In Chicago, on December 3-4, the USLAW Steering Committee met to map out strategies for 2006. More than forty SC members and guests participated.
Below is the major political statement adopted by the Steering Committee. A link is provided at the end of this message to a PDF version. Below you will also find the text of, and PDF link to, the USLAW statement adopted on the Katrina disaster.
(Statement of the USLAW Steering Committee, adopted 12/3/05)
From its very beginning, USLAW has publicly opposed the war in Iraq. We stated that Bush was lying, that we had no right to invade Iraq, that oil was more the issue than weapons of mass destruction. We predicted that war with Iraq would lead to a prolonged and bloody guerrilla war, while encouraging terrorism in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. We warned the war would divert our nation from the essential tasks needed to provide for our own people.
Since February 15, 2003, when more than 10 million people across the globe went out into the streets to say much the same thing, it has been clear that the people have been smarter than our political representatives. If members of Congress and leading opinion makers in the United States wanted to believe the Administration's lies, it was not because the truth was not there for all to see.
Almost three years after USLAW was founded, the peace movement has resoundingly won the public debate. Most polls now show more than 60% of all Americans and more than 73% of Democrats want the U.S. military to leave Iraq as soon as possible. A November 2005 New York Times/CBS news poll found that more than 8 in 10 Americans are concerned that the $5 billion spent each month on the war in Iraq is draining away money that could be used in the United States. Only 19% of military-related people polled in the heavily militarized state of North Carolina said the war was "worth fighting."
In the labor movement the USLAW-initiated effort to call for rapid withdrawal from Iraq passed overwhelmingly at the July convention of the AFL-CIO, and many of the largest national unions are on record against the war. Such opposition to a war in progress within the U.S. labor movement is unprecedented and bespeaks the depth of antiwar sentiment among working people.
This of course is a reflection of the disastrous effects of the war: more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers dead, more than 10 times that number wounded, many seriously scarred or maimed for life. More than 100,000 Iraqis are dead, much of Iraq has been destroyed by U.S. military actions, and most of the Iraqi people are still without jobs, water, electricity, basic sewage services, health care and any minimal sense of personal security. Meanwhile our money pours into Iraq at $8 million an hour, much of it directly to the coffers of corporate cronies of the Bush Administration.
U.S. policies in the Middle East, and the war and occupation of Iraq in particular, have made our country and the world more vulnerable to terrorism, not more secure. The occupation is fueling the violence in Iraq and has turned Iraq into a school for terrorism. Attacks there are up from 150 last year to 700 per week today. Polls in Iraq show 80% of Iraqis want U.S. troops out. It was recently reported that after almost 3 years of training Iraqis to serve as U.S. proxies in this war, less than 1% of Iraqi military units can act independently of the U.S. military. In desperation the United States is bringing back Saddam loyalists to run the army, the very brutal enemy we claim to have gone to war to eliminate. Many of the Iraqi military units are under the control of religious and sectarian militias. At home, military recruiters are in a panic and despite all their rosy promises, inducements and monetary incentives, young Americans are refusing to enlist.
The use of torture against Iraqi prisoners, the use of chemical weapons like white phosphorous on cities like Fallujah, the U.S. refusal to permit international monitoring of detention camps and operation of secret CIA prisons, our government's flouting of international law - all these have turned international public opinion against the United States and have destroyed any claim our government might make to the moral high ground.
Congressman John Murtha (Dem-PA) made it clear: the occupation is the problem and can't be the solution. As the Iraqi trade unionists said in the joint statement they signed with USLAW at the end of a 25-city USLAW-sponsored tour in June: "The principal obstacle to peace, stability and the reconstruction of Iraq is the occupation. The occupation must end in all its forms, including military bases and economic domination." The Iraqis cannot work out their differences under occupation. It must end now!
Those politicians who claim to support the troops yet call for "staying the course 'til victory is won" are compounding the tragic and needless slaughter that has already occurred there by adding still more lives to the tragic cost the Iraqis and we have borne. A failed policy cannot be made right by doing it longer, harder or better.
It is important to realize that the essential goals of the war were in fact to secure control over Iraq's oil reserves, take out a leader who had slipped from under the thumb of the United States, and strengthen U.S. military presence in the Middle East. The Bush Neocons also seek to make Iraq into an unregulated free market, privatizing the large public sector industries and opening the economy to foreign corporate control, just as they seek to use the disaster in the Gulf Coast to privatize the schools and remake New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in their corporate image. None of these "alternatives" has anything to do with democracy or the genuine interest of Iraqis. They are more about preserving prerogatives for U.S. power abroad and greater corporate domination at home.
