The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Unions begin to speak out against a war

Feb 17, 2003

On January 11 over 100 unionists from 76 local, regional and national unions met in Chicago and set up U.S. Labor Against the War. Since that time, 102 local unions have endorsed resolutions against the war in one form or another. Also 13 regions or districts have passed resolutions including the very large AFSCME DC 37 in New York and the Association of Flight Attendants' United Airlines Council. Further, 25 central labor bodies have passed motions against a war, including those in Los Angeles, Seattle, Cleveland and Philadelphia.

The local union resolutions often build on the resolution passed by the U.S. Labor Against the War meeting. (See the resolution reprinted here.) Some important locals endorsing these resolutions include UAW Local 600 at Ford and other companies in the Detroit area; Local 909 at the GM transmission plant in Warren, Michigan; Teamsters Local 705 at UPS and many trucking companies in Chicago; Teamsters Local 85 in San Francisco; the American Postal Workers in New York and Philadelphia; the Transport Workers Union in the New York subways and buses; and the Food & Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles supermarkets.

Seven international unions have passed resolutions on Iraq. They range from small unions such as the United Electrical Workers and the United Farm Workers to the State, County, Municipal Employees; the Service Employees; the Communications Workers; American Postal Workers and UNITE, the garment and textile union. The resolutions vary greatly, from opposing a war when the U.S. or countries allied to it haven't been attacked, to a disguised support for a future war. This is the case with the American Federation of State, County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) which brags that it supported Bush in his "war on terrorism" – which is what Bush first called the war against Afghanistan and now calls the war on Iraq. AFSCME says, "Our nation's long-term interests require that we assemble a broad international coalition for an aggressive and effective policy of disarmament in Iraq – and work through the United Nations .... We must assure them [the armed forces] 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." The ground has been laid so that when the war breaks out, AFSCME will say it called for restraint, but now has to support the war. Nonetheless, even these statements by international unions are a response to the pressure they are feeling from their members against a war.

The number of union bodies coming out against a war still remains small. And the resolution these bodies have passed contain illusions about the U.N. and about the U.S.'s role in the world. Nonetheless, this is different from the full-fledged support for the Viet Nam war by the top leaders of U.S. labor and also the virtually unanimous support for the war last year in Afghanistan. The question now is whether these unions will mobilize workers to fight against the war.

In any case, every worker has reason to oppose this war.