Text of remarks made by Michael Eisenscher on
behalf of U.S. Labor Against the War, at a conference on globalization at
DePaul University in Chicago, Thursday, August 5,
International Labor Opposition to War &
The Case of U.S. Labor Against the War
Conference on Globalization, DePaul University, August 5, 2004
I want to thank the organizers of this important conference for their kind
invitation to USLAW to send a speaker and I am pleased and privileged to
be that representative this evening. Deliberations like those which
will take place during this conference are an important contribution to
the building of a global movement for social and economic justice, for
peace, and respect for human rights over property rights.
It doesn't take a college degree to figure out that if you've dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. Then you get out as quickly as possible before the sides cave in or that hole fills with water...or someone builds an outhouse over it.
President-select G.W. Bush has got our country and its troops into one whopping hole in Iraq, a virtual sink-hole that has swallowed up nearly 1000 U.S. troops, wounded 6000 others, killed by various estimates 13,000 to 37,000 Iraqis and maimed, wounded, dislocated and dispossessed tens of thousands of other innocent civilians. It has consumed $126 billion already, with the meter still running and the likelihood of a request for $50-60 billion more after the election.
But the tab is larger than a lot of money and lives. The price of this imperial expedition includes the very rights, freedoms and liberties in whose name it is being prosecuted. The price includes the prestige, influence, and moral standing of the U.S. in the world community of nations. It has isolated the U.S. and turned even traditional allies against us.
The price includes dismantling what remains of the New Deal and Great Society social safety net and cuts in or elimination of vital social programs to meet human needs. The price also includes the literal takeover of our federal government by a cabal of neocon ideologues, rightwing religious extremists and corporate henchmen bent on reducing government's function to the military, the cops, courts and prisons, the enforcement of property rights, and then privatizing whatever is left.
In U.S. Labor Against the War, we don't just talk about the War in Iraq, or the War in Afghanistan. There's another war being prosecuted with equal zeal and that war is going on right here in the U.S. It is a war against us&a war against the American working class. The casualties of that war are all around us.
Grover Norquist proclaimed his goal is to "shrink government down to a size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Who is Grover Norquist? The Wall St. Journal calls him "the V.I. Lenin of the anti-tax movement." He's the general leading the charge, the most powerful conservative lobbyist in Washington. He favors abolishing the IRS, Food & Drug Administration, Education Department and National Endowment for the Arts.
In an interview with Bill Moyers in 2003, he said, "We've set as a conservative movement a goal of reducing the size and cost of government in half in 25 years, which is taking it from a third of the economy to about 17 percent, taking 20 million government employees and looking to privatize and get other opportunities so that you don't have all the jobs that are presently done by government done by government employees. We need a Federal government that does what the government needs to do, and stops doing what the government ought not to be doing."
In 2003, there were about 19.7 million public workers in the U.S. But of that number, only 2.4 million are Federal employees, another 850 thousand are postal service employees, 5.6 million work in state government and nearly 11 million are employed by local government. Norquist is not just talking about the Federal government. His target is the very concept of a public sector.
U.S. Labor against the War was founded in January 2003 at an emergency conference convened in Chicago at Teamster Local 705 hall. More than 200 delegates participated from unions representing more than two million union members in the U.S. who came together to try to prevent a war in Iraq. We did not succeed in preventing the war but we did help build an extraordinary and unprecedented antiwar movement within the American labor movement, part of the global movement in opposition to King George's policy of militarism, unilateralism and pre-emptive war (which is a misnomer. Because Iraq posed no threat to the U.S., there was nothing to pre-empt). The war in Iraq is pure and simple a war of aggression, a violation of international war. George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleesa Rice, and Colin Powell join the ranks of Agusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger as international war criminals.
In October of 2003, we convened the National Labor Assembly for Peace, also in Chicago, which established USLAW as a permanent organization with a broader mission - securing a just foreign policy that strengthens international treaties, supports human rights, respects national sovereignty and upholds the right of self-determination, one that relies on diplomacy and principle, rather than militarism and intimidation. We want a foreign policy that promotes global economic and social justice instead of the race-to-the-bottom, job-destroying, poverty-perpetuating practices of multinational corporations.
