Labor Advocate Online

Three Years Later

Every Thing Changed—Nothing Changed
by Bill Onasch

Nine-eleven changed everything. How often have we heard that these past three years?

Certainly nothing else rivals the deep and instant impact on our collective psyche.

I happened to be off work that day. I was home at my computer when I got a call from my partner, working in her home office a floor below. She often keeps the television on while she works. She told me I better come down and see what’s on CNN.

I descended to see a scene of smoke billowing from one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At that point all that was known was that it had been hit by a plane. A short while later, we watched in horror as another plane slammed in to the other tower. It’s the kind of image one never forgets. It was shared by tens of millions watching across the world.

Of course even more horror was to come: the collapse of the towers; the crash into the Pentagon; the hijacked flight that went down in Pennsylvania for reasons still not explained.

While the list of victims transcended class lines the big majority were workers on their jobs, including, of course, firefighters whose job it is to risk life to rescue others. For every member of the capitalist establishment killed ten workers perished. Some were Jews; perhaps even more were Muslim.

It was a day marked by the most spectacular—and callous—act of nongovernmental terrorism in history.

It was also a day that marked the beginning of a remarkable political comeback for a deeply unpopular administration; a day that encouraged attacks by our own government on the democratic rights of American working people, intellectuals, and artists; and, above all, a day that empowered the neo-Empire Builders to prepare for preemptive wars. Far from striking a blow against the American super-power, as the perverted terrorists probably hoped, this cataclysmic event shored up its most reactionary institutions and gave them a pretext for invading Afghanistan and Iraq, with threats of additional wars as well.

Three years after the event Osama bin Laden is presumed still alive and at large, his terrorist network purportedly thriving. A top Quada aide just released another video taped statement taunting his pursuers. But the fact is the war makers have gotten beyond any initial embarrassment about their failure to apprehend the perps. This elusiveness actually suits our rulers just fine. As Bush recently let slip, they're not looking to win the “War on Terror” any time soon. The 9/11 link is the most effective disguise for their class war on us and working people everywhere. They will milk our fear of and revulsion for terrorism for all they can.

Below we reprint two previous articles. One was written a few days after 9/11, the other on the first anniversary. With one exception I think they hold up pretty well today.

I do have to acknowledge that I was slow in recognizing just how far to the right our ruling establishment as a whole had shifted, along with their counterparts in Britain, Italy, Spain, and Australia. I expected them to at least seek United Nations cover for their imperial adventures. I was not prepared for the arrogance of Bush or the abject servility of Blair and his other junior partners.


The Working Class, Terrorism, and War
by Bill Onasch

The barbaric attacks on New York and Washington unleashed a powerful surge of the deepest emotions throughout our country. Horror and grief were quickly followed by expression of patriotism, and demands for revenge.

These were inevitable and understandable human reactions to a most inhumane crime. Such demonstrative reflexes can serve as a needed relief of the agony and fury felt by every civilized person. This can be healthy—up to a point.

But, just as an individual dealing with tragic loss of family or friend, after a respectful period of time we must collectively accept that life goes on. We need to face the challenge of the future with emotions and actions channeled by reason. If we fail to make that transition we are vulnerable.

We are susceptible not only to terrorist gangs. There are others who will try to take advantage of our disorientation to push agendas of their own. Following familiar examples from history we have already seen: 

§  A racist backlash against people perceived as being of Middle Eastern background, and all who practice the faith of Islam. This is not only morally wrong; it also undermines the solidarity of the working class.

§  Attacks on civil liberties. Included in the emergency appropriation bill to provide assistance to victims in New York and Washington was authorization for extensive electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens with no need for warrants from a court. This could easily be abused to include spying on and disrupting the labor movement—as has been done covertly by government agencies in the past.

§  A blank check for war. That’s essentially what is being proposed by many on both sides of the aisle in congress. The President would be authorized to send the armed forces just about anywhere he sees fit. That makes a tempting potential for using our GIs not only for retribution against those responsible for the New York/Washington attacks but for settling other old scores and trying to secure additional areas for Corporate America’s Globalization. 

Bringing those responsible for New York/Washington to justice is one thing. As this is written the central targets seem to be bin Laden and the Taliban warlords in control of Afghanistan. Unlike our government’s intelligence/security community, who once collaborated with and supported these terrorists when they were fighting the former Soviet Union, I’ve always viewed these elements as scum. They are pursuing mediaeval objectives with 21st Century weapons. I’d shed no tears if they were taken out tomorrow.

But a wide-ranging war throughout much of Asia and Africa—advocated by some—is another matter. That could lead to big loss of life of both American GIs and innocent civilians. It could also fuel yet another cycle of terrorism and retribution. Neither revenge nor expansion of corporate power justifies that.

It was appropriate for our entire nation to unite in our grief. We should respond as one people in helping the survivors recover and rebuild. We can be proud of our country in our time of need.

But, as we emerge from the shock of the terrorist atrocities, we must get our bearings once again. The issues and adversaries that faced us September 10 are still there for American workers. Similar, and even much greater problems exist for workers in other lands. If we are to defeat the true forces of darkness, if we are to have a civilization based on peace and justice, then the working class has to develop a rational response of our own, based on human solidarity, to get us through this time of crisis. 

September 15, 2001


The Year Since—Their Response and Ours
by Bill Onasch

We join in the anniversary commentary about life since September 11 last with reluctance. Much of the hoopla is hypocritical, trying to play on our emotions in order to cynically advance a political agenda, or even to hawk merchandise. But little is being said from the viewpoint of a class analysis of post-9/11. That is the aim of this brief article.

For the working people of the United States—indeed most of the world—the terrible attacks of last September 11 produced genuine grief and anger. The bosses' reaction was less emotional.

