A new opportunity to end the occupation

We aren’t surprised that George W. Bush — who got into the White House by trampling on fair and free elections — is trying to use the Iraq elections to justify his bloody invasion and occupation. But, as thoughtful U.S. analysts note, the Iraqi people saw it differently, despite all its shortcomings. They turned out in large numbers, braving violence and death, because they saw the Jan. 30 balloting as their way of fighting to end the occupation.

“They realize that the quickest way to get the United States out of Iraq is to create a new government,” said Henri Barkey, who heads Lehigh University’s international relations department. “Not to vote would mean a continuation of the status quo. So the election is not a vindication of U.S. policy.”

University of Michigan Middle East scholar Juan Cole commented, “Most Shiites who voted on Sunday thought they were voting for an end to U.S. hegemony in their country. This is why it is so bizarre that the U.S. Right is interpreting the elections as a victory for the Bush administration.” Cole notes that the White House initially resisted the idea of holding these elections, and only agreed under pressure from Iraqis. “So to the extent it’s a victory, it’s a victory for Iraqis. The Americans were maneuvered into having to go along with it.”

Bush is claiming victory today, just like he proclaimed “mission accomplished” 21 months ago, but the Iraqi people have other ideas. And so, too, do the American people. The Iraqis are determined to retake their country, and Americans want our troops home.

In fact, the elections present a new set of problems for the Bush administration. The Iraqi people will be waging big political battles, not only for withdrawal of foreign troops, but to keep their oil and other resources out of the hands of U.S. and other multinational corporations, block IMF-driven neoliberal measures that would suck the country dry, and guarantee trade union and women’s rights. Already the Bush administration is working furiously, overtly and covertly, to try to control the new Iraqi government, seeking to entrench a permanent U.S. military and corporate foothold.

The elections present a significant new opportunity for the U.S. peace movement. Public figures across the political spectrum are starting to talk about pulling the troops out. It’s time to demand: “Set the date! Bring the troops home!”

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Gov’t workers under attack

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on union density last week. As expected, it showed a tiny decline in overall union membership. Despite tremendous efforts to organize, the hostility of the Bush administration and big business to union rights continues to take its toll. The BLS report showed that state and federal government workers still enjoy the highest level of union membership, 36.4 percent. But not for long if Bush and right-wing Republicans have their way.

The newly elected governors of Indiana and Missouri, both staunch Bush allies, took extreme action to smash public workers’ unions. Within hours of assuming office, they each issued executive orders canceling union contracts and bargaining rights for tens of thousands of state workers.

The Bush administration’s approach to federal workers may take a bit longer, but it will be no less brutal. They just announced sweeping plans to “reform” the civil service code for federal employees. They plan to introduce reform legislation modeled on current changes being made to the code at the Department of Homeland Security. These changes include replacing regular raises with “merit pay” based on a supervisor’s subjective evaluation, drastic limits on union rights and grievance procedures, and curtailment of seniority rights.

Everyone in labor now looks back on Ronald Reagan’s firing of union air traffic controllers (PATCO) in the early ’80s as the opening gun of a sharp anti-union offensive — a corporate/government attack on unions that has lasted almost unabated for 20 years. With this new attack on public workers, Bush and his governor pals signal a radical escalation of the right wing’s war on labor. It is a carefully planned and considered attack on a stronghold of union membership.

All of labor and the people’s movements have a critical interest in rallying around these government workers to defeat any attempts to destroy their unions. Petitions, resolutions, delegations to elected officials to sound the alarm are good beginnings. Let’s not look back on Bush’s second term saying, “If only we had stopped his attack on public workers.”