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Labor Against War
International News & Opinion

LABOR TUESDAY! for January 21, 2003
(Regularly posted at laborpartyusa)
Mainstream Press Reports on USLAW
By Charles Walker

It’s not clear that the hundred or so trade unionists that gathered in Chicago on Jan. 11 to form an anti-war committee expected to get much attention from the mainstream press. But two mainstream papers have sat up and taken notice that a relatively small number of unionists have organized to oppose the government’s looming attack on Iraq.

True, the press reports aren’t on the front page, but they’re not buried with the obituaries either. It would be nice if the friendly press accounts indicated an anti-war stance in the papers’ editorial rooms, but whatever it means, we can be sure the papers recognize the inherent social power of organized labor – and the power of the strike. Sure the new anti-war group can’t yet claim to speak for a majority of labor, but then most majorities start out a minority.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Jan. 14) ran a relatively comprehensive report about the new anti-war labor group and its intention to “put organization and money behind what have been mostly spontaneous, grass-roots activities.” The paper reported that, “union contingents from California, Seattle, New York, Washington, and Florida, as well as labor activists from St. Louis and other cities raised $30,000 to set up a group called U.S. Labor Against War [USLAW]. They passed a resolution against an ‘unprovoked war with Iraq,’ and they plan to send protestors to anti-war Marches in Washington and San Francisco. They also hope to enlist the support of 200 local unions in the next few weeks.”

The paper reported that Herb Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the 260,000-member Missouri AFL-CIO said that if USLAW “ask to do something, we’ll endeavor to get people together and join some kind of concerted effort. It’s going to be an unprecedented thing for the United States to go and initiate an armed conflict. We’re all red-blooded Americans, but I have not read any evidence that this lousy fellow over there is the one who attacked us on September 11.”

The San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 16) reported that, “Saturday's rallies in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other cities come a week after 100 labor leaders from around the country -- including several from the Bay Area -- met in Chicago to plan how to sway their memberships toward opposing a possible war with Iraq and assume a bigger role in the anti-war effort. So labor union banners will be a highly visible presence at Saturday's march and rally afterward at the Civic Center.”

The paper estimated that the Bay Area “march down Market Street and to the Civic Center will include representatives of more than 50 Bay Area labor unions -- twice as many as attended October's big anti-war demonstration along the city's main drag."

"Labor's support is a boon to peace activists, who know that the image of longshoremen and nurses speaking out against a possible war in Iraq puts a 'real people' face on their message.”

While the Chicago group won’t find their task an easy one, David Moberg reported in Z Magazine (Dec. 6) that already there is substantial anti-war feeling among unionists. “But opposition to the Iraq war has drawn more mainstream labor backing, including the Washington State Labor Council, United Electrical Workers, New York state nurses, the Wisconsin SEIU, the California Federation of Teachers, Pride at Work (the AFL-CIO gay workers organization), New Mexico carpenters, and central labor councils from such cities as San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, California; Albany, Troy and Rochester, New York; and Duluth, Minnesota.” Since the Chicago meeting several union organizations have adopted anti-war resolutions, including the National Executive Board of the American Postal Workers Union.

Jerry Zero, the principal officer of Teamsters Local 705, which hosted the Chicago gathering, told the Post-Dispatch that the degree of anti-war feeling is “quite unusual. It’s early, it’s very early, no military action has started yet, and people are really organizing against this thing. “

Peace Sentiment Echoes Ever Louder in Cleveland Labor Movement
By Jerry Gordon

On January 12, about a thousand people packed one of the largest and best known African American churches in Cleveland. One of the featured speakers was John Ryan, executive Secretary of the Cleveland AFL-CIO. Ryan made a strong presentation, condemning the war for oil and forcefully stating "it will be working class youth who will bedoing the fighting and dying."

On January 14, GE workers in Cleveland held a big rally on the first day of their two-day strike opposing employer cost shifting on health care. Rev.Marvin McMickle, whose church hosted the rally held two days previously, told several hundred workers, "It's a disgrace that the government is willing to spend $100-$200 billion for a war against Iraq, but is not willing to spend anywhere near that sum to guarantee health care for all of our people." This remark drew loud and sustained applause.

The Cleveland Citizen is the oldest labor news-paper in the country and is now in its 113th year of publication. It is published by the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO.

The paper's editor and general manager is Bill Obbagy, who was a featured speaker at the first big rally of the Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition (NOAC)on November 16 opposing the U.S. war on Iraq. By then, the Citizen had already printed anti-war articles.

The front page of the January edition of the Citizen has a huge cartoon divided into four blocks, each of which contains a caricature of Dick Cheney. The firstblock says, "Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense under Bush I, helps to destroy Iraq's oilfields. Cheney is saying, "Bombs away! Take that, Saddam!"

The second box says, "Dick Cheney, CEO of Haliburton, makes millions in helping to rebuild Iraq's oilfields." Cheney says, "Mine."

The third box says, "Dick Cheney, Vice President under Bush II, argues for a war likely to destroy (among other things) Iraq's oilfields." Cheney remarks, "Homeland security requires it. Bombs away!"

The final box says, "Dick Cheney, CEO of (fill in later, Inc.) makes more millions in helping to rebuild Iraq's oilfields?" Cheney comments, "Hey, a guy's gotta think about his future..."

On an inside page, the Citizen runs a caricature of Bush lampooning him for claiming that "to protect civilization from terrorism we must invade Iraq." The paper asks, "And all that oil your oil buddies would then get to pump?" Bush answers, "Just a happy coincidence."

Below this cartoon is an article titled, "Cleveland AFL-CIO Joins Move Against Iraq War." The article quotes from the Federation's anti-war resolution passed unanimously at its December meeting and then details reports of similar resolutions passed by other labor bodies, including AFSCME'sInternational Executive Board on December 12.

This writer vividly recalls an anti-war rally held in Cleveland's Public Square a decade ago, protesting then the U.S. war against Iraq. The 1500 people who turned out suddenly found themselves confronted by a large crowd of hostile building trades workers who supported the war. A huge brawl appeared imminent but was averted.

How things have changed! Demonstrations by anti-war forces in this period draw friendly reaction on an almost universal scale. All sections of the Cleveland labor movement today are increasingly gripped by peace fever and express support for the anti-war movement.

In over 50 years of anti-war activity dating back to Korea, I entertained the hope that someday labor would not only would be part of the peace movement but actually lead it. But even during the highest point of the Vietnam anti-war movement, when in January, 1973 the Cleveland AFL-CIO finally passed a resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S.forces from the area, has there been anything even remotely resembling what we are seeing to-day.

Anti-war sentiment in the ranks of Cleveland labor will surely deepen as the consequences of the looming bloodbath in Iraq become all the more clear.

Jerry Gordon, a well known Cleveland unionist, was a staff representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union for twenty-three years.