Labor marches in antiwar house

WASHINGTON — United in their opposition to the Iraq war, thousands of union members took aim at Bush administration policy last weekend, marching and rallying in the nation’s capital and beating corporate fat cats at their own game by lobbying in the halls of Congress.

Fred Mason, president of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO and co-convener of U.S. Labor Against the War, told the hundreds of thousands of people massed in front of him on the National Mall that “there should be no antiwar rally without labor in the house.”

He praised AFL-CIO President John Sweeney for his statements against the war and said, “Working people love their country but President Bush is leading our country in the wrong direction and nowhere is that misdirection clearer than the war in Iraq. The people said in the November election ‘bring our troops home now.’ The American people don’t want a surge in the violence in Iraq.”

Mason continued, “We call on our elected leaders to stop funding the war, to bring our troops home now and to start meeting human needs here at home.”

Eight hundred trade unionists marched from the national headquarters of the Communication Workers of America. They joined 600 union members brought by Service Employees International Union Local 1199 to form a huge labor contingent.

Among the marchers in the labor contingent were delegations and members from the United Auto Workers, the United Electrical Workers, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Teachers.

And the Steelworkers’ blue, white and black banner was impossible to miss: “You want to support the troops? Keep their jobs— here; Bring them home — now!” was the message from their union.

A group of retired steelworkers, members of SOAR, were eager to give their opinions about the Iraq war. Their words seemed to tumble out.

Gene Podgorski from Pittsburgh said that he had three grandsons, aged 22, 20 and 18. “I don’t want them fighting in a war I don’t believe in,” he said. He showed special concern for the youth, those who have been killed and the thousands who have been disabled in this war. “Everybody over there is somebody’s father or brother or sister or mother,” he said.

Glenda Williams of USW Local 3657 agreed with many workers when she told the World that the “war is taking resources away from what we need to be doing here; it’s taking away from the real issues.”

Labor’s fight against the war last weekend only began with marching, rallying and surrounding the Capitol. Unionists organized and poured into congressional offices Jan. 29 to press elected representatives for withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq.

Bob Muehlenkamp, a co-convener of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) and organizing director for Local 1199, told the World that the AFL-CIO’s commitment against the war in Iraq is “a major signal that the political muscle now exists to stop this war.” He said, “When the unions lobby Congress, we want them to vote for full veterans benefits, including adequate health care and other support for returning troops, veterans and their families.”

USLAW has brought together 125 national, regional, state and local unions and other labor organizations representing millions of working people to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq and to support our troops and their families by bringing them safely home.

Antiwar resolutions have been passed in hundreds of unions and labor councils, and the AFL-CIO has adopted a resolution calling for the rapid withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.