The Spark

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

AFL-CIO:
Cowardly support for Bush's war

Apr 14, 2003

In a clear parallel to the Viet Nam era, New York City union leaders called a "Support our troops" rally at the World Trade Center site on April 10.

During the Viet Nam war, much was made of the so-called "hard hats" who were used by the media to make it appear as if ordinary workers were in favor of that war. In fact, the earliest and most sustained opposition was among the working class, as polls and local referendums consistently showed. But when needed, trade unions dominated by gangsters could make sure that newspapers had pictures to show of flag-carrying "hard hats" berating – or even attacking – antiwar protesters.

This time around, the unions involved are trying to be somewhat more cautious. On the surface, "Support the troops" says nothing directly about supporting the war. However, since nothing was said about supporting the troops by immediately removing them from the impossible position in which they have been placed, it was a rally that could only make the Bush administration smile.

Official AFL-CIO policy is always carefully crafted to sound noble while bowing down to power. An example is its statement of March 20, that "Now that a decision has been made, we are unequivocal in our support of our country and America's men and women on the front lines as well as their families here at home. We also urge the president as commander in chief to redouble the administration's commitment to bolstering our security against terrorist attacks here at home." In other words, AFL-CIO leaders gave Bush everything he wanted – while piously wringing their hands.

The union movement in the United States today is branded by this nearly universal attitude among its top leaders: show some opposition in words but go along "now that the decision has been made." Now that the decision has been made by the bankruptcy court, how many union leaders say it is necessary to give up 2.1 billion dollars in concessions to United Airlines. Now that the decision has been made, accept the closings of plants and the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of workers. Now that the decision has been made, accept the cutoffs of Bethlehem Steel workers' pensions.

This is not simply a series of poor decisions. The union leaderships are bound by a common belief. They believe that the bosses and the working class have shared interests, and the bosses must not be pressed too far. They have carried out this general policy in the working class for decades now. The disastrous results are all too clear on every overloaded job and in every unemployment line, and on the front lines of every war where young working class men and women face the horrible choice: kill or be killed.

The way the unions give in to the U.S. government "once the decision has been made," is the same way they give in against bosses who claim that companies can't survive without constantly cutting jobs, wages and benefits. And both of these policies do nothing for the working class but dig it into a deeper hole.