CHICAGO – Beseiged on many fronts – layoffs, pension grabs, loss of medical benefits and even the very right to organize – but fighting back, workers and their unions are adding stopping the Bush administration’s disastrous war on Iraq to their urgent agenda.

The lineup is impressive. To date, seven international unions, 24 central labor councils and nearly 100 local unions have unleashed a torrent of resolutions trying to put the brakes on the launching of a war on Iraq.

Labor’s top officer, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, has joined his British counterpart John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, in issuing a joint appeal to President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair stating, “the goal of our policy should be to take every possible step to achieve the legitimate ends of disarming Iraq without recourse to war.”

Laid-off steelworker Jim Lange cited a statement approved unanimously at a meeting of United Steelworkers Local 1011 in East Chicago, Ind. The statement said, “Bush’s drive for war serves as a cover and a distraction for the sinking economy, corporate corruption, [and] layoffs.”

Lange explained, “Workers in our plant see this as Bush’s war and just one more assault on our struggle for survival. First our company – LTV – gets wiped out. Laid-off people lose their medical benefits.”

“The new owners, ISG, refuse to call back the workers from South Chicago. Working conditions have been set back 60 years. Our pensions appear to be gone. We’re being hit from all sides, And now this war. We feel like we’re already in a war,” he continued.

The resolution of the 18,000-member Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) states, “An unprovoked war with Iraq which causes many casualties amongst members of our armed forces and the Iraqi people, is not in the best interest of our Cabin Crew members, other airline workers, or the vast majority of other workers of the world.”

Sarah DelaCruz, AFA Communication Chairperson, told the World, “A war could be devastating to 80,000 United Airlines employees. This is a very emotional issue for us, because many of us lost friends and co-workers on Sept. 11, but those who are focused on our jobs know that traditionally during a war, ticketing drops 10 percent. With two of our largest carriers already in bankruptcy, we absolutely can’t take it.”

DelaCruz pointed to her union’s current struggle to defeat proposals in Congress to take away the airline workers’ right to collective bargaining and right to strike, replacing them with compulsory arbitration based on the needs of the company and passengers. “Bush has been pushing hard against the unions, but they’re angering everyday people who just want to go to work, do their job and get paid,” she said. “These are the flight attendants we’re seeing become more politically active.”

Recently, wireman Frederick Simmons, a delegate to the Seattle Federation of Labor, reported to a national conference of the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus on the role of the Seattle EWMC chapter in bringing an anti-war resolution to that Labor Council. The Chapter chairman couldn’t make it to the conference, Simmons explained, “he is in the army reserve, which is not a good place to be right now.” A collective sigh rose from the crowd. Later, a “raise your hand” survey of the 180 EWMC delegates showed three quarters of those present with brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands or wives in the military.

In Philadelphia, a town hall meeting was called by a group of trade unionists and veterans who had been meeting every Sunday afternoon for the last few months. Two hundred and fifty attendees turned it into an overflow event after the Philadelphia central labor council passed a resolution stating, “The Bush administration’s rush to war seeks to distract Americans from the real threats posed by corporate corruption and greed, which have stolen or destroyed the jobs, health, retirement, benefits, and savings of millions of working American.”

Jim Martin, the Philadelphia labor council’s director of administrative operations, told the World that even though it is not traditional for central labor bodies to pass resolutions on foreign policy issues, several major members of the Executive Council “felt very strongly that it was time for us to speak up.”

Principal officers of major unions representing 100,000 workers in the Chicago area issued a joint statement Feb. 6 citing the “real costs” of a war, including “raiding the Social Security trust fund” It also cites the results of “homeland security” and the Patriot Act: “ privatizing the jobs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees, denying them civil rights, and targeting both immigrants and American citizens by attacking the rights of workers to strike and organize.”

Across town, members of SEIU Local 73 and the Coalition of Labor Union Women reported that seats were filling up for buses to the New York Feb. 15 anti-war action.

Why such an unprecedented outpouring from every level of labor? “The American people oppose the war,” Tom Balanoff, leader of Service Employees Local 1 in Chicago told the World. “And labor is the voice of the American people.”

The author can be reached at rwood@pww.org

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