Organized labor is set to mark May Day - International
Workers' Day - with what could be the loudest and most forceful demand yet for
rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse
Union -- the ILWU -- will lead the way by refusing to work their eight-hour
morning shifts at ports in California, Oregon and Washington. For them, it will
be a "no peace, no work" holiday -- in effect, a strike against the
war. They will instead lead and other anti-war demonstrations in the port
Like many other unions and labor organizations
nationwide, the ILWU has long opposed the war in Iraq as an imperialist action
in which the lives of young working-class Americans and Iraqi citizens are
being needlessly wasted.
"It is not liberation," as an Iraqi labor
leader, Ghasib Hassan, told delegates to a recent U.S. labor convention.
"It is occupation."
The ILWU hopes the dramatic act of shutting down West
Coast ports will inspire Americans everywhere to oppose the war. As one
longshoreman said, "President Bush wants working and poor folks to fight
his war ... the sons and daughters of working-class families. We want them out
of harm's way."
That's one of the main messages of the coalition, U.S.
Labor Against the War (USLAW), which has been growing steadily since the
invasion of Iraq. It's by now the largest organized group of any kind to
protest the war and is drawing important support, not only from unions, but
also from a wide variety of socially-conscious activist groups outside the
USLAW's members, which represent millions of workers,
significantly include the AFL-CIO and most of the federation's 56 affiliated
unions - among them, of course, the ILWU. No one can doubt USLAW's ability to
organize a massive protest such as ILWU is hoping to lead. For it was USLAW
that put together the anti-war demonstration that drew half-a-million marchers
to Washington, D.C., last year.
USLAW is demanding primarily that "our elected
leaders stop funding the war, bring our troops home and start meeting human
needs here at home," notes Fred Mason, an AFL-CIO official in Maryland.
The needs being neglected to fund the war include many public services --
education, health care and so much more.
In the meantime, says Gerald McEntee, a key public
employee union leader, "We are spreading violence in Iraq, not
democracy." The Bush administration's policies, says Musicians Union
leader Tom Lee, "make us less secure, increase the threat of terrorism,
and have put Iraq on a path of civil war."
ILWU President Robert McEllrath has urged unions and
allied groups outside the United States to also mount protests - "to honor
labor history and express support for the troops by bringing them home
The AFL-CIO'S opposition is particularly notable. For it
marks the first time the federation has ever opposed a war, whether the
president was a pro-labor Democrat or, as now, an anti-labor Republican. The
AFL-CIO was an outspoken supporter of the Vietnam War and of the first Persian
Gulf War. Even at the start of the Iraq war, the federation backed Bush. But it
soon realized its error.
The longshoremen's union, which was not affiliated with
the AFL-CIO at the time, was firmly opposed to the Vietnam and Persian Gulf
wars. The ILWU also was a major opponent of dictatorial regimes in South and
Central America and the apartheid regime in South Africa, its members often
refusing to handle cargo coming from or going to those countries. Just
recently, ILWU members in Tacoma, Washington, refused for "conscientious
reasons" to load cargo headed for the Iraq war zone.
We can only hope -- and hope fervently -- that the
union's May Day show of strong opposition to the war in Iraq will help prompt
millions of others to conclude that they, too, cannot in good conscience
support that seemingly endless war.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister