LaborTalk – January 4, 2006

AFL-CIO Will Offer Bush a Blank Check
On War in Iraq in Its 2006 Election Agenda

By Harry Kelber

The AFL-CIO will continue to remain completely silent on the war in Iraq in the 2006 congressional elections, treating it as a non-issue for working families.

It is maintaining a tight blackout on how the Bush administration is conducting the war, including the various scandals about corruption, torture and spying on American citizens, as though these matters are of little concern or have no consequence for American workers.

Both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win have never discussed the cost of the war or the mounting casualties or mentioned the hundreds of union members who were killed and wounded in Iraq.

On Dec. 30, I visited the web sites of 15 of the largest unions and found that not even one — I repeat, not even one — had anything to say about the war. Since the invasion of Iraq, the AFL-CIO leadership has obliterated any news about the war or permitted any discussion of the subject by union members on its web site, especially about events that were embarrassing to President Bush. And virtually every international union president has complied with the AFL CIOšs censorship policy.

Who at AFL-CIO headquarters issued the unwritten order to blot out all references to the war in Iraq? There is no Executive Council policy statement or convention resolution authorizing a total ban on information about the war. Why are our top labor leaders playing deaf, dumb and blind about the critical events in Iraq, especially since scores of national, state and local union affiliates have passed resolutions calling for an end to the American occupation and the rapid return home of our soldiers?

Surely, we are entitled to hear from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and CTW President Anna Burger how and why this secret policy of blatant censorship was conceived and when it will be revoked.

AFL-CIO's 2006 Campaign: Pretend Iraq War Doesn't Exist

The AFL-CIO has taken great pains to downgrade the importance of the war. It commissioned Hart Research to conduct a poll on "issues of importance to working families," but the war in Iraq, its cost in blood and treasure, was not included among the issues that were polled.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka will be making a tour of ten states, in which he will issue "report cards" on the votes of members of Congress on 12 issues, from the minimum wage and health care to trade and student loans. Trumka apparently did not consider the war in Iraq as an issue worth checking the views of our lawmakers.

The AFL-CIO policy of criticizing President Bush on his domestic policies while giving him a blank check on Iraq didn't make sense when it was adopted in the 2004 presidential elections, and makes even less sense in the 2006 congressional elections.

Who, in the real world, can doubt the obvious connection between domestic policy and foreign policy? The simple fact is that if labor ignores Bush on "the war on terror," as it appears in Iraq, it undermines its chances of winning any legislative victories for working people. Bush is using the "war card" to deprive 176,000 workers in the Homeland Security Department of their right to be represented by a union; the Pentagon has issued orders that take away the basic rights of some 750,000 employees. There are a growing number of cases where civil rights are being shredded in the name of national security.

Because the war in Iraq has been eating up billions of taxpayer dollars each month and straining the federal budget, Congress has a "legitimate" excuse for slashing health care, education, Medicade, student loans, food stamps and other needed programs for the elderly and the poor.

Since working families will be required to share the astronomical cost of the war, shouldn't they have a voice in deciding when and how the war will end? Why are union leaders refusing to speak out in their behalf and, in effect, telling all of us to shut up about Iraq?

A Challenge to Labor's Anti-War Activists

John Sweeney and his associates on the Executive Council have decided unilaterally that the war in Iraq will not be an issue in the AFL-CIO's campaign in the 2006 elections.

Furthermore, they have taken the unusual step of imposing a blanket censorship on the federation's web site, not allowing any discussion, pro or con, by union members. Nor is it sheer coincidence that the presidents of virtually ever international union affiliate is complying with this outright censorship.

Surely, this matter deserves the attention of the several hundred labor editors and staffers who are members of the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA). As an organization dedicated to free speech and a free press, ILCA should be concerned with violations of these basic rights, even when they occur within the labor movement.

Will labor editors stand up and publicly protest this effort to choke off debate on one of the most critical and far-reaching issues facing our nation? Will the ILCA call for an investigation of this high-handed censorship by the AFL CIO bureaucracy?

* * * * *

The tens of thousands of anti-war protesters who belong to AFL-CIO and CTW unions should be especially outraged that their leaders are squashing debate on an issue that has evoked heated public controversy since President Bush launched the war in Iraq in March 2003.

U.S. Labor Against the War, which has the endorsement of 125 national, state and local labor organizations, played an admirable role at the AFL CIO's 2005 convention by getting delegates to adopt an anti-war resolution that called for an end to the American Occupation in Iraq and the "rapid" return home of our soldiers.

But the AFL-CIO bureaucracy has nullified the intent of that resolution by shutting down all official discussion of the war and insisting that its 2006 election campaign will be restricted solely to domestic issues.

USLAW can hardly ignore this undemocratic tactic to silence the anti-war voices within the labor movement. It should ask AFL-CIO leaders to justify their ban on discussion of Bush's conduct of the war. Anti-war activists should call for a full and open debate on all aspects of the war in Iraq on the web sites of the AFL-CIO, the CTW and all their affiliated unions.

Our weekly "LaborTalk" and "World of Labor" columns can be viewed at our Web site: Harry Kelber's e-mail address is:

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