Unions slam war, call for Bush ouster

SAN FRANCISCO – Delegates to conventions of two of the nation’s largest unions last week cheered as their leaders blasted George W. Bush for lying to justify war on Iraq and for torture of Iraqi detainees. Both unions called for Bush’s ouster in the Nov. 2 election and urged a fight to end the Republican majority grip on the House and Senate.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, speaking to 3,000 delegates of the 1.6-million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) here, was applauded when he said, “We have to say ‘No’ to government-sanctioned torture and to reckless politicians who send our loved ones off to fight wars on the basis of lies.”

The SEIU delegates unanimously approved a resolution decrying the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of GIs in a war that has cost hundreds of billions in revenues needed at home. The resolution demanded that the U.S. “end the occupation of Iraq … by bringing our troops home safely, by not putting them recklessly in harm’s way, by providing adequate veterans’ benefits, and promoting domestic policies that prioritize the needs of working people.”

The resolution was introduced by seven SEIU locals, including New York’s Hospital and Health Care Local 1199, whose members marched against the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s.

At about the same time in Anaheim, Calif., the 1.4-million-member American Federation of State County, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) convention applauded union President Gerald McEntee when he blasted Bush for smearing critics of the war, according to Press Associates, Inc., a pro-union news service. “Real patriotism demands that you speak out and speak up when you disagree with your government,” McEntee said. “Thousands of American soldiers have been wounded in Iraq. Over 800 have died, including several from our own union. Our sympathies go out to their families. But the war in Iraq is one of many, many reasons we need a new president.”

AFSCME approved a resolution charging that Bush “lied to all of us – to the world – about the weapons of mass destruction and why we’re going to war in Iraq.”

Defeating the Bush administration and its allies in Congress was a theme running through both the AFSCME and SEIU conventions. SEIU is pledging to field 2,004 members to work full time in the battleground states, backed up by over 50,000 volunteers working in their home states during the campaign.

Sen. John Kerry, who refused to cross a picket line to speak to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston, was among the guest speakers who addressed the SEIU convention.

In a ringing keynote on the official opening day, June 21, the union’s international president, Andrew Stern, called on delegates to “build a new circle of strength” through organizing especially in the South and Southwest, building “truly national unions” among hospital, long-term care, public service and building service workers, and together with other unions, strengthening labor’s ability to deal with global corporations. He also called for formation of the first “open source” virtual union – Purple Ocean – to link a million social and economic justice activists.

Stern singled out three multiservice outsourcing companies: French-based Sodexho, British-based Compass, and U.S.-based Aramark. Together, he said, they employ 1.1 million workers “and are growing so fast in cleaning, food service, laundry, transportation, maintenance and anything else that can be contracted out … that in a few years they will overtake Wal-Mart in size.” He called for the creation of the first real “global” union to confront this transnational giant.

Sweeney, who led the SEIU for many years, said, “George W. Bush is simply the worst president we’ve ever had to deal with. He and his cronies are as cold-blooded as bounty hunters when it comes to workers and our unions. All they care about is feeding our tax dollars to their wealthy supporters.”

Sweeney emphasized strengthening the labor movement. “We have to move faster and reach higher and build a bigger, stronger labor movement,” he said, to defeat corporate plunderers that drive down living standards around the world and routinely violate human rights at home, including denying workers the right to join together in a union.

Sweeney paid special tribute to the role of SEIU and its International Executive Vice President Eliseo Medina in stimulating the AFL-CIO to adopt its present position supporting the rights of immigrant workers. In his remarks to the convention, Medina called for global coordination of union campaigns and outlined a program for SEIU members to work with union members in other countries to deal with the growing challenge of the giant multiservice outsourcing corporations.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org. Joe Hancock, Kelly McConnell, and Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.click here for Spanish text