The most serious threat to the real security of the American people today comes from the White House and its Congressional supporters. With the 2006 elections looming, we need to seize the opportunity to move members of Congress and all elected officials to publicly and decisively oppose the war and occupation.
For too many political leaders, "victory" means having the Iraqis fight as our proxies while U.S. troops remain in permanent military bases and the Pentagon's control over reconstruction funds and armed forces results in a compliant Iraqi government. We reject and must oppose such phony schemes for ending the war. The challenge before us is to escalate the demand for immediate withdrawal within the labor movement, to join forces with the growing opposition to the war across the county to force our political leaders to remove all U.S. troops, to provide the Iraqis with the funds they need to reconstruct their country, and to redirect our tax money to taking care of the serious social problems we face at home.
Our labor movement is fragmented and divided over organizing and politics, power and leadership. Despite these divisions, in 2005 USLAW made dramatic strides, mobilizing for national demonstrations, organizing the discussion that led to an historic resolution at the AFL-CIO convention, touring Iraqi trade unionists to 25 U.S. cities, spawning large Educators to Stop the War conferences, and holding numerous union educational events around the country. Though most unions are caught up in a fight for survival against hostile employers and a hostile government, the struggle to end the war and to reorder national priorities can be a unifying force between the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, both of which have affiliates in USLAW.
USLAW has grown to over 125 affiliates representing millions of workers. Today we have an opportunity, given the climate and the success of our work in 2005, to double the number of our affiliates. Our support and credibility in the labor movement are much greater than our affiliations - many labor organizations are working with us that are not officially part of USLAW. Many more share our goals but are not yet in our network. USLAW provides the vehicle for the labor movement to effectively fight against the war in Iraq and to link it to the war against working people at home. It is a vehicle through which organized labor can break with decades during which it blindly followed Cold War foreign policies that were crafted in the interests of global capital, not the interests of American or international labor.
Local, regional and national sectors of the labor movement, as well as the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, need to step forward in 2006 to make this effort effective. We must move the antiwar message and conversation down from the leadership level of our organizations to the rank and file, and then move our members into action for a new foreign and domestic policy agenda.
The labor movement is in a position not only to be an integral part of the antiwar movement, but to actually lead the movement. That is the role that unions and workers should play; it is the role that unions in many other countries do play. We in the labor movement should be the conscience of U.S. workers on the war. We must make our voices heard.
This is not an "extra issue." This issue is at the center of the national crisis our nation is in. We cannot achieve any of labor's goals such as major health care and pension reform, the government-funded rebuilding of the Gulf Coast and the strengthening of our endangered public services, without ending this war.
It is a budget issue, a Patriot Act issue, it is tied to the political club called the "War on Terrorism" that is used to attack labor rights and much that we hold sacred, and it is the horse that many right wingers in office have ridden for political gain.
Our credibility as a labor movement in the rest of the world is at stake. As we strive to organize multinational corporations across borders, we cannot be for U.S. aggression and the domination of U.S. capital and claim to be in solidarity with workers in developing countries or even in Europe-no one will believe us.
Defeating the U.S. policy in Iraq must be accompanied by a new vision of genuine solidarity, based on the mutual interests of workers, and on respect for international law and national sovereignty.
We can no longer let the issue of war and the false patriotism of tyrants and demagogues be used to drive an anti-worker agenda, as has occurred since 9/11.
In consideration of all of the above, USLAW calls for:
Doubling the number of USLAW affiliates to 250 labor organizations. Working to deepen the participation of International Unions, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. This work will culminate in a National Labor Leadership Assembly on December 2nd, 2006.
Put the issue of the war at the center of the political agenda for the 2006 election year.
This includes a broad based effort in the labor movement, in conjunction with the peace movement, to promote federal, state and local legislative initiatives aimed at ending the war and occupation and to ask political candidates to take these positions.
A massive broadly based national demonstration in Washington DC in April 2006, with labor playing a major role along with a wide ranging coalition of national organizations.
A nationally coordinated series of forums to be held at union-sponsored events to include Iraqi vets, Military Families Speak Out representatives and members of Iraqi Veterans Against the War in order to engage rank and file members in anti-war education and activities.
