Labor Advocate Online
Labor Day 2006 Special


War is a working class issue. The great American labor leader and socialist, Eugene Debs summed it up well,

“The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.”

Debs was well aware of how the bosses try to wrap themselves in the Flag when they send the workers off to fight for their corporate agenda. He was branded a traitor, and imprisoned for making a speech against the first World War. He said,

“Do not worry over the charge of treason to your masters, but be concerned about the treason that involves yourselves. Be true to yourselves and you cannot be a traitor to any good cause on earth.”

On Labor Day, 2003 we wrote,

"Workers in uniform are under the gun in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan—sent there under false pretenses. They are used not to defend our national security but to promote the profits of Big Business. Good people—Americans, Brits, Iraqis, Afghans, and others—are being killed and wounded. Family lives are being disrupted. The costs of war and occupation are devouring our taxes. And ‘Homeland Security’ exploits fear of terrorism to undermine our democratic rights, including worker rights to organize and bargain."

Unfortunately, there is no need to change a single word in 2006. In Iraq the situation has gotten much worse.

Prewar Iraq had the best health care system in the Arab world. That has totally collapsed, resulting in thousands of needless deaths.

Electricity and water distribution, wrecked by war, is still far below prewar levels.

Once considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world Baghdad is now largely rubble or barricades.

For decades Iraq was a secular society with widespread intermarriage, and neighborhood integration of its diverse religious and ethnic groups in most regions—a far better example in this regard than segregated America. The U.S. occupation consciously stirred up long dormant divisions between Shia and Sunni, Arab, Turkmen, and Kurd. As a result, sectarian violence is now rampant, on the verge of a civil war such as engulfed Lebanon through the 1980-90s.

The only bright spot in Iraq is the resurrection of the trade union movement. Unions played a proud, important role in Iraq before their repression under Saddam Hussein. The U.S. occupation has tried to maintain the anti-union laws of the old dictatorship but the workers have fought back, winning some real gains here and there. They have also reached out and formed alliances with women’s rights and student groups, such as the Iraq Freedom Congress. These are the only mass organizations of Iraqi working people that are not tied to either collaborators with the occupation or armed groups with a sectarian agenda.

Of course, American workers have suffered as a result of this unjust war and occupation as well. As of this Labor Day 2700 GIs have been killed in Iraq, more than 20,000 wounded. The cost in material resources is staggering—over 300 billion already spent with present commitments estimated by Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University to ultimately total at least a trillion dollars.

There is no question that a majority of American working people want to see an end to this war. The media talks about the coming congressional election being a “referendum on the Iraq war.” But a referendum requires at least two clear, counterposed choices. That simply is not the case in the coming contest between the major parties.

While the Democrats hope to gain from antiwar sentiment they focus their fire not on the war itself but on Bush’s handling of the war. They hint that they could do better. The most “radical” among them want a phased “redeployment” of troops to stand by positions elsewhere in the Middle East—ready to rapidly return to the ground in Iraq if needed—while continuing all along air strikes in Iraq. Most don’t go even that far.

You don’t get the right answers if you don’t pose the right questions There is no way for those of us who believe this is an unjust war, based on lies, against the interests of working people in both countries, to express ourselves through this phony “referendum.” There are virtually no major party candidates who call for bringing the troops home and now.

As in Iraq, one bright spot in the struggle against the Iraq war in this country has come from sections of the labor movement. U.S. Labor Against the War has been the most consistent advocate of the demand to Bring the Troops Home Now. Launched from “below” by secondary leaders and rank and file activists, USLAW has made considerable progress in chipping away at the Cold War legacy of unions giving lock step, carte blanche backing to every imperial adventure to advance Big Business. Through tireless internal education USLAW advocates have put nine national unions, six state feds, ten central labor councils, and dozens of local union bodies on record against the war. Even the last AFL-CIO convention called for rapid withdrawal from Iraq. The Labor Party was also an early endorser of USLAW.

In addition to resolutions, USLAW has also built concrete solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists, touring Iraqi leaders in the United States and raising sorely needed material support for their organizations. And they have built a visible labor presence in mass demonstrations against the war.

Over December 1-3 labor opponents of the Iraq war will gather in Cleveland for three consecutive events—USLAW’s National Assembly (decision making convention); a protest march and rally; and a labor and war educational conference. These gatherings deserve national, and international, support.

While much progress has been made in educating and mobilizing the working class around the Iraq war the same cannot be said for the even longer running war in Afghanistan. Launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 few questioned its stated goal of apprehending those responsible for that outrage. There have been fewer American casualties, far less publicity about this other war.

But that doesn’t make it a just war. While bin Laden is still at large thousands of Afghan noncombatants have been killed and the country has fallen into chaos. Old war lords have been given a fresh start and now even the Taliban is getting a new lease on life as fighters against foreign invaders. Opium production in Afghanistan has set new records.

Bush has sought to get some relief from this failure by convincing NATO allies that don’t dare openly support the Iraq war to assume more responsibility for Afghanistan. It’s no consolation that more Canadian, British and Dutch troops are dying in this dirty war instead of Americans.

More education and action is required around conflicts where no U.S. forces are directly involved but where Washington is a primary player. Bush, closely collaborating with Israel and NATO allies, moved to cancel aid to the Palestinian Authority to try to overthrow the newly and freely elected Hamas government and also gave material and diplomatic support to Israel’s brutal invasion of Lebanon. Fortunately, some courageous stands around this issue as well have begun to be taken here and there in the labor movement.

If we continue to build on the growing antiwar sentiment among American workers we can have a better report next Labor Day.

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