Labor Joins Anti-war Coalition


2-5-07, 9:31 am

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Unionists and their allies, led by U.S. Labor Against The War, joined other anti-war activists in lobbying lawmakers on Jan. 29 against GOP President George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, and his latest escalation.   The lobbying, which saw more than 800 people host an all-day forum on the war for lawmakers and their staffers in a congressional office building, came after labor took a prominent role in the Jan. 27 massive anti-war march in downtown Washington.   Its lead sponsoring organization, United for Peace and Justice, said 400,000-500,000 people marched, while CNN reported “tens of thousands.” There were no official estimates, but the crowds took hours to parade around the Capitol and march down the Mall. Large contingents came from the Communications Workers and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Participants came from as far as Wisconsin and Illinois.   Labor made its support for withdrawal known not just through USLAW, but through Fred D. Mason, Jr. President of the Maryland-D.C. AFL-CIO, who told the crowd he spoke for the 10-million-member national labor federation and its president, John J. Sweeney.   Mason is also a co-convenor of USLAW, which helped push a resolution through the 2005 AFL-CIO convention putting labor on record for “rapid withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Iraq. That resolution marked the first time the AFL-CIO ever broke with an incumbent U.S. administration on a war.   After starting by giving “honor, respect and thanks to my fellow Americans who proudly serve in our military and provide all of us with a strong national defense,” Mason then said Bush is betraying both them and us.            “I stand here today because I believe Bush is leading our country in the wrong direction. Nowhere is this misdirection more evident than in his approach to Iraq. The public spoke loudly in the elections, removing from office many of those who shared the president’s wrong approach. The new Congress, many of whom we helped to elect, has a responsibility to end U.S. military involvement in Iraq and bring our troops home now,” Mason declared.            But while the unionists and their allies urged lawmakers to “resist the bullying” by Bush, as Mason put it, whether the legislators will do so is open to question. In the weeks following the march, senators debated resolutions declaring that Bush’s plan, to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq to join the 130,000 already there, was “not in the interests” of the U.S. But their resolutions do not have the force of law. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) tried to force votes on cutting off money to send the extra troops.   Meanwhile, the Democratic-run House sat back and awaited Senate action, even though Reps. Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey (both D-Calif.), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) addressed the Saturday rally.   Waters told demonstrators to “put some starch in the backs of the members of Congress and give them the courage they need to do the right thing. It is all right to have some resolutions that are not binding, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and that will come when it's time to decide whether or not we're going to fund this immoral war. I will not vote one dime for this war!   “And when you come up here to lobby, you ask these members, ‘Are you going to support an appropriation to continue this war?’ And you can tell the difference between those who are ready to bring our soldiers home and those who are only paying lip service. Don't forget, he (Bush) is not the decider. He is the liar,” Waterssaid.    “Wait and see” was unacceptable to Sweeney, Mason, and the AFL-CIO, Mason said. Also unacceptable was Bush’s planned “surge” of troops. “The American people, most of whom are working men and women, do not want a ‘surge’ in the violence and deadly risk to their loved ones, associated with the president’s approach to Iraq,” Mason said. But he doubted whether Bush is even paying attention to the public.            “Our democracy provides us the opportunity to express the peoples’ will in electoral processes. However, when there are questions as to whether those elected are heeding the people’s will, we have a responsibility to speak with a louder voice and we do that in the streets and communities of America,” he declared.   Instead of voting for more money for “war, death and destruction,” lawmakers should “redirect those resources to building America, providing for the safe and healthy return of our troops to an America where the dream of upward economic mobility and social equality is a reality,” Mason concluded.   In statements, other unions also opposed Bush’s “surge.” AFSCME President Gerald McEntee said 'we are spreading violence in Iraq, not democracy.' He added Bush’s 'ill-conceived war of choice has cost the lives of more than 3,000 American soldiers and countless billions in U.S. treasure. We could have solved the health care crisis for what this war has cost us. The time has long passed to bring our troops home. This decision by the president is the very definition of misguided leadership.'   And National Education Association President Reg Weaver said his union believes Congress and Bush “should work toward an appropriate exit strategy to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq” and “provide adequate support systems, including employment and educational opportunities and health care,' for those returning veterans.   From International Labor Communications Association