Labor Anti-War Activists Plan to Fight Escalation

by 

Union Labor News / 2010 / January

Wisconsin Speaks Out
Against War Escalation

On October 15, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO’s executive board adopted a simple statement that sums up many of the reasons to oppose the escalation of war in Afghanistan: “We need to stop the war in Afghanistan and focus the nation’s attention on the fight for jobs, education, health care and pensions.”

And, as Wisconsin Rep. David Obey says: “There ain’t going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan.” How will the war be paid for? Rep. Obey has proposed a new 1 percent war tax on most Americans (5 percent for the wealthy). According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is already spending $3.6 billion a month in Afghanistan. Official estimates of the added cost of Obama’s 30,000 reinforcements range from $15 billion per year to $30 billion – half a million to a million dollars for each soldier.

Senator Russ Feingold objects to the escalation from a foreign policy and national security point of view, “It’s an expensive gamble to undertake armed nation-building on behalf of a corrupt government of questionable legitimacy.”

“It’s wrong because the American people elected Obama, with a mandate-sized majority, to end these wars, reform health care and ameliorate the effects of the economic depression – and certainly not to escalate the war,” said South Central Federation of Labor’s president Jim Cavanaugh. “It is also wrong because it will lead to many more serious physical and psychological wounds and deaths for Afghan citizens and American soldiers.”

At its national assembly in Chicago on December 4-6, delegates to U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) called for an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan, and continuing work to end the Iraq War. USLAW is continuing its education work in 2010 and supporting public demonstrations, including a March 20th protest planned for Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Also this year, USLAW plans to sponsor a fact-finding trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. At its assembly, USLAW also took a position opposing military advertisements in schools, such as those on the scoreboards in the four high schools in Madison.

Founded in 2003 and working with 184 affiliated unions and groups such as Military Families Speak Out and Iraq Veterans Against the War, USLAW has established an organized anti-war voice within the U.S. labor movement for the first time in recent memory.

Conference speakers included trade unionists from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Venezuela. USLAW sponsored an historic 25-city tour of Iraqi labor leaders through the U.S. in 2005, a 13-city tour in 2007, and an Iraqi labor conference in the northern Iraq city of Erbil in 2009.

Another project has been to support Iraqi labor leaders’ work against the Petroleum Law, or “oil theft” law, that would deprive Iraqis of sovereignty over their natural resources. Iraqi workers have inspired many workers in the U.S. who have heard of their courageous labor activism under the most difficult conditions of war and occupation, including successful strikes.

Now USLAW is turning some attention to Pakistan and Afghanistan, as the war there has been escalated again recently by the Obama Administration.

War at What Cost?

The cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are a key focus for USLAW work.  For example, it is estimated that the U.S. has spent $235 billion on the Afghanistan war, and new soldiers going in may cost another one million dollars per soldier. The large costs are crippling the U.S.’s ability to solve the domestic crises in healthcare, unemployment, housing, education, and the environment.  The current war policy is incompatible with the aims of the labor movement for good jobs and improving life for working people, both here in the U.S. and elsewhere.  The labor movement asks, who benefits from these wars? Who pays for them and has to fight them?

Local Labor Peace Activist Reacts Strongly

“After eight years, the war in Afghanistan has not made Americans safer, and it has killed thousands of people. Funding for jobs, education and health care is hemorrhaging, while oil barons keep the wars going for their profit,” said Barbara Smith, a member of AFT-W Local 4848 (WPEC), after returning from the USLAW assembly in Chicago.

“The nation’s leaders raise armies with the 'poverty draft' and when that is not enough, they add contractors and mercenaries,” she said. “We do not want to fight the rich man’s wars anymore, nor suffer the consequences of these wars that are not in our interests.”

New DVD Available

Premiering at the USLAW assembly was a new 27-minute video presentation called “Why Are We in Afghanistan?”, featuring illustrations by Madison-based labor cartoonist Mike Konopacki. It is available on DVD and Smith highly recommends it for viewing at union meetings and other events.

The presentation links the history of U.S. foreign military interventions in the Philippines, Iran and elsewhere to suggest some motivations for the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and to illustrate the costs of the wars.

“If your union has not yet affiliated with USLAW, please consider doing so,” says Smith.

For more information on USLAW and the DVD visit: www.uslaboragainstwar.org and www.whyareweinafghanistan.org