Labor against war meets in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — “Just look at how far we’ve come in just three years,” remarked Gene Bruskin, co-convener of U.S. Labor Against the War, to hundreds of union representatives at the opening of the group’s annual conference here Dec. 1.

Bruskin, an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, spoke of the modest beginnings of USLAW at a Teamster union hall in Chicago in 2003. From a group of 50 or so founders, the organization has grown dramatically — so much so that Bruskin was now addressing over 300 union delegates plus hundreds of guests and observers.

While Bruskin pointed out how far the movement still needs to go to end the illegitimate U.S. war and occupation of Iraq, he cheered the progress USLAW has helped bring about toward building a broad-based movement in labor against the war. He spoke of the national AFL-CIO’s resolution last year calling for the rapid return of U.S. troops, and cited the hundreds of similar resolutions and actions against the war by local unions, central labor bodies and state federations.

Bruskin also cited the massive rejection of the Iraq war in the Nov. 7 elections: “While the American people might not have always voted to immediately withdraw, they certainly voted, en masse, against the occupation of Iraq and this administration’s war policies.”

The second day of the USLAW conference was highlighted by a historic and spirited labor-led march through downtown Cleveland in opposition to the Iraq war and occupation.

“This is the first union-called and union-led antiwar demonstration that anyone here is aware of,” said Dick Peery, longtime leader of Northeast Ohio’s Newspaper Guild and chairman of the Cleveland-area North Shore Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “This is magnificent!”

John Ryan, executive secretary of the North Shore labor federation, told the hundreds of shivering marchers, “Reality has proved us right. We unanimously stated that this war was wrong before it started. We are rightfully proud of that, but it’s time for this war to end!”

Ohio AFL-CIO President Bill Burga told the crowd that labor has historically fought the wars, paid for them and made up the bulk of the veterans. “This is going to change,” he said to loud cheers. He went on to quote musician John Prine, stating, “George Bush, your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore!”

The conference passed a series of motions aimed not only at building USLAW, but also at strengthening the overall movement to end the war.

Some of these motions included support for the Jan. 27 march on Washington to end the war called for by USLAW and United for Peace and Justice; a major lobbying effort in the new Congress aimed at cutting off funds for the war; full funding for health and other social programs for veterans; and the development of an independent, pro-labor foreign policy.

The delegates beat back attempts by certain elements to push through resolutions that would have restricted USLAW to working only with those supporting “Out Now” positions. This development was seen by many as a strengthening of the most politically mature leadership forces in the group.

Later in the day, the conference rose to its feet and cheers shook the walls as Samir Adil, co-founder of the Iraq Freedom Congress, an Iraqi peace group with labor ties, said, “Your struggle is our struggle! Your victories are our victories!”

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