In a sharp break with tradition, the 13- million-member AFL-CIO added its voice to the growing demand that the Bush administration work through the United Nations in resolving the Iraq crisis.
In a unanimous resolution calling for “multilateral resolve” rather than “unilateral action” to bring about Iraqi disarmament, the AFL-CIO Executive Council said George W. Bush “has failed to fulfill his responsibility to make a compelling and coherent explanation to the American people and the world about the need for military action at this time.”
The resolution also criticized Bush for “squandering” much of the good will given the U.S. in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead, he has “managed to insult many of our strong allies and divided the world …”
The council’s action marked a culmination of a grassroots struggle that saw more than 100 union organizations, including city councils, state federations and a half dozen international unions, adopt resolutions opposing the war. The resolution was written by the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department, chaired by Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers (CWA). “It takes into account that there are differences in our ranks and within the body politic,” Bahr told the World in a brief interview. “We’re saying that war should be an absolutely last resort, and in the strongest terms we’re urging the administration to go through the UN.”
Gene Bruskin, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO Food & Allied Trades Department, welcomed the resolution, saying it “provides ammunition for trade unionists who are searching for ways to involve their unions” in the fight against the Bush drive. He said he hoped it would give a boost to plans by US Labor Against War (USLAW) to conduct coordinated job site actions across the country on Wednesday, March 12. Bruskin, who serves as USLAW national coordinator, said it is too early to judge the scope of these actions. “We were swamped with responses just as soon as it was posted on the web,” he said. (The site is www.uslaboragainstwar.org.)
Tom Balanoff, president of the Illinois State Council of the Service Employees Union, said the resolution was “an important step in the effort to stop the drive to war.
“The rush to war is the wrong idea at the wrong time,” he told the World. “Let the UN process work. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘It’s better to jaw, jaw than to war, war.’” Balanoff agreed with Bruskin that the resolution opened the door for activity in the labor movement. “Perhaps the best example is the fact that the Chicago Federation of Labor adopted the Executive Council’s resolution at the first opportunity.”
Larry Cohen, executive vice president of the 600,000-member CWA, said, “The labor movement is making the connections between Bush’s war policy and the other parts of his foreign policy. This is the same foreign policy that is destroying jobs with its trade agreements – a foreign policy that cares nothing about the jobs and rights of American workers.”
The San Francisco Labor Council was one of the first to adopt a resolution opposing Bush’s drive to war. In a statement adopted on Aug. 26, 2002 the council warned that Bush’s “endless war against terrorism” threatened to become a war against the labor movement and wasted money needed for social programs. Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Council, said he feels better “now that the labor movement is riding the same train. Give the inspectors time. We don’t want any war if that’s possible.” Johnson said President Bush should do two things. “He should listen and swallow – swallow his pride and then change his mind. If Lyndon Johnson had done that earlier, the Vietnam Memorial Wall would not have as many names on it as it has now. If LBJ could send a message to George W. Bush today, I’ll bet he would say, ‘Learn from me, Mr. President.’”
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