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No Peace, No Work
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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 cities.

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 labor movement.

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 safely."

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