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LABOR TUESDAY! for February 4, 2003

New Labor Group Organizing Union Opposition to War
By Charles Walker

THERE WILL BE a lot more trade union banners in future anti-war demonstrations, if a new national group of union officials and activists have their way. In January, about 100 union leaders met in Chicago and launched U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW). The group adopted a clear-cut resolution opposing the government's war plans, declaring, in part, that "the principal victims of any military action in Iraq will be the sons and daughters of working class families we have no quarrel with the ordinary working class men, women and children of Iraq the billions of dollars spent to stage and execute this war are being taken away from our schools, hospitals, housing and Social Security the war is a pretext for attacks on labor, civil, immigrant and human rights at home neither the Bush administration nor the UN inspections have demonstrated that Iraq poses a real threat to Americans."

Teamsters Local 705, the national union's second largest affiliate with 21,000 members, many of them in the freight industry, hosted the meeting of representatives of the widely dispersed central labor councils, local unions and ad-hoc anti-war labor committees with a combined membership of 2,000,000. Local 705's chief officer, Jerry Zero, told the gathering that his local union in October adopted a resolution against the war. "We had 400 members and all the debate was one-sided against the war. There was only one vote against the resolution. I was amazed. I expected an even split." He added, "We are having this meeting because our members demanded it."

At the January meet, an informal survey indicated that at least 100 labor organizations around the country had adopted anti-war resolutions, some stronger than others. The group agreed to win the endorsement of at least 200 more union bodies as soon as possible, and raised $30,000 to kick off their effort. Since the meeting the American Postal Workers Union and the United Farm Workers have come out against a war, as have a number of regional bodies and local unions. More recent reports say that unions representing 4,000,000 workers have adopted antiwar resolutions. The new labor group endorsed the January 18 anti-war rallies in Washington and San Francisco, and is building the February 15 and 16 anti-war actions.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Jan. 14) ran a relatively comprehensive report about the new anti-war labor group and its intention to "put organization and money behind what have been mostly spontaneous, grass-roots activities." The paper reported that, "union contingents from California, Seattle, New York, Washington, and Florida, as well as labor activists from St. Louis and other cities. passed a resolution against an 'unprovoked war with Iraq." The San Francisco Chronicle (Jan. 16) reported that, "Saturday's rallies in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other cities come a week after 100 labor leaders from around the country -- including several from the Bay Area -- met in Chicago to plan how to sway their memberships toward opposing a possible war with Iraq and assume a bigger role in the anti-war effort."

Participants at the Chicago meeting said the resolution that was unanimously adopted was preceded by a sharp debate over the issue of the United Nations. Al Benchich, president of UAW Local 909 wrote that, "Debate centered on whether to address such issues as the role of the U.N., the legitimacy of inspections, and statements regarding patriotism and U.S. militarism" (labornotes.org." Indeed, the invitation to the gathering said, "We have the responsibility and the opportunity to join with other mainstream American membership organizations to influence the Bush administration not to act outside the UN. That is the purpose of this meeting."

A counter resolution, modeled on the Local 705 resolution, which originated with a small group of workers at two UPS facilities in Chicago, was offered from the floor. Like the Local 705 state-ment the counter resolution made no mention of the UN, focusing on an unambiguous opposition to a war against Iraq. "In the end," wrote Bill Onash , a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 in Kansas City, "the delegates decided we could live without saying anything about the UN."

Teamsters Jerry Zero says his members are conservative; still their anti-war mood is obvious. "We're not exactly a real liberal union. We've got a lot of truck drivers, UPS employees, freight drivers. I'd say it's a pretty conservative union. Yet they feel pretty strongly against the war."

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