to express opposition to Bush’s campaign for war with Iraq, labor’s opposition to that war has grown steadily since summer. At least a half dozen national labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, have expressed concern and reservations while opposition has blossomed in local unions and AFL-CIO labor bodies across the country.

The growing labor opposition to war with Iraq is reflected in a Los Angeles Times opinion poll that found, 72 percent of respondents – including 60 percent of Republicans – said the president has not provided enough evidence to justify starting a war with Iraq.

The poll also indicated that Americans do not agree with the president’s argument that any error or omission in the arms declaration Iraq sent to the United Nations earlier this month is adequate to justify war. Even if UN inspections turn up evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, almost half of respondents said they would oppose war. Only 41 percent would favor war.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com