CHICAGO – Over 300 trade union and community activists filled Teamsters Auditorium on Dec. 7 for a public hearing on how a war with Iraq would impact working people. The event, initiated by the Committee for New Priorities/Chicago Jobs with Justice and sponsored by 29 union locals, community, peace and religious organizations, was one of several dozen peace-related actions across the city.

Labor leaders, clergy and legislators addressed the disastrous economic costs of a war and the alarming curtailment of civil liberties under the USA Patriot and Homeland Security Acts.

Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Illinois State Council, chaired the event. Balanoff read a letter from Teamsters Local 705 President Gerald Zero, whose local passed a resolution denouncing the war. Zero said it was up to the labor movement to organize forums like this to inform the membership about what was at stake.

The event reflected the growing recognition that Bush’s “war on terrorism” is being used to wage an all-out assault on workers and slash social programs while giving huge breaks to corporations. Rev. Calvin Morris, executive director of the Community Renewal Society, noted the administration has committed “billions not against the evils of want, racism, sexism or homophobia. It is a war against people, to acquire oil in Iraq. This administration has turned its back on working-class people while protecting the titans of industry.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) applauded the tremendous outpouring of opposition prior to the congressional vote on the Iraq resolution. She credited it with getting 60 percent of House Democrats to vote no and preventing the Bush administration from unleashing a war quicker.

The new Homeland Security Act is a direct threat to the rights of immigrant workers, according to Jesus Garcia, executive director of the Little Village Community Development Corporation.

Garcia said the climate of war prevents an overhaul of immigration laws. “The likelihood of getting immigrant legalization back on track is nil,” said Garcia. “Discrimination and hostility toward immigrants is rising. It gives the green light to employer abuse.”

“The war hysteria is part of the effort to ram through the whole right-wing agenda,” said Tim Yeager, financial secretary of United Auto Workers Local 2320. Yeager noted the hysteria of the McCarthy period resulted in the imposition of the undemocratic laws including the Taft-Hartley Act.

“Never in our history have we had secret trials, detentions without hearings, convictions without evidence. You have to go back to the time of the King of France. Those laws sparked a revolution,” he said.

Several panelists expressed outrage over a war’s impact on the children of working people and the disproportionate number of minority youth who will be forced to fight.

“Freedom comes at a price. This war is not about freedom. It will not free Iraq – only kill our sons and daughters,” said Denise Dixon, executive director of Illinois ACORN.

“We have to pay for this war, then send our children to die, too. That’s too much.”

There are tremendous corporate profits associated with an Iraq war, particularly for the oil and military industries and Bush family cronies. Greg Palast, the renowned muckraking journalist, singled out Choice Point, the company that scrubbed 97,000 African-American registered voters from the Florida rolls before the 2000 election. This helped steal the election for Bush. Choice Point is supplying the information technology to the new Office of Information Awareness (OIA).

While the world’s attention is being directed toward Iraq, attempts are being made to overthrow the elected government of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, warned Palast.

“Chavez doubled oil royalties on ExxonMobil (the second biggest contributor to Bush’s campaign) and Venezuela is the only nation able to double oil production overnight. This would be vital if the flow of oil from Iraq is disrupted,” he said.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) closed the hearing by urging people to put aside fear in the face of a great danger and said building broad coalitions is the only way to fight the ultra-right.

“I don’t think the majority are ready to dash off to war,” Davis said. “If we are going to save ourselves, we have to stick together – Black and white, labor, the unemployed, immigrants, those fighting for peace, justice and equality – all those who believe that we can live a peaceful existence in this world.”

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