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Will Labor's Anti-War Movement Survive the 2004 Elections
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004
LABOR TUESDAY! for May 6, 2003
Will Labor’s Anti-War Movement Survive the 2004 Elections?
By Charles Walker
The recent worldwide anti-war demonstrations were called a “superpower,” so great was the number of antiwar protestors who took to the streets. In the US, the number of protestors may have eclipsed the mass turnouts of the Vietnam War period.
Among the hundred’s of thousands who marched in US demonstrations were an undetermined number of trade union members, who must have numbered at least in the tens of thousands, but did not march as trade unionists, per se. That’s not to say that unions, as such, did not endorse and join the protests, but their numbers were relatively small. No doubt their number would have been fewer, if not for the organizing efforts of an organized labor-based coalition, US Labor Against War (USLAW), founded in Chicago on January 11.
A recent national meeting (April 26) of USLAW’s continuation’s committee decided to continue the organization, even though, it said, “the war on Iraq is an accomplished fact.” A report to be posted (http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/) summarizes the gathering’s decisions as endeavoring “to draw the connection between the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and its consequences for working families here at home: the erosion of civil rights and civil liberties and cuts in funding for education, health care, housing, veterans’ benefits, and other public services…USLAW’s unique contribution will be to connect this to its [the Bush Administration’s] foreign policy of preemptive war and conquest abroad …USLAW will make the case that the nation can not have both ‘guns and butter’ and the labor movement cannot effectively defend working families in the U.S. if it does not challenge the U.S. assault on working families abroad.”
The recent meeting of 31 trade unionists may or may not have been as “broad” a cross-section of the labor movement as the founding meeting was, that’s not clear. But what is clear is that it was only as one-third as large, and missing from the official attendance roster were several earlier participants who are not likely to have endorsed some changes which seem to reverse both explicit and implicit understandings agreed to at the group’s January founding meeting.
For example, at the founding meet, a substitute resolution from the floor prevailed over the organizers’ resolution that spoke favorably of UN inspections in the days before the preemptive Iraq invasion. The resolution that finally prevailed didn’t mention the UN at all. Now the group, according to the report, is calling for “the reconstruction of Iraq under the auspices of the United Nations.” No doubt the earlier critics of the first resolution would repeat their case that the UN is primarily dominated by the Western industrial powers, and the UN has no more right to decide the fate of Iraq’s national autonomy than does the US. In other words, from the point-of-view of the interests of the Iraqi people, both the US and the UN should butt out now.
Not mentioned in the report is that reportedly there was an informal consensus at the meeting that if Bush is to be beaten in 2004, the Democrats candidate, no matter who that is, will have to be supported. While there is no plan to openly endorse a Democrat against Bush, at least some of those in Chicago would like to put the organization in a position to influence the selection of the Democrat’s candidate, and, if elected, to influence the next president. That sentiment may be predominant among the Chicago attendees, as their report of the meeting never mentions the heavily bipartisan support for the war, though it rightly, but one-sidedly, attacks the Bush Administration’s “anti-worker, anti-labor policies.” A proposed mission statement, still undergoing revision, repeatedly attacks Bush, but fails to mention the support that Bush has received from the highest echelons of the Democrat Party, or how the Bush Administration differs, in class terms, from the Democrats.
It’s been obvious, since before the Iraq invasion that there is a developing anti-Bush hysteria on the US left. That’s nothing qualitatively new, the ranks of labor were urged by sections of the left to defeat among other Republicans, Goldwater, Nixon and Bush, at all costs. Lyndon Johnson gained the support of much of the left when he ran as a “peace candidate” against Goldwater. Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Albert Gore, not to mention Bill Clinton, were backed by some sections of the left, in order, they said, to beat the Republican candidate at all costs.
The left-hysteria may be deeper and more pathological than we had reason to think. In off-the-floor discussions, we’re reliably informed, some Chicago attendees were talking of the rise of US fascism, if only in an incipient form. There was a fear expressed in Chicago that stopping Bush’s reelection is essential, if a looming fascism is to be held off.
That talk was most prominently last heard during the McCarthyite days, when leaders of the U.S. Communist Party were arrested and others “went underground.” Leftists of many groups dropped their activities, burned their libraries and buried their heads, hoping to avoid the worst of the political witch-hunt. The fear continued long after the Eisenhower Administration turned on McCarthy, and didn’t dissipate until the mass movements in support of civil rights, against the Vietnam War and in support of feminists took to the streets.
The talk of fascism these days is partly fueled by the bipartisan passage of the Patriot Act and by the increased police repression of anti-war protestors in several cities, the latest being in Oakland, California, who’s mayor is Democrat Jerry Brown. But repressive laws and police repression are nothing new in America, as evidenced by Jack London’s classic, “The Iron Heel.” No doubt, labor’s Haymarket martyrs were subject to extreme police repression, as were the railway strikers of Eugene V. Debs’ time, or autoworkers, steelworkers, miners Teamsters and longshoremen of the1930’s and since. The copper miners of Arizona can’t have forgotten the Democrat governor who smashed their strike with the National Guard, and neither has the popular author, Barbara Kingsolver.
Classic fascism attempts to come to power in the face of a powerful labor movement, in order to smash labor’s threat to the rule of big business. If today’s labor movement were not so profoundly bureaucratized, its ranks not so profoundly demobilized, if the labor movement had actually threatened to stop the invasion of Iraq, the ruling class might well be on the way to backing a fascist movement. But there is no mass fascist movement for the ruling class to arm and back. Nor is there the need for one, given the anemic state of U.S. organized labor.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a rise in police actions against dissidents, protestors and even mainstream defenders of basic constitutional rights, who take their defense of basic rights into the streets. Nor is that to say that cops’ actions, not to mention Tactical Squad garb, often don’t resemble military actions. But what anti-war protestors have experienced at the hands of cops and civil authorities is commonplace in many black communities, and has been as long as black residents can remember. But that’s not fascism, nor even the actions of a police state, as these things are usually understood.
Every four years there is a need on the part of some self-styled leftists to drum up support for the Democrats, if only to get close to or stay close to the AFL-CIO officialdom. Those “leftists” have raised the “fascism is coming” alarm in past elections, and intend to do so once again 2004. Their misleadership grows more appalling, as the crisis of capitalism presents ever more opportunities to begin the construction of an anti-capitalist movement, as evidenced by the breath and depth of the anti-globalization and anti-war movements. The writer who described the recent upsurge of anti-establishment forces as a “superpower” may have exaggerated some, but he was closer to the truth than those who would mislead that movement’s activists into backing the electoral designs of the Democratic Party, historically the swamp of US social justice movements.