Workers across the country spontaneously lined up at hospitals and blood banks to give blood. Filling station operators across the country spontaneously doubled the price of gasoline.

As working people asked what they could do to help in the nation's time of crisis they were essentially told to go to the nearest mall and shop till you drop. Or, better yet, buy a new SUV at zero percent interest. That would show the terrorists that they had failed to change America.

But the bosses quickly realized there were even bigger opportunities to exploit the tragedy. Soon we began to hear "9/11 changed everything."

The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were now used—dishonestly—to explain the recession.

They were utilized to justify the far-reaching attacks on civil liberties in the cleverly named USA Patriot Act, and the creation of a new Homeland Security super-Agency.

And workers were told we must be prepared to make sacrifices and strikes would be a threat to national security.

Most workers want to see those responsible for 9/11 brought to justice. When President Bush, with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, declared a "War on Terrorism" he was catapulted from being America's second choice for President to the highest approval rating in history.

The U.S. military, with some token support from allies, launched a crusade to capture and/or destroy Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. Afghanistan was pounded relentlessly by U.S. and British bombers. Alliances were forged with various Afghan war lords—many of them drug dealers, some of them users of rape as a tactical weapon. Then elite U.S., British and Canadian ground forces were sent in to search every last hideout.

We'll never know exactly how many Afghans—mainly civilians—were killed by bombs, artillery and land mines. Certainly it was a greater number than those who perished at the WTC and Pentagon—though that is hardly consolation.

A king was restored in Afghanistan—but not civil order. The country is still fragmented into areas controlled by various brutal, well armed factions.

But, after all this, Osama bin Laden is apparently still at large and his network blamed for recent terrorist attacks.

Frustrated with the failure to apprehend those charged with responsibility for 9/11 Bush has now decided to target another evil-doer whose whereabouts is well known—Saddam Hussein.

These new war plans go far beyond any question of apprehending the 9/11 terrorists or even vengeance against their sympathizers. Undoubtedly Saddam Hussein has done many evil things but connection with 9/11 or bin Laden's network are not among them. Bush hopes our outrage over 9/11 will carry over to support for a war on Baghdad.

Bush's motives for this war threat appear to mainly be personal self-interest. With the economy going to hell, corporate scandals touching his administration, and after striking out on apprehending bin Laden, Bush is looking to a resurgence of patriotism and war fever to once again bolster his popularity. And, of course, there are old scores from the elder Bush administration that remain to be settled. Toppling Saddam Hussein would finally remove a stain on the Bush family honor.

Up to this point the main stream of the Establishment has supported Bush's war and security efforts. They cheered beating up on Afghanistan. Employers using patriotic and security issues have been able to drive some hard bargains with many unions—including those of the fire and police heroes of New York City. In general they like the Homeland Security moves that can monitor and discourage domestic dissidents as well as any foreign agents. And they like very much the sharp increase in military spending.

But war on Iraq is a different kettle of fish. They already decided against that option, to the embarrassment of Bush I, after the Gulf War. Once Kuwait was liberated and Saddam Hussein isolated, they didn't want to get into a bloody land war, with perhaps tens of thousands of casualties. The allies who largely financed the Gulf War wanted no part of a fight-to-the-finish in Baghdad. Nobody relished the idea of having American troops occupy Iraq for a long period while carrying out suitable "nation building." While Bush may think like a Klingon most capitalists are guided by a philosophy similar to the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

A key player in helping to make that decision in 1991 was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell. Powell is now in the awkward position of being Bush's Secretary of State. Clearly Powell is no more enthusiastic about invading Iraq today than he was in 1991, when the Iraqi army was in retreat. And you can bet that he knows better than most that any invasion of Iraq will inspire thousands of new terrorists throughout the Middle East ready for vengeance and martyrdom. He is trying to be loyal, trying to find some face-saving solution.

For the first time members of congress are raising questions about Bush's war plans. Islamic governments that gave their blessing to both the Gulf War and the attacks on Afghanistan are urgently warning Bush not to go into Iraq. Russia and Germany have also taken a strong stand against. Only the "New Labour" British PM, sounding more and more every day like Old Tory Thatcher, is on point for Bush.

A friend asked me the other day what I thought about the chances of war. I replied that I thought Bush would probably have to back down in the face of opposition from most of Big Business here as well as almost all allies abroad.

My friend, while conceding I was probably right, cautioned me about assuming that players always understand and follow their own best interests. I believe he makes a good point. Sometimes leaders can get carried away by the momentum of their own rhetoric.

That's why we shouldn't count on the powers that be to do the right thing. Working people, while commemorating the victims of 9/11, and hoping that those responsible will be brought to justice, should at the same time actively oppose the Bush drive to war on Iraq.

I was very encouraged by a resolution recently adopted by the Washington state AFL-CIO convention. Here is the final resolved of this excellent piece:

RESOLVED that the Washington State Labor Council urge the AFL-CIO and its affiliates to oppose the U.S. government's open-ended "war on terrorism" and participate in rallies, marches and other activities to pressure President Bush and Congress to stop the war and redirect money from corporate handouts and the military budget to assist laid- off workers, restore and expand public services, and promote global justice by providing humanitarian and economic aid--administered by unions--to our brothers and sisters in other countries.

It is gratifying that despite all the mis- and dis- information, the cynical manipulation of deepest emotions, and the threats, the working class continues to understand and advance its interests through its mass organizations. This is our best hope for peace and justice in this violent and unjust world.

As this tragic anniversary passes we should heed the advice of Mother Jones—mourn our dead and fight like hell for the living. To secure our homeland we need to fight

against attacks on our civil liberties
against efforts to undermine our collective bargaining
and, above all, against war