Labor, War and Peace, Crossing The Red Line And The Class Struggle
by Steve Zeltzer
September 6, 2013
War and peace is a critical question for the US working class as well obviously as the people of the Middle East and the world. While trillions have been spent by the US through public funds on imperial wars abroad, the war on US workers continues unabated as privatization and free trade agreements like NAFTA and now the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP are pushed by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and with the support of President Obama.
As is usual, the AFL-CIO leadership under Richard Trumka have been completely silent and MIA about the impending threats of US war against Syria. The cancellation of Obama’s trip to the upcoming AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles this coming week would of course again had raised again the question of where US workers and their unions stand on the demand by the the Obama administration and the House Democratic Party leaders like Nancy Pelosi that the US should support the bombing of Syria.
The overwhelming silence by the US labor movement about questions of war and peace changed in a critical way after the anti-communist witchhunts and purges in the 40’s and 50’s that led to the formation of the AFL-CIO. This unification was a merger based on supporting US economic and imperial interests around the world and George Meany, the first president of the AFL-CIO was an active collaborator with the CIA and US economic interests in Europe and around the world. Irving Brown who ran the AFL-CIO CIA’s operations in Europe with tens of millions of dollars helped set up right wing trade unions in Turkey and many other countries with the same corporate agenda that the AFL-CIO pursued including labor management partnerships and supporting US military and economic interests.
During the Vietnam war the AFL-CIO leadership actively supported the war in Vietnam despite the fact that growing numbers of US workers were coming out against this US imperial adventure that cost the lives of 3 million Vietnamese and 55,000 US troops killed and hundreds of thousands wounded.
The AFL-CIO under Richard Trumka also collaborated with the US government’s efforts to overthrown the Venezuelan government so the policy of supporting US international corporate interests continues with the present AFL-CIO leadership.
As a direct result of the US capitalist policies of outsourcing, and de-industrializatioin from the midwest to the South and to Mexico and Asia the US union and non-union industrial workers have been devastated. The policy of not only the Republicans but the Democrats has been to support deregulation of the airlines, trucking and telecommunication for the benefits of the multi-nationals. They have supported privatization of public services including the postal system and public education.
The Obama administration has continued to support the US war machine around the world expanding the drone bombings and supporting a Asian pivot to militarize the region with more US bases from Australia to the Philippines. This is opposed by many unions in Asia but there is only silence by the AFL-CIO and US unions as the militarization and wars abroad grow unabated.
While many national unions within the AFL-CIO and those unions that have left the AFL-CIO such as the SEIU and now the ILWU opposed the Iraq war and the expansion of the US wars into Afghanistan, the last convention of the AFL-CIO had no debate on the Afghanistan and continued wars and why the US labor movement should not oppose these wars.
This “red line” by the AFL-CIO and US labor on the imperial wars is now becoming more and more untenable as it becomes clearer to millions of US workers that this is not only about the wars abroad but the war at home by the same corporate interests that control the US government. These wars are paid for by budget cuts on social services, public education and public services. The same corporations that benefit from war are also benefiting from the economic and political polices of the US government from attacks on healthcare, terrorizing immigrant workers and the militarization of our borders benefiting the same war companies around the world.
The cost of this new proposed war was not raised by one US Senator when Secretary of State Kerry and the US military appeared to support the military attack on Syria. Democratic Senators like Barbara Boxer are even arguing this attack is not really a war.
The AFL-CIO leadership even in the midst of a convention and a national speech by President Obama on Tuesday to support the military attack on Syria during the AFL-CIO convention is completely MIA. Is this the kind of leadership US workers need?
These issues of course are not really on the agenda of the upcoming AFL-CIO convention and the AFL-CIO president Trumka has actually made a political deal with the US Chamber of Commerce to bring in hundreds of thousands of new “guest workers” who will be second class workers facing brutal exploitation by not only farm owners but fast food workers and computer and software companies that want “bonded” workers.
How the US labor unions could unite with the US Chamber of Commerce to benefit US corporations in order to get supposed “immigration reform” is again the logic of the this corporate unionism that dominates the US labor movement.
US trade unionists and workers who have seen the continual decline and attack on their wages and work conditions and have seen the unions continue to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the coffers of the Democratic party are now left holding the bag with continued attacks by not just the Republicans but the Democrats including in California.
The recently disaffiliation of the ILWU focused primarily on the scabbing by other AFL-CIO unions on ILWU jobs but it also mentioned the support by the AFL-CIO Trumka leadership for Obamacare Affordable Care Act that actually taxes good healthcare plans that workers have won in union management healthcare plans. It also discussed the support by the AFL-CIO for an “immigration reform” deal that will bring in “guest workers” as second class workers into the workforce.
Of course the ILWU leadership is raising these issues in a letter just before the AFL-CIO convention and walking away from a real struggle in the AFL-CIO and among the millions of workers of the AFL-CIO who need to be engaged in this debate and struggle. The last walkout and the formation of “Change To Win” by the SEIU, Carpenters, UFCW, Unite-Here and other unions lead to real no change as the decline of organized workers has declined since this large split in the AFL-CIO and the UFCW, Unite Here now going back into the AFL-CIO with mission not accomplished.
The anti-labor Taft-Harley bill passed by the Democrats prevents workers from having secondary solidarity strikes and today tens of thousands of workers including Walmart workers are fired for simply wanting a union. The reliance on their Democratic party “allies” to organize workers is many ways ludicrous if not duplicitous.
President Obama has appointed Hyatt Hotel owner Penny Pritzker who is also a supporter of education privatization to the position of US Secretary of Commerce. The former head of the Walmart foundation Sylvia Mathews Burwell that has funded education privatization was also appointed by Obama to head up the US Office of Management and Budget.
In fact, the NEA and AFT leadership including AFT President Randi Weingarten have actually taken millions of dollars from the “non-profit” education privatization foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation based in Los Angeles and the Walton Foundation run by the billionaire owners of Walmart for the purpose of pushing charters and the “Common Core”. The questions workers and unionists must ask, is this the reason that there has been no national political education campaign against privatization of education and public services despite the fact that the AFT, NEA, SEIU, AFSCME and other unions have millions of public workers who are facing the brunt of these attacks? This again is unlikely to be on the agenda at the AFL-CIO convention.
The fact of the matter, is that while there is a frontal attack on the US working class there is not counter-fight nationally. Even the AFL-CIO website has no mention of any lockouts or strikes of AFL-CIO locals throughout the country. When the Crystal Sugar workers were locked out for years there was absolutely no national campaign to defend them on the AFL-CIO website. The need for a national labor channel on the internet and a resolution has been submitted by the San Francisco Labor Council but whether this is taken up at the convention is yet to be seen. This is also one of the reasons why Warren Buffet announced that there was a class war in the US and he and his fellow billionaires were winning the war. Instead of fighting this class war, the AFL-CIO union leadership and other unions talk about more “middle class” jobs while supporting the politicians that are actually supporting the outsourcing of better paying jobs.
The main political activity of US unions has not been mobilizing to win strikes or mass protests against NAFTA and now the TPP but electoral activity aimed at getting more Democratic party politicians elected. This was also pushed in Wisconsin against Scott Walker and led directly to the failure to stop his anti-labor attacks on all workers public and private as well as public services.
The political and ideological struggle that is a critical and necessary component if the US working class is to start to seriously confront the attacks it faces in the war at home and the wars abroad.
Besides an real independent mobilization of labor and all working people these tasks require the formation of a democrat labor party that will reflect the real needs of US workers and will not be controlled by the corporate agenda or those within the labor movement who argue that US workers can rely on the Democrats to defend the interests of US workers.
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