Unions Lend Voice to Anti-War Opposition

en français

Immediately after the events of September 11 many American union leaders and workers lined up in favor of a war on terrorism. Support for war remained fairly high across the board as U.S. forces entered into a quick military campaign in Afghanistan.

But this consensus around increased military intervention has started to crack. In recent months, an increasing number of state federations, executive councils, local unions, ad hoc labor/anti-war groups, and other labor bodies have added their voice to opposition to plans for a new war in Iraq.

On October 7 AFL-CIO President John Sweeney wrote to Congress about Iraq. Sweeney’s letter has a feeling of “on the one hand/on the other.” For example, he writes, “America certainly has the right to act unilaterally if we need to do so to protect our national interests, but the AFL-CIO strongly believes that our national interests are better protected by multilateral action.”

But the letter came down on the side of no rush to war. “We must assure the sons and daughters of America’s working families that war is the last option, not the first, used to resolve this conflict before we ask them to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us,” Sweeney said.

He also questioned Bush’s timing: “It appears to many of our members that the sudden urgency for a decision about war and peace, an urgency, which did not exist a month ago, has as much to do with the political calendar as with the situation in Iraq. It is an apparent contradiction that there is no similar urgency to take action to address the economic crisis that is also inflicting immediate suffering on so many of our people.”


The executive council of Local 1199/SEIU, New York’s Health and Human Services Union, spoke more bluntly October 4: “America’s working families have a special stake in preventing another war.”

Local 1199 represents about 220,000 healthcare workers in the New York area. The union urges working people to contact Congress and to build anti-war demonstrations.

Local 1199 takes note of its tradition of anti-war action: “Our union was one of the very first to oppose the war in Vietnam, being at first a lonely voice that became a majority viewpoint as the carnage mounted up, and now we have an opportunity to prevent a catastrophe from beginning.”

The union’s statement contrasts worsening economic conditions for workers with the newfound robustness of the military budget. The resolution points to the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are without health insurance (an estimated 41 million), while the Bush Administration increased military spending by $45 billion in 2002. The union blames this military push-in addition to tax cuts for the wealthy-for drying up budget funds “for job creation, health care, education and other essential human needs.”



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The statement goes beyond domestic issues to criticize the Bush Administration’s new policy of “preemptive war,” saying that “the policy would open up the world to international anarchy.”

The resolution was followed by a full-page ad in the New York Times October 10, signed by 1199 President Dennis Rivera.

The state council of the California Federation of Teachers passed on September 21 a resolution similar in tone to 1199’s. The CFT, which represents 100,000 teachers, stated that it “strenuously” opposed the war and urged members “to get involved with organizations working toward stopping the Bush’s administration’s march toward war.”

The resolution noted that a war “would further strengthen an administration that has restricted the civil liberties of its citizens.”

Other national, state, and regional labor bodies that have opposed war in the past two months include the Washington State Labor Council, United Electrical Workers, New Mexico Carpenters, Wisconsin SEIU, Pride at Work, and several central labor councils on the West Coast and in New York state.


Many of the anti-war resolutions coming from unions have linked Bush’s foreign policy moves against Iraq to his domestic moves against unions.

A September 10 resolution by Longshore (ILWU) Local 10 said that President Bush was using national security concerns as a way both to undermine that union’s contract negotiations and to “recruit unions to his war drive for oil companies.”

Albany’s central labor council asserted in the same vein that “the Bush administration’s war drive has a domestic component” that threatens “to turn against the ILWU as an opening wedge against the entire labor movement.”

In the Detroit area, the 480-481 Area Postal Workers local printed an anti-war editorial which argued the “no blood for oil” theme: “This war is about crude self-interest, and crude oil. Numerous sources have reported that the people Bush wants to put in power in Iraq will turn that country’s massive oil reserves over to American oil companies. That, and a desire for military and political domination of the region, are the real motives for Bush’s war.

“Let me ask you, when was the last time the oil companies did you a favor? Aren’t these the same companies that shamelessly doubled prices at the pump in the aftermath of 9/11? Should our brothers, sisters, children, and co-workers die to boost their profits?”