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From: Labor Committee for Peace & Justice labor-for-peace-and-justice@igc.org Date: Fri, 01 Apr 2005

THE LEADERSHIP COUNCIL OF USLAW is currently conducting a referendum vote on this intiative:

An Appeal to the U.S. Antiwar Movement
for United Demonstrations this Fall

We think it critical that U.S. antiwar leadership bodies initiate a call for united national demonstrations in the fall of this year. Powerful national mobilizations that confront the government in the streets with hundreds of thousands can be a crucial factor in bringing the unjust and immoral war against Iraq and the occupation of that country to an end.

We must remember the truth revealed by the Pentagon Papers: that mass actions against the Vietnam War were not ignored by the war-makers. Rather, those in power viewed these actions as manifestations of a potential social upheaval too disruptive to be left out of their geopolitical calculations. Mass national actions remain the clearest, most direct means to demonstrate our opposition to the war and reshape the political landscape. They are also the type of activity most likely to penetrate the consciousness of the troops and to assure them that if they turn against the war, they will be welcomed into the safe haven of a movement millions strong and ever growing.

Over the past few years, the major antiwar coalitions in this country, to their great credit, have mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. Yet the war and occupation of Iraq continues, making clear that larger actions are required to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. No one can dispute the obvious: a united movement organizing united demonstrations can generate a larger turnout than the component parts of the movement can by organizing separately and sometimes competitively. Nor can anyone doubt that rank-and-file antiwar activists and their organizations want united actions, and they expect leaders of the major coalitions to act responsibly and join together to organize them.

The fall actions would also provide an opportunity for a united peace movement to address the Iraq warâ??s profound negative impact here in the United States.

The above statement has been endorsed by the organizations listed below. It is our hope that the major antiwar coalitions will take heed and respond positively to a follow-up invitation to attend a meeting in the near future of representatives of each group to decide the date, time, locations and other essential matters for the fall actions.

In Support of the Proposal to Establish a USLAW Unity Committee

On January 31, 2005 a memorandum titled "Unifying the Antiwar Movement: USLAW Can Help!" was posted to members of the USLAW Steering Committee. In this memorandum, the Ohio State Labor Party (OSLP) proposed that USLAW "establish a Unity Committee, which could meet with leaders of the respective [peace] coalitions and other key antiwar groups, address outstanding issues, and figure out how best to bring everybody together to plan united demonstrations in the future. Such a Unity Committee would, of course, report to and be subject to the direction of USLAW's co-convenors and steering committee." The OSLP is now requesting that this proposal be acted upon by the Steering Committee at its March 30 meeting.

Events over the last several weeks, particularly in relation to the March 19 actions, have demonstrated anew the importance of unifying antiwar forces. Marches in San Francisco and Los Angeles saw the entire movement united in the streets. USLAW was part of that unity and worked constructively and productively with ANSWER, the principal sponsor of the actions, and with other antiwar forces in an attempt to generate the largest turnouts possible. In San Francisco, a USLAW-organized labor gathering, which preceded the main march, resulted in a turnout of hundreds.

But on the east coast, the movement was splintered and the various antiwar groups went their own ways. That is not to say that their actions were not timely and positive. Each of them contributed to demonstrating opposition to the war and occupation in a highly visible way. Yet no one can dispute that if the movement had been fully united and had worked out a common calendar of events, the outpouring could have been larger.

Sentiment for Unifying the Movement

There is no question that antiwar activists around the country want to see the major coalitions join together in calling united actions. This was graphically demonstrated by the experience in 2003 when the Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition (NOAC) issued a "Call for Unity of the U.S. Anti-War Movement," addressed to ANSWER, UFPJ and USLAW and mailed nationally to a large number of peace groups (see copy of the Call below). The response was heartening with many groups hailing the appeal for unity and forcefully stating their own deeply felt conviction that the movement must unite in the streets to oppose the war, occupation and expansionist policies of the U.S. government. The result was that UFPJ and ANSWER did join in co-sponsoring the October 2003 demonstrations, an important plus for the movement at that time.

The intervening period, however, has witnessed a worsening polarization among some of the key antiwar forces that has only served to weaken the movement which, of course, works to the advantage of the warmakers.

Pro-unity sentiments have recently been expressed by growing numbers of activists and their organizations. In addition to NOAC, Connecticut United for Peace has been outspoken in advocating unity. The Milwaukee Coalition for a Just Peace introduced a resolution at the February UFPJ conference calling for united actions this fall. Bay Area United Against War has long urged the movement to build united demonstrations in the streets. Religious figures in Los Angeles have voiced hopes that unity can be forged.

The need now is for USLAW to be a unifying force. Divisions in the antiwar movement will not magically disappear, nor will they vanish because of anyone's plaintive plea. A campaign for unity has to be organized, as it was in 2003, and USLAW has a responsibility to help in the process.

USLAW and March 19 in New York

USLAW's plans for an antiwar rally in New York on March 19 were adversely affected by the fractured state of the peace movement. The December 4, 2004 USLAW conference, which called for the action, was attended by two top leaders of UFPJ, yet UFPJ declined to endorse the projected USLAW rally. UFPJ called for busloads of New Yorkers to go to Fayetteville to support the antiwar rally there but why not at the same time urge antiwar activists who opted not to go to Fayetteville to help build a USLAW rally in New York on the 19th? Why not make the UFPJ data base available to USLAW? After all, USLAW is an affiliate of UFPJ and a labor-called rally should have been seen as a step forward in mobilizing larger number of workers in the antiwar cause, something the entire movement should share as a prime objective.

