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War Is a Working Class Issue
What We Support—What We Oppose

by Bill Onasch

As I write this the working people of America, and indeed of the entire world, are bracing ourselves for the prospect of imminent war. Governments and media on all sides will be appealing for God’s blessing and rallying around the flag. Without abandoning our faith or patriotism we nevertheless should resist demagogic appeals. Instead we need to calmly examine where the interests of the working class majority lie, what we should support and what we should oppose in this time of grave crisis. 

What We Support

§         On the KC Labor web site on Day One we condemned without qualification the attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

§         We want those responsible brought to justice—just as was done with prior terrorist attackers in Lockerbie, the previous bombing of the World Trade Center, and in Oklahoma City.

§         We favor material support—both public and private—for the victims of the attacks and has provided direct links to those collecting funds for workers families.

§         We recognize the need for reasonable improvements in security for air travel and in the workplace.

 What We Oppose

§         The racist backlash against Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims of all colors.

§         Detention without probable cause of immigrants.

§         Physical threats against dissenting views.

§         Wide ranging proposals to repeal or suspend civil liberties.

§         Employers using the crisis as an excuse to demand give-backs from their workers.

§         And, above all, the moves to take us into an open-ended, ill-defined bloody war.

President Bush’s September 20 speech to congress contained ominous remarks. Pledging to “wipe out all terrorist groups with global reach” he indicated that this might take in as many as sixty countries. He warned all “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” While Bush directed these remarks to other states there will be plenty who will use this line to condemn any Americans who disagree with his policy as being with the terrorists as well.

The opposition Democrats have not offered much hope for those wanting a rational, democratic discussion of life-and-death issues.  “We are resolved to work together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. In other words—get with the program or you’re not a loyal American. When a fellow Democrat, Representative Barbara Lee from California, cast the sole dissenting vote against a nonbinding resolution supporting open-ended war she was treated as a pariah, and had to be assigned a body guard because of death threats.

Nor was Daschle much help on reassuring us that our most basic social programs would be protected. Asked on CBS' The Early Show if he is prepared to spend the entire Social Security surplus to battle terrorism, Daschle replied: “We have to put our nation's security before we put any other questions to the Congress or to the American people.”

But clearly the bipartisan plans shaping up in Washington go far beyond security or bringing the criminals behind the September 11 attacks to justice.

After those responsible for the Lockerbie airliner bombing took refuge in Libya the U.S. and Britain demanded that they be turned over for trial. The Libyans replied that they would do that if evidence was produced against the suspects. After a third-party court certified that there was evidence Libya did turn over the suspects who were tried and convicted of the crime.

The Taliban made a similar response when the U.S. demanded that they turn over bin Laden. Were they sincere? We’ll never know because Washington refused to offer any evidence and declared there would be no negotiation over this issue.

Other, Unspoken Agendas

Undoubtedly millions of Americans are feeling rage and thirsting for revenge. In their present frame of mind they take heart hearing the President declare “no negotiations” and promising to put an end to terror “once and for all.”

But such dangerous—though understandable—emotions are not what determines national policy. The politicians and brass hats formulating strategy do their best to play on such sentiment but they are coolly pursuing additional, unspoken agendas. These include:

§         Advancing and securing the global interests of Corporate America.

§         Justifying not only continuation but expansion of the arms industry that had been threatened by the end of the Cold War.

§         Convincing or intimidating unions to show restraint, even give back concessions, while America is at war.

§         Using the demands of war to justify more sacrificing of the environment to the oil drillers, mining companies, and logging operations.

§         New curbs on civil liberties to discourage dissent.

§         Diverting the budget from social programs and protective agencies to many varieties of corporate subsidies.

These objectives are not in the interest of the working class majority. All would meet fierce opposition if pursued outside the context of war.

It is not unpatriotic to oppose such scams. On the contrary, it is those who cynically manipulate our reaction to a terrible crime to promote their own greed, and lust for power, that are stabbing our nation in the back. And it will be American workers and our sons and daughters—along with innocent workers and peasants of other lands—who will pay dearly with both blood and money for the selfish class aims of the elite.

I realize these words will not be popular with many. The early stages of war have always been difficult for the working class. But I believe we must tell it like it is, and do the right thing, no matter what the consequences.

I lived through the era of the Vietnam War and saw the early flag waving enthusiasm eventually evolve into a majority mass movement against that war, finally helping close that tragic chapter in our history. I hope it will not take so long and cost so much for us to put a stop to the coming war.

There are some encouraging signs. Students—who led the way in opposing the Vietnam War—already have started organizing teach-ins and rallies at campuses across the country. Last Sunday three thousand marched in Portland, Oregon both mourning the September 11 victims and opposing war. In every city people of faith are gathering to discuss what can be done to obtain peace. We should join their discussions and actions to pursue both justice and peace. War is a working class issue and peace should be the top working class objective.

September 21, 2001 

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