Continue to work in support of labor rights for Iraqi workers and unions and explore sending delegations of US trade unionists to Iraq and bringing Iraqi trade unionists, including women, to the US.
By mobilizing the labor movement at every level to end the war in Iraq, with an informed membership, we set the stage for labor to play a stronger role in the future in setting our nation's priorities at home and abroad.
(December 3, 2005)
A central point in the USLAW founding Mission Statement calls for the "redirecting of the nation's resources from military spending to meeting the needs of working families for health care, education, a clean environment, housing and a decent standard of living based on principles of equality and democracy."
We believe that providing for the well-being of our people is the first principle of national security. Hurricane Katrina was a disastrous natural event, but the massive tragic impact of the storm was largely the result (and failure) of political processes, not merely the inevitable consequence of a natural disaster. Protecting our citizens from natural disasters is simply not a national priority for the Bush Administration.
Three months after Hurricane Katrina struck in September of 2005, the relationship between the war in Iraq and the devastating implications of what we call the war at home, against our own people, is crystal clear.
Since Katrina struck more than $15 billion has been spent fighting the war in Iraq, while the US and Iraqi death toll continues to grow dramatically. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents are without decent housing, jobs and any hope for the future.
While federal funding during the past several years was cut for levee protection, as well as for all the social programs needed by people in New Orleans and Mississippi, at least $1.7 billion of Louisiana federal tax dollars, including $151.6 million from New Orleans taxpayers alone, was spent on the war in Iraq, pre-Katrina. As billions in tax money continue to flow into Iraq, Congress is seeking to pay for reconstruction while avoiding even deeper deficits by cutting social programs for the poor across the US.
The LA and MS National Guard had more than a third of their troops in Iraq and much of the badly needed vehicles and equipment was unavailable in New Orleans because it was in Iraq. Meanwhile, as the flood waters were rising, citizens spent days sitting on rooftops, dying in abandoned nursing homes and hospitals, and warehoused in athletic field houses that were operated more like prison camps than emergency rescue shelters.
In June 2004, Emergency Management Chief for Jefferson Parish, LA said: "It appears that the money has been moved in the President's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq and I suppose that is the price we pay".
Requests for additional $250 million for Army Corp of Engineers levee work in the Delta went unmet prior to the hurricane.
Just as the US government has privatized much of the war in Iraq, enriching the Halliburtons and Bechtels profiteers of the world, so too after Katrina we see the Halliburtons and Bechtels receiving huge no-bid contracts to build camps for rescue workers, to rebuild military installations and the oil industry, and to begin the reconstruction of the entire region. Small local businesses have been left standing in line. Even the notorious Blackwater Security firm that has made a fortune in Iraq and Afghanistan was on the ground patrolling the streets of New Orleans within a week of the hurricane.
Sadly, corporate America now has a deep investment in war and disaster -- it's good for business. The stock market rose slightly following Katrina even though energy costs were catapulted to new highs. What's good for business in this case is not what's good for the country and our people.
The under-funded and flagrantly mismanaged Federal Emergency Management Agency has itself been declared a disaster area. FEMA has been militarized as a neglected subsidiary in the Homeland Security Department. Millions are spent promoting the War on Terror with flashing neon signs asking the public to beware of suspicious looking people, while FEMA is weakened in its ability to respond to both foreseeable as well as unpredictable national emergencies.
If ever there was a role for the public sector, it is in preparing for and responding to natural disaster. But, just as 9/11 was used as a pretext by Bush, often with some Democratic support, to undercut our civil liberties and militarize our Federal budget, Hurricane Katrina is being used as an opportunity to promote the right-wing agenda of privatization, school vouchers, no-bid contracts, and removing minority set asides and affirmative action in Federal contracts.
It took a national campaign, with strong union backing, to force the Bush administration to restore the wage protections provided by the Davis-Bacon (prevailing wage) Act for Federal spending in the Gulf reconstruction, after initially removing them. The Republicans see it as another opportunity to push the country deeper into the private profit-seeking abyssor as rightwing ideologue Grover Norquist has put it, to "shrink government down to the point where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
At the same time the US government has set the stage for a massive privatization of Iraq, undermining their large public sector and setting the stage for foreign corporate control. While debate rages about whether Bush and Congress had correct intelligence about WMD in Iraq and political leaders claim the US should stay in Iraq to help the Iraqis create a democracy, the real motives of the war remain unchanged: control of Iraq's oil resources, the removal of Hussein as political opponent of US policy in the Middle East, and the establishment of a permanent military force in an Iraq governed by a compliant regime.
