The level of violence in Iraq is rapidly escalating and the country is falling apart. There are calls for sending back US troops. Syria’s catastrophic civil war is being fueled by arms shipments from various directions. There are calls for direct US military intervention. US troops remain in Afghanistan. The Afghan election is being contested and US military power is being used to broker a new political structure, but the Taliban is again at work. US drones are bombing Pakistan and Yemen. Is there any way to effectively oppose US militarism? If there is any chance in doing so, it has to be through organized political actions. Although the US labor movement has shrunk dramatically over the last years, it still counts millions of members, and perhaps mobilizing those members can make a real difference. And there is an organization trying to do just that.
Belden Fields and I attended a large conference in Chicago in October 2003 to formally constitute U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW). We represented the Campus Faculty Association (CFA), which is of course now trying to organize a formal faculty union at UIUC. CFA became a founding member of the organization.
USLAW is a national organization of unions and other labor groups, originally organized to oppose George Bush’s threat to go to war against Iraq. It is an independent body funded almost exclusively by union membership dues, individual memberships, and small donations. It does not receive any funding from the AFL-CIO, and foundation grants account for less than 1% of revenue.
As of July 2014, there are 128 organizational members, including 3 national unions (Amalgamated Transit Union; Communication Workers of America; and United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers), 2 allied labor organizations (Coalition of Labor Union Women and Pride at Work), 6 state AFL-CIO federations, 15 regional labor bodies (including SEIU Illinois State Council and UE Western Region [IL]), 16 city AFL-CIO councils, 21 large labor unions with more than 10,000 members (including the Chicago Teachers Union [AFT] and SEIU Local 1 [Midwest]), 61 small locals, 12 allied labor organizations (including Jobs with Justice, Chicago Chapter), 4 ad hoc anti-war labor groups, and 8 other labor bodies. And there are also 24 partners and allies, including groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, Code Pink and the Institute for Policy Studies.
USLAW is currently organized around 7 campaigns: International Labor Solidarity, New Priorities Network, Jobs Not Wars, Economic Conversion-Just Transition, lobbying the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Labor Rights and Civil Liberties in the US, and Veterans and Military Families. Probably the most high profile campaigns have been US tours for Iraqi labor leaders, and US solidarity delegations to report on labor conditions in Iraq. These tours have provided unique solidarity experiences.
In the last 4 ½ years, USLAW has issued 61 policy statements. The organization has not limited itself to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now mobilizes around other US foreign and military interventions, including those in Israel/Palestine, Libya, Iran, Syria and Ukraine. And of course, many of the statements deal with the other campaigns mentioned above. The leadership is also encouraged to participate in conference call briefings around other related issues.
The leadership is very active indeed. Those on the leadership listserv have received 12 email messages in the last month, and there have been 2 alerts and 2 briefings for the entire membership. The alerts are perhaps most noteworthy. They included “Tell Obama Not to Attack Iraq (Again)” and “Ask Your Member of Congress to Cosponsor House Concurrent Resolution 105 to Pull Troops Out of Iraq.” The conference call briefings were against military intervention in Iraq and Syria and a United for Peace and Justice call on “The US ‘Asia-Pacific Pivot’ and the Struggle for US-China Peace and Security.” There was also notification for the leadership on a “Peace Table Sept. Climate Mobilization” related to a September People’s Climate March on the United Nations.
See the website (http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/) for valuable resources.
Al Kagan is Professor of Library Administration and African Studies Bibliographer Emeritus at the University of Illinois. He has been very involved with the Campus Faculty Association and its predecessor, the Union of Professional Employees (UPE) for many years. He has served on the Executive Committees of both organizations and was UPE President for several years.