Labor leaders say end Iraq and Afghanistan wars

CHICAGO – International and national labor leaders convened here during the U.S. Labor Against the War’s (USLAW) national conference Dec. 4-6.

The meeting highlighted an international call to labor activists for worldwide peace with economic and social justice during a period of war and economic crisis.

“We are at a turning point in U.S. history,” says USLAW on their website. The group notes in 2008 the labor movement had a moment of triumph, playing a critical role in electing Barack Obama and a majority Democratic Congress.  

However, “In 2009 we find ourselves still in the middle of a devastating economic crisis with wars and militarism standing between working people and the peaceful just world we seek and deserve,” said the antiwar group.

USLAW continued, “This is a moment of both peril and promise. USLAW is challenged to develop a program and organizing strategy that will expand and deepen the influence and effectiveness of antiwar forces within the labor movement, while continuing to play a leading role within the broader antiwar movement.”

At the meeting several resolutions were discussed such as: supporting antiwar demonstrations on the nations capitol in the coming months; a comprehensive labor-led campaign for economic recovery; addressing the military budget and the fight against the military in schools; the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the fight against the coup in Honduras; and ending the Afghanistan war and bringing U.S. troops home now.

International labor leaders from Iran, Iraq and Pakistan described how workers in their countries continue to fight for the right to organize unions under repressive regimes during a time of war.

A labor leader from Venezuela aligned with President Hugo Chavez’s administration talked about the role of the labor movement there in safeguarding the country’s progressive path including its natural resources, such as oil.

Critics of Obama’s recent decision to deploy 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan said the war needs to end and Washington should focus on the fight for jobs, education, health care reform and pensions. They added Obama was elected with a mandate-sized majority, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ameliorate the effects of the economic recession. Escalating the war is not the answer and only continues to lead to more death and destruction for Afghan citizens and American soldiers, they said.

Currently the U.S. spends $3.6 billion a month in Afghanistan and official estimates of Obama’s recent announcement range from $15 billion per year to $30 billion – half a million to a million dollars for each soldier.

Since March 2009 the war in Afghanistan had cost $171.7 billion.

For example the war has cost Pennsylvanians $6.5 billion, which would have paid for health care for more than 1.6 million people in the state for a year, critics charge.

After eight years of war in Afghanistan the U.S. faces another quagmire of death, dollars and destruction, said USLAW. Added elements there include drug lords, massive corruption and untold human dislocation and suffering, they note.  

Labor leaders add Obama’s recent decision threatens to undermine both his and labor’s domestic agenda, much as Vietnam did to the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson.

At the USLAW meeting labor leaders said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also distract from and overwhelm any possibility of implementing a progressive agenda, one working people need right now.

At the groups founding 2003 assembly USLAW adopted a mission statement that calls for: A just foreign policy; an end to U.S. occupation of foreign countries; redirecting the nation’s resources from inflated military spending to meeting the needs of working families; supporting our troops and their families by bringing the troops home now; protecting workers rights, civil rights, civil liberties and the rights of immigrants; and a call to solidarity with workers and their organizations around the world.

“Labor can never have a sustainable full employment economy, healthcare for all, an environmentally responsible energy policy, and humane immigration policy while billions of dollars and countless lives are squandered on unwinnable and unnecessary wars that make us no safer but make a small elite very rich,” said USLAW.

The U.S. labor movement needs a larger, more powerful and influential USLAW, leaders at the meeting said.

“Our task is to expand the vision of the labor movement so that unions serve as more than instruments for reshaping our workplace,” the USLAW statement read. “They must become instruments for reshaping our world.”