USLAW stands in opposition to the U.S. occupation of foreign countries. We want to redirect the nation's resources from inflated military spending to meeting the needs of working people here and abroad - for health care, education, a clean environment, housing and a decent standard of living.
We support the men and women in the U.S. Military and their families who have been asked to sacrifice all for a lie. Half of the nation's 3.2 million soldiers are reservists and members of the National Guard. While Army Rangers earn $18,000 a year, 20,000 contract mercenaries in Iraq earn as much as $1000 per day.
Bush & Co. are generous in their talk about "supporting the troops." But their words are not matched by their deeds. Just before Memorial Day, the White House announced plans to cut health care benefits for veterans. The same day Bush visited Walter Reed Army Hospital last January, the White House informed 164,000 veterans it was immediately cutting off their access to the VA health care system. On the eve of the war, the White House announced it would roll back increases in "imminent danger" pay from $225 to $150 and the family separation allowance from $250 to $100. Two weeks later it announced it opposed giving the Guard and Reserve access to the Pentagon's health insurance system, even though one of five Guard members have no health insurance. In 2006, it plans to cut Veteransspending by $910 million.
While there are 43 million Americans who lack even basic health insurance, George Bush and the Congress enjoy socialized medicine, completely government-paid comprehensive health insurance. We think if that health care system is good enough for an AWOL, combat averse fly-boy from Texas, it should be good enough for those he now puts in harm's way.
USLAW is unequivocal: We say the best way to support the troops is to end the occupation and bring them home to their families, jobs and communities NOW!
While the Bush administration unleashed its smart bombs on the people of Iraq, it also had the U.S. labor movement in its cross-hairs. Bushs hostility to organized labor was evident from the day he was installed by the Supreme Court. He scuttled the ergonomic standard that would have protected millions of workers from disabling repetitive stress injuries. He seeks to turn the clock back on the 8 hour day. With the stroke of a pen, his administration stripped 170,000 federal employees of their union representation when it transferred them to the Homeland Security Department. It denied 60,000 airport security screeners, most of them poorly paid immigrants, the right to collective bargaining. Retired Admiral James Loy, Undersecretary of Transportation, said, "Mandatory collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war on terrorism." Yet, as Stuart Acuff, AFL-CIO Director of Organizing so aptly notes, virtually every emergency worker who risked and lost their lives in the World Trade Towers attempting to rescue its occupants & every cop, every fire fighter, every EMT & was a union member. They were good enough to sacrifice their lives in that inferno, but they are not good enough to negotiate the terms of their employment with the Homeland Security Department.
As the global antiwar movement mushroomed in early 2003, USLAW reached out to unions, labor councils, allied labor organizations and labor antiwar committees across the country. By the time hostilities began in March, unions representing more than 6 million workers had gone on record against Bush's war. USLAW initiated a global antiwar appeal that in a few weeks garnered the support of more than 200 labor organizations and federations in 53 countries representing more than 130 million workers around the world. Even the AFL-CIO Executive Council at its February, 2003 meeting adopted a resolution opposing Bush's unilateralism, linking the war abroad and its cost to working people at home. It was an unprecedented, if modest, step toward independence, the first break by the AFL-CIO with the hegemony of U.S. foreign policy since its founding in 1954.
Today, USLAW is composed of more than 80 affiliates local unions, labor councils, regional and state labor bodies like the Maryland State and DC Federation of Labor, allied labor groups like the Coalition of Labor Union Women and Pride at Work, labor antiwar committees and other labor organizations. Just this summer, USLAW was instrumental in getting the national conventions of the SEIU and AFSCME and the state convention of the California Labor Federation to adopt strong resolutions in opposition to continued occupation of Iraq. Similar resolutions will be introduced at other union and state labor federation conventions that are coming up.
Last October, USLAW sent the first trade union delegation to Iraq, an international labor delegation that included two Americans, David Bacon, widely respected independent photojournalist, and Clarence Thomas (the real Clarence Thomas), Executive Board member of ILWU Local 10.
The five-person delegation, assisted by Occupation Watch, toured workplaces and met with Iraqi workers and union leaders. One of their most startling discoveries was that the U.S.-run Occupation Authority continued to enforce a 1987 law enacted by Saddam Hussein banning all unions in the public sector and public enterprises, which employ a majority of Iraqis workers. Their findings are contained in a printed report, copies of which are available form USLAW for $2.00.
