U.S. Labor Against the War

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”We are living in an era in which the government has
manipulated our nation’s fear of terrorism to launch
wars, destroy our economic security, undermine government
services, erode our democratic rights and
intensify racism, sexism, religious discrimination and
divisions among working people.”
—From the U.S. Labor Against the War Mission
Statement, 10/25/03
Since its founding in 2003, US Labor Against the War
(USLAW) has been the most important labor union voice
against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the Middle
East in general. The organization’s premise is simple:
our country’s serious social and economic problems cannot
be solved without addressing US foreign policy and its
consequences.
Although the organization was founded during the
Bush Administration, the same concerns about the direction
of our foreign policy continue under the Obama
Administration. Unfortunately, allocating trillions of dollars
for war and Wall Street bailouts is a bipartisan
approach. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars continue, soldiers
and civilians continue to die and be horribly wounded,
people continue to be displaced all over the Middle
East and elsewhere, and the US Congress continues the
funding.
After eight years of the Bush Administration, President
Obama seemed like a breath of fresh air. Many in the antiwar
movement had grown tired and disheartened after so
many years of war with no obvious end in sight. Barack
Obama and many Democrats were elected on a hopeful
and anti-war platform. But although the Obama Administration
has promised to end the Iraq War, very few US
troops have come home. President Obama has no plans to
fully withdraw; rather there are plans to leave military
bases with thousands of US troops. For Afghanistan, the
picture is even more grim since Obama has already sent
20,000 more troops, and we can expect more deployments
in the future. Afghanistan could easily be Obama’s Vietnam.
The Soviet Union tried and failed to occupy that
country, as did other empires throughout history. The US
is not going to win in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The
troops will come home sooner or later.
Given these realities, it is obvious that USLAW is still
profoundly important. And indeed, the organization has
continued to grow. As of May 2009, there are 195 affiliates
including national and regional organizations, central
labor bodies, large and small local unions, allied labor
organizations, ad hoc labor anti-war groups, and workers’
centers. USLAW has grown from 149 organizations in
2006 to 195 today, which is an increase of about 31%.
Locally, the Campus Faculty Association (formerly the
Union of Professional Employees) is a founding member,
and two delegates participated in its founding meeting in
Chicago. Illinois is well represented with 14 affiliates as of
2008. The parent unions with the most affiliates nationally
are AFT, AFSCME, and SEIU.
What does USLAW propose to do, given the grave and
complex situation in which we now find ourselves?
USLAW advocates a just foreign policy, diplomacy rather
than war, global social and economic justice, an end to all
US occupations with reconstruction of war-devastated
countries, redirecting military funds to the needs of working
families, supporting our troops by bringing them
home, protecting worker’s rights and the human rights of
all, and solidarity with workers around the world. In addition,
USLAW has worked for justice and organized for
change in Iraq and here at home by sending two delegations
to Iraq to investigate workers conditions, sponsoring
US tours for Iraqi labor leaders, working against the privatization
of Iraqi oil, developing a great website resource for
activists (http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org), and getting
the AFL-CIO to adopt a resolution against the Iraq War.
Is there hope to actually change US policy? Many
activists threw themselves into electing Obama and other
Democrats. The current Administration owes its election
to anti-war voters. Obama would have never won so many
primaries unless he successfully differentiated himself
from the other candidates through his anti-war rhetoric.
Other Democrats did the same for national, state, and local
offices. There is a temptation to become tired, frustrated
and disillusioned when it appears that Obama is just continuing
the Bush policies with a different public relations
façade. But it is up to us to remind them that they were
elected for a reason, and the growth of USLAW shows that
many are determined to change US foreign policy no matter
how long it takes and no matter who is in office in
Washington. In fact, we have an opening to do so.
Obama likes to talk about change. We can only get real
change by adopting a just foreign policy and bringing the
troops home. Organizations like US Labor Against the War
are struggling to bring positive change to our country as
soon as possible. Those in power must remember that
unions still represent millions of workers. A growing number
of labor organizations envision a new foreign policy,
and they are organizing to change the world.

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