In Iraq, the massive reconstruction funds have gone not to the poor and unemployed, but rather to foreign contractors and imported workers. Sadly, to this day, Saddam Hussein's anti-union law remains on the books and unfettered labor rights, the cornerstone of any democratic society, remain an unfulfilled aspiration of Iraqi workers. Under Bush's massive privatization plans, the right to organize independent unions is far from assured in a future Iraq. Working people in both Gulfs need good jobs at good wages with their rights as workers protected.
One of the fundamental questions to address right now is in whose interest will New Orleans and the devastated Gulf Coast area, as well as Iraq be rebuilt? How will the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars be spent and who will make the decisions? In the US we have all witnessed decades of "Urban Removal" in which poor neighborhoods are leveled and rebuilt for more prosperous and generally much whiter interests. In Iraq we see a devastated nation deeply in debt and dependent on US and international financial support, including the IMF and World Bank, in order to recover. The average Iraqi is vehemently opposed to privatizing the economy.
In both Iraq and New Orleans we need massive public works programs such as seen throughout the US during the New Deal, not overpriced corporate contractors. Local people, both black and white, need good jobs at good wages, under safe working conditions with their rights as workers protected. They need to be fully involved in all the planning decisions about the future of their communities.
Lastly, and very profoundly, the issue of racism permeates our government's policies in both areas. Iraqi civilian deaths are not even counted -- in New Orleans black corpses were left to rot and citizens were sheltered under conditions the Reverend Jesse Jackson compared to the holds of slave ships.
The death and destruction of the Gulf had a distinctly racial character based on years of racial oppression and the resulting inequality, leaving the largely African American population of New Orleans with a 28% poverty rate. Iraqis still suffer from 50% plus unemployment almost 3 years after the invasion.
Although the administration announced it was waiving affirmative action requirements for federal contracts for the rebuilding, military recruiters have been seen increasing their activities in all the areas where displaced Gulf Coast families are living. The message: Black people are good enough to fight in foreign wars but don't deserve a fair shot at rebuilding their own communities. The message to Iraqis: your life does not have the same value as an American life.
In a further parallel, while many thousands of unemployed Gulf Coast workers are desperate for work, private contractors are bringing in large numbers of undocumented Mexican and Central American workers, and subjecting them to abuse, dangerous working conditions and crass exploitation. Meanwhile, despite massive unemployment in Iraq, Halliburton and others are bringing in thousands of African and Asian workers who are being paid 45 cents and hour and our subject to continual mistreatment and oppression.
USLAW will speak out publicly about the links between the disaster in the Gulf Coast and the war in Iraq, will participate in public forums on these issues and will seek in other ways, consistent with our basic mission, to support people on the ground in the Gulf Coast to rebuild their lives and their communities.
USLAW supports the efforts of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund/Community Labor United and other community-based groups and organizations led by people of color in the Gulf that seek to rebuild their communities on pro-people principles.
We Support Gulf Coast Community Demands for:
* The right of the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, with government support, to return to their homes and their communities and participate fully in reconstruction.
* Those most affected by Hurricane Katrina must be part of the planning process for the rebuilding of their communities, which includes representation on all boards that are making decisions on spending public dollars for relief and reconstruction.
* Good jobs, at good wages and under safe working conditions, for the displaced workers and residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as they rebuild their communities.
* Transparency in the entire reconstruction process.
* A massive influx of public funds to reconstruct the Gulf Coast using the 1930s New Deal model.
(*People's Hurricane Relief Fund: http://cluonline.live.radicaldesigns.org )
We have deep and fundamental problems here in the US that need to be addressed. The war in Iraq has been a costly and deadly diversion. We need to leave Iraq and the Persian Gulf, support the Iraqis' efforts to reconstruct their nation on their own terms, and use the billions of dollars from the war effort to create massive rebuilding programs to benefit the poor and homeless on the Gulf Coast and other underserved areas of the US.
If there is one silver lining to these disasters at home and abroad, it may be that the winds that swept through the Gulf in the U.S. and winds of war in the Middle East will sweep through the White House and Congress and lead to a radical change in the political landscape of America.
USLAW is committed to being fully involved in promoting and making that change.
Download the USLAW SC Meeting statement in PDF format at http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/downloads/SCMeetingStatement.pdf
View and download the USLAW Statement on the Katrina Disaster at http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/downloads/uslawkattrinastatement.pdf