USLAW has established fraternal relations with the two democratic labor federations in Iraq, the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, and the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq and its allied Union of the Unemployed. As we meet this evening, USLAW Co-convenor Grene Bruskin is on his way to Europe to present each federation with $5000 checks, funds which USLAW raised for an Iraqi Labor Solidarity Fund intended to provide concrete support to the struggling unions of Iraq. We invite you to make a contribution to the fund, which you can do at our website at www.uslaboragainstwar.org.
Last year we also published an important exposť that revealed the labor, human rights, environmental, and criminal records of 18 U.S. corporations granted no-bid contracts in Iraq - a veritable "rogues gallery" of corporate miscreants and malefactors. That report is also available for download from our website. It has been translated into Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, French and German and has been circulated to union leaders throughout Iraq. Even Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was given a copy and expressed shock when he read the record of corporations bent on privatizing the Iraqi economy and turning it into a Petri dish for their neoliberal experiment a beachhead for free trade in the Middle East.
After 12 years of economic sanctions, after militarily destroying much of the infrastructure and industry of the country, after allowing widespread looting and destabilizing Iraqi civil society, after setting the country up for civil war and stoking the fires of religious fundamentalism and intolerance, the U.S., in violation of international law, has tried to turn Iraq into a giant international garage sale. In September of 2003, the U.S.-dominated Iraq Provisional Authority issued an order making all Iraqi industries except the oil industry subject to sale to foreign owners and allowing international investors virtually unregulated freedom to buy Iraqi industry and national assets and to repatriate 100% of their profits from those investments.
USLAW has been instrumental in initiating and circulating an international declaration in support of workers rights in Iraq. That declaration calls for respect for the International Labor Organization conventions regarding the rights of workers to organize, bargain and strike free of interference or constraint by employers, government or other outsiders. Both the AFL-CIO and International Confederation of Free Trade Unions have made strong statements in support of labor rights in Iraq.
Many affiliates of USLAW have expressed deep concern about the continued reliance by the AFL-CIO on the National Endowment for Democracy for funding of its international programs. The NED is a funnel for government funds that was created by the Reagan administration after revelations about the CIA interference in the internal affairs of other governments and support for opposition organizations intent on destabilizing governments perceived to be hostile to or critical of U.S. policy. The NED funded some of the organizations involved in the coup to overthrow the Chavez government of Venezuela and it continues to interfere in Venezuelan civil society. Reliance on NED funding gives the appearance, if not the reality, of AFL-CIO collaboration with and support for U.S. foreign policy. The California Labor Federation and California Federation of Teachers both recently passed good resolutions calling upon the AFL-CIO to break its ties with the NED and to rely instead on worker and union contributions, not government grants, to fund its international solidarity work.
USLAW is now mobilizing to participate in a labor contingent in NYC at the GOP convention on August 29th. We continue to reach out to unions, labor council and other labor bodies to encourage their affiliation. We aim to build a movement within organized labor for a new direction in U.S. foreign policy and domestic priorities. We invite you to support this effort by becoming individual associate members and encouraging your union or other labor organization to affiliate. At our website, you can become an associate member of USLAW and download information about how to become an affiliate.
I encourage you to become active in and support Chicago Labor for Peace, Prosperity and Justice, and Chicago Labor Against War. Help us to build and expand the antiwar component of the Chicago labor movement.
USLAW also offers an excellent educational workshop on War & the Economy, developed in collaboration with United for Fair Economy. The workshop is very effective in explaining the connection between a militarized foreign policy and the erosion of rights, welfare and security of working people.
I invite you to check out the literature we've brought, and to buy one of our sure-to-be-a-collector's item labor antiwar buttons. Unfortunately, I cannot remain throughout the entire conference, but I look forward to meeting many of you and responding to your questions about USLAW while I am able to participate this evening and tomorrow.
U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW)
P.O. Box 153
1718 "M" Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Bob Muehlenkamp and Gene Bruskin, Co-convenors
Amy Newell, National Organizer
Michael Eisenscher, Organizer & Web Coordinator
Erin McGrath, Administrative Staff
McAfee and Angelina Grab, Radical Fusion - Website