Labor’s Toll Was Heavy September 11 and After

A Statement by the Labor Party Interim National Council

The following statement was adopted by the Labor Party’s Interim National Council on October 5, on the eve of U.S. aerial attacks on Afghanistan.

The terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on September 11 struck at the heart of working New York.

From the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union members at Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the north tower to the maintenance crew in the sub-basement (SEIU 32BJ), the labor movement lost hundreds of our brothers and sisters on that horrible day. Among the missing: members of CWA, AFSCME, AFT, the Public Employees Federation, OPEIU, the operating engineers, the Civil Service Employees Association, 52 members of IBEW, hundreds of Carpenters Union members, 26 flight attendants, and eight pilots.

The Labor Party mourns the loss of all the estimated 5,000 people — ordinary workers, moms, dads, best friends — who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Our sympathies lie with the families, friends, and coworkers of those lost, and with the 9,000 people who suffered injuries in the attacks.

In the weeks since the tragedy, the goodness and courage of working people has been on full display. Hundreds of firefighters and police gave their lives to the rescue effort; one of every 33 New York City firefighters was lost. Medical workers, construction workers, and so many others from across the country showed up to help in the search for survivors and the cleanup, while utility, telephone, and scads of other workers began the gargantuan job of reconstruction.

Those who couldn’t assist in efforts at the wreckage sites found other ways to help. They donated food to rescuers; they gave comfort to their coworkers. The New York City Central Labor Council set up a worker support center to aid the survivors and the thousands of other workers left shaken and jobless.

In the wake of the disaster, the political and economic landscape has changed dramatically. Working people are bearing the brunt of a drastic economic downturn. In New York City, an estimated 100,000 workers will lose their jobs, at least temporarily. Nationwide, workers in the airline, hotel, tourist, and financial industries face mass layoffs or the threat of layoffs.

Many politicians have suddenly recognized the federal government’s power to bolster the economy and address social needs. Most now agree that some kind of federal stimulus is necessary to give the economy a boost. Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s idea of “stimulus” would only bolster corporations and the wealthy, in the form of capital gains and corporate tax cuts. Meanwhile, the airline industry has successfully pressed Congress for a $15 billion bailout. But no federal aid has yet been channeled to workers themselves.

We call for full economic protection for all workers affected by the September 11 tragedy, and for an injection of federal funds into the economy in ways that will benefit all Americans, including a permanent and major increase in unemployment compensation benefits. It’s not only in times of national emergency that aid should be rushed to those in need. A stimulus package should also include a commitment to rebuild our railways, public transit systems, and infrastructure.

The Bush administration is also trying to take advantage of the current climate of “bipartisanship” to force through its proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The plan represented an assault on workers before September 11, and it still does today.

At press time, the administration and Congress were close to agreeing on a wide range of new law enforcement powers: detention of immigrants considered suspicious; giving the CIA and other spy agencies information uncovered through grand jury subpoenas, including phone calls, computer use, and financial transactions; allowing police to obtain credit card and other payment information from communications companies; allowing foreign wiretap evidence in trials even if it was collected illegally; and allowing authorities to search a home or business without telling the targets afterward.

We must not let the horrific attack of September 11 undermine some of the very things we value most in our society: the right to privacy, freedom of speech, the freedom to dissent, and freedom from discrimination. The terrorist win if we allow them to turn us against one another on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Solidarity means standing up to anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant attacks.

There’s only one way for the American people to achieve true security: Workers here and around the globe must win their rights and secure their share of the world’s wealth. As Samuel Gompers said a century ago, we want more justice and less revenge.

To support the New York City Central Labor Council’s Worker Support Center, send contributions to the NYC Central Labor Council Disaster Fund, 386 Park Avenue South, Room 601, New York, NY 10016.