The AFL-CIO union federation in the US, which represents millions of US workers, last week sent out a strong message against George Bush. Delegates to its convention voted to call for an end to the occupation of Iraq and the quick return of US troops.
The media coverage focused on the split in the trade union federation that took place at the convention (see linked article). But the decision to call for troops out is in many ways just as significant.
It is the first time in its 50 year history that the AFL-CIO has taken a position directly opposed to a major US foreign policy or military action.
The move to win the federation to oppose the occupation came from the grassroots of the union movement.
The US Labour Against the War organisation has grown from a small group into a national network, representing over one million members.
It organised a national tour by anti-occupation Iraqi trade unionists in June this year. They travelled to a number of cities speaking to large groups of US workers urging them to support an end to the occupation.
Eighteen AFL-CIO state federations, trade union councils and unions submitted resolutions to last week’s convention calling for an immediate or rapid end to the occupation.
The federation’s leaders wanted to pass a motion that merely called for an end to the occupation “as soon as possible”.
This is virtually indistinguishable from the position of the Bush regime.
Some 150 US Labour Against the War delegates met to plan to fight on the convention floor to get through the resolution calling for the “rapid withdrawal” of US troops.
The AFL-CIO’s leaders, unsure of whether they could win the debate in the convention, backed down and accepted this resolution.
Fred Mason, the head of the AFL-CIO in Maryland made the proposing speech. His call to “get out now” was taken up by speaker after speaker.
Brooks Sunkett, vice-president of the Communications Workers of America, spoke about how the government had lied to him when it sent him to fight in Vietnam over 30 years ago. “We have to stop it from lying to a new generation now,” he said.
Henry Nicholas, of the public sector union AFSCME in Pennsylvania, told the convention how his son had been deployed in Iraq four times and is set to be sent again.
“In my 45 years in the labour movement, this is my proudest moment in being a union member, because it is the first time we have had the courage to say, ‘Enough is enough’,” he said.
Gene Bruskin of US Labour Against the War, said, “The action taken by this convention puts the AFL-CIO on record for a rapid end to the Iraq occupation — a stand squarely in the mainstream of US public opinion.”
A Gallup poll published last week found that 51 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration deliberately misled the public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war.
The deaths of over 1,780 US soldiers in Iraq and the continuing chaos have led many to question the reasons for the war. The US tour of Iraqi trade unionists helped inform hundreds of workers about the neo-liberal disaster Bush wants to impose on Iraq.
“This is not liberation,” said Ghasib Hassan, of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. “It is occupation. At the beginning of the 21st century, we thought we’d seen the end of colonies, but now we’re entering a new era of colonisation.”
See AFL-CIO report www.aflcio.org/aboutus/thisistheaflcio/convention/2005/ns07272005.cfm