Unionists chart antiwar drive

CHICAGO — How can union activists make sure the unfolding discussion in the AFL-CIO includes the issues of international solidarity and peace? How can we move the foreign policy debate forward in the labor movement? How can we support the growing sentiment in labor for bringing the troops, predominantly workers and the sons and daughters of workers, home from Iraq and out of harm’s way?

U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) discussed these questions and more at its Dec. 4 conference here. More than 150 trade union leaders and rank-and-file members wrestled with these urgent questions. An organization of more than 100 affiliated national, state, regional and local unions, other labor bodies and members of labor-affiliated groups, USLAW was founded in October 2003. USLAW activists joined with others in labor working to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, but planned this conference to continue the work on “fundamental issues of war and peace — Iraq in particular — and the diversion of expenditures from human needs to the military and its corporate backers,” which go beyond Election Day.

In the wake of Bush’s re-election, the mood at the conference was serious but upbeat.

Bill Fletcher, executive director of TransAfrica, keynoted the conference. Fletcher said the right wing used national security issues to re-elect an unpopular president and move forward its own plans for world empire. The AFL-CIO chose not to address these issues, he said.

But noting labor’s stake in peace, Fletcher asked, “Can our security be won at the expense of the rest of the planet?” He urged delegates to “think through how to bring the debate on imperialism into the labor movement.”

He said labor cannot continue to “bash trade agreements but ignore military aggression,” and labor should be expected to support a minimum program of international, working-class solidarity, including nonmilitary solutions to problems and a democratic foreign policy.

Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson, longtime trade unionists and co-founders of Military Families Speak Out, received a warm reception as they told the delegates of the growing opposition to the Iraq war among parents and relatives of men and women in the armed forces — those already in Iraq and those being threatened with extended tours of duty, or “stop-loss” orders. Several GIs have filed suit against the “stop-loss” orders, claiming their contractual rights are being violated.

Delegates and observers spent most of the day in active discussion on strategy and tactics, and agreed to build support in labor for coming peace actions in March 2005. USLAW plans to continue building trade union solidarity with Iraqi unions, including raising money for material aid and sending a U.S. labor delegation to Iraq in 2005.

USLAW sits on the national steering committee of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the nation’s largest peace coalition, which has organized the major peace demonstrations starting with the Feb. 15, 2003, “The World Says No to War” action.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.