The cancellation of USLAW's March 19 rally in New York was a setback for USLAW and the perspective of deepening labor's involvement in the antiwar struggle. Incidentally, there were differences of opinion regarding the cancellation, reflecting divergent views on how best -- or whether -- to implement the decision made by USLAW's December 4 conference calling for USLAW to sponsor actions marking the second anniversary of the war.

The approach taken with respect to the rally was, first, to agree to organize it based on a preliminary showing of interest by a number of New York unions; then to cancel the action when the conclusion was drawn that too few unions - and none of the major ones -- were willing to endorse and build it. The cancellation, which was announced weeks before the scheduled rally, was ascribed to lack of interest by the New York labor movement, which is not the kind of inspiring and uplifting message that USLAW should be sending out.

The approach which should have been taken was to agree to implement the decision made in Chicago and to stick to that decision.  That would have involved not only actively seeking the support of as many unions as possible--especially the larger, more progressive ones--in the earlier stage, as was done, but persisting all the way to March 19 -- through letters, leaflets, addressing union meetings where possible, and asking USLAW supporters and contacts to move for support and endorsement. This approach would also have anticipated that the USLAW-sponsored educators' March 5 conference would be an invaluable springboard for building March 19, with the hope and expectation that many of the more than 750 people who actually attended that conference would have left it so fired up that they would have welcomed the opportunity to participate in a labor-called action on the second anniversary of the war.

Given the potential for increasing labor's  participation on March 19 as the day-to-day building for the rally proceeded; the educators' conference; the history of huge antiwar demonstrations in New York; the significance of the March 19 date; the ever-deepening sentiment against the war and the occupation, especially among military families; and developments on the ground in Iraq which might have motivated more and more people to attend a labor-called protest action, there is every reason to believe that USLAW could have organized a turnout of respectable size. Of course, there are no guarantees. But there never are, and we can't wait for ironclad guarantees before calling a rally and seeing to it that it comes off.

Indeed, according to the word we received from New York, AFSCME District Council 37 on March 7 did vote to endorse the New York antiwar demonstration scheduled for March 19, called by the newly formed Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC).* The backing of such a large labor body might very well have been obtained for the USLAW rally, a further indication that the decision to cancel that rally was precipitous and unwarranted.

Apart from reaching out to the labor movement, there should have been a real effort to ask the rest of the antiwar movement for its support, something that was not done. True, UFPJ was asked to endorse the action. But other antiwar groups should have been asked as well. Indeed, in all probability a data base containing the names of several thousand New York antiwar activists  would in all likelihood have been made available to USLAW from ANSWER, if only it had been asked. In fact, ANSWER made its data base available to USLAW in San Francisco to help build the labor rally there and USLAW was told well before canceling its New York rally by a national ANSWER leader that he strongly believed that the same would be done for New York and without conditions (meaning no insistence that USLAW's demands be changed or even that ANSWER have a speaker). Utilizing such a data base could have made a huge difference in generating a good size crowd for the event.

The point here is that USLAW-called actions are essential, and even if it was the considered judgment that USLAW was not able to pull an action off on its own in New York -- at least at this stage of its development -- then reaching out to other antiwar groups for support was the reasonable way to proceed. As noted, this would have been fully consistent with the resolution passed at USLAW's December 4 conference which called for reaching out to all antiwar groups in building the projected USLAW actions. Yet this outreach did not occur, at least not beyond UFPJ. Instead, based on a pessimistic assessment of securing sufficient labor support and unwilling to reach out to thousands of antiwar activists by utilizing a data base provided by another antiwar group -- which, after all, has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in the streets in antiwar demonstrations over the past few years -- the USLAW rally was simply canceled.

Canceling plans for an antiwar rally is an extreme move that should be taken, in the writer's opinion, only when all doors have been closed and prospects for an event of even a minimal size are definitively foreclosed. That clearly was not the case here.

Institutional labor support is without question vitally important, and the hope was that more unions would have signed up early on to help plan and organize the rally. But if the choice was to go forward with the unions that were on board -- and additional ones that might have joined the effort by the time of the action -- while reaching out, with the help of other antiwar formations, to rank-and-file workers who support USLAW's demand that the troops be brought home immediately, or throwing in the towel and canceling plans for the rally, the first course was manifestly the preferable one.

USLAW took a very positive position at its December 4 conference when it passed its unity-in-action resolution, which was based on the principle of non-exclusion and reflected USLAW's desire to join in organizing actions with all groups in agreement with its program. It is indeed unfortunate that USLAW did not go forward with the action in New York on March 19, mobilizing everyone it could. Even a turnout of modest proportions, marking USLAW's initial foray in organizing a mass action and laying the basis for larger actions in the future, would have been an important contribution to the further building of the antiwar movement and a step forward for USLAW as part of the process.

Unite for the Fall

Once USLAW has a Unity Committee in place, it can help promote a renewed effort in the campaign to achieve a unified movement. The first order of business would hopefully be circulating an "An Appeal to the U.S. Antiwar Movement for United Demonstrations This Fall" (a preliminary draft of such an appeal is being sent to you separately), which could be issued by USLAW and other unity-minded peace groups, and widely disseminated throughout the movement.

We urge all USLAW steering committee members to vote "yes" on the unity proposal.    

* For reasons not the subject matter of this memo, District Council 37 rescinded its endorsement of the TONC March 19 demonstration, although some AFSCME locals affiliated with Council 37 did endorse. The point is that District Council 37 might well have endorsed a USLAW rally on March 19 if the efforts to get the Council to do so had continued.

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