Wednesday, December 23, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqi Christians are again targeted, an examination of US labor's role in the movement to end the Iraq War, and more.
And I tried hard to be proud of my service, but all I could feel was shame. Racism could no longer mask the reality of the occupation. These were people. These were human beings. I've since been plagued by guilt. Any time I see an elderly man, like the one who couldn't walk that we rolled onto a stretcher and told the Iraqi police to go take him away. I feel guilt any time I see a mother with her children like the one who cried hysterically and screamed that we were worse than Saddam as we forced her from her home. I feel guilt any time I see a young girl, like the one I grabbed by the arm and dragged into the street. We were told we were fighting terrorists. The real terrorist was me and the real terrorism is this occupation. Racism in the military has long been a tool to justify the occupation and destruction of another country. It's long been used to justify the killing, subjugation and torture of another people.
Racism is a vital weapon employed by this government. It is a more important weapon than a rifle, a tank, a bomber or a battleship. It is more destructive than an artillery shell or a bunker buster or a Tomahawk Missile. While those weapons are created and owned by this government, they're harmless without people willing to use them. Those who send us to war do not have to pull a trigger or lob a mortar round. They do not have to fight the war, they merely have to sell the war. They need a public who's willing to send their soldiers into harm's way. They need soldiers who are willing to kill and be killed without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow orders to use it.
They can send every last soldier anywhere on earth but there will only be a war if soldiers are willing to fight and the ruling class, the billionaires -- who profit from suffering, care only about expanding their wealth, controlling the world's economy -- understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince that war, oppression and exploitation is in our interest. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to kill and die is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior. Soldiers, sailors, marines, airman have nothing to gain from this occupation. The vast majority of the people in the US have nothing to gain from this occupation. In fact, not only do we have nothing to gain but we suffer more from it. We lose limbs, endure trauma and lose our lives. Our families have to watch flag draped coffins lowered into the earth.
Millions in this country without health care, jobs or access to education have watched this government squander over $450 million dollars a day on this occupation.
Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country to make the rich richer. And without racism, soldiers would realize that they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires who send us to war.
I threw families onto the street in Iraq only to come home and find families thrown onto the street in this country in this tragic and unnecessary foreclosure crisis.
We need to wake up and realize that our real enemies are not in some distant land, they're not people whose names we don't know and cultures we don't understand. The enemy is people we know very well and can identify. The enemy is the system that wages war when it is profitable. The enemy is the CEOs who lay us off from our jobs when it is profitable. It's the insurance companies who deny us health care when it's profitable. It's the banks who take away our homes when it's profitable.
Our enemy is not 5,000 miles away. They are right here at home. If we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers, we can stop this war, we can stop this government and we can create a better world.
Labor has been a significant force in the push to end the Iraq War and they don't often get the credit for their contributions. On KPFA
's The Morning Show
today, independent journalist David Bacon
brought on US Labor Against the War
's co-coordinators Kathy Black and Gene Bruskin and the USLAW's national organizer Michael Eisenscher.
David Bacon: So we wanted to take a look at what's going to happen with the war in Afghanistan and the [US President Barack] Obama administration. But in order to understand that, I thought it might be useful if, Eugene or you, Kathy, wanted to talk about what the change was in relation to the -- in terms of union's relation to the war in Iraq, the change from the way in which US labor has essentially supported, or sometimes with a great deal of conflict but nevertheless supported, most of the other military interventions by the US from WWII on through Vietnam and Central America. So why don't you start us off, Gene, by ta,king about what the historical position of US unions has been in relation to US intervention and what the change was with Iraq here?
Gene Bruskin: Well we have a, I think, the labor movement has, in some ways, not a proud history in how we've judged foreign policy cause we've pretty much accepted whatever the existing government and power structure wanted going back to the Philippines and I mean both the World Wars, of course, and Korea and Vietnam and El Salvador. There was some actually splits in the labor movement but in general what foreign policy was for many years including, you know, in all the post-WW period, is whatever policy we had to oppose the Soviet Union, for example, even if it meant supporting dictatorship supported unions in places like the Philippines and helping with the coups in places like Chile, the labor movement followed suit. So it was a huge break when US Labor Against the War was formed and the scope and the influence of that break is unprecedented.
David Bacon: What, uhm, Kathy, what do you attribute the change to? Aside from -- we're going to talk quite a bit her about US Labor Against the War itself as an organization, but are their changes that have taken place in unions and in our labor movement in terms of, for instance, the rejection of the policies of the Cold War or changes in terms of demographics which provided an opportunity I guess you would say for developing opposition to the war in Iraq which didn't exist earlier in terms of Vietnam, Central America, going all the way back to Korea?
Kathy Black: Yeah, of course all those things are factors. I think there are so many Vietnam war veterans in the labor movement and, in retrospect, people look back on that war -- even those that may have been strong supporters -- and see it in a different light. historically. You know, problems with veterans' illness and just a reflection on the policy has evolved. But I think, frankly, the single biggest factor if you can pick one that helped USLAW organize and galvanize support, it was George W. Bush. You know, I think that certainly there have been historical changes but people in the labor movement were so predisposed to be skeptical of anything he did and suspicious and automatically oppositional that that was probably the single biggest factor that helped us organize and convince people to look at the war from a different perspective.
Philip Maldari: And again, "USLAW" is US Labor Against the War, the acronym. Kathy, uh, one thing that certainly has changed is that there's no longer a Soviet Union. During the Cold War, was the labor -- official labor movement so scared of being red-baited that they uh-uh were backing every anti-communist intervention around the world for fear of being --
David Bacon: Well some actually expelled people, actually expelled whole unions.
Philip Maldari: Oh, expelled unions that had alleged Communists in their ranks, uh-uh, so was it, when the Cold War ended, did that give the labor movement a chance to get out under this fear of being red-baited?
Kathy Black: Uh, they pretty much purged the labor movement of the, you know, of Communist influences well before that so I don't know if I see it as fear but there was enormous complicity in the labor movement as Gene already spoke about.
Gene Bruskin: The most important part of it was that the labor movement had really bought into the fear of Communism and anti-communism because the criticism within the labor movement had been crushed earlier on and so they just bought the policy whole hook, line and sinker.
Kathy Black: They advocated the policy. Not everybody, but there were certainly prominent leaders in the labor movement who-who trumpeted those positions. Loudly.
Gene Bruskin: And so it did, I think, go out, after the end of the Cold War, there was clearly more openness to see what was actually workers' interest as opposed to what we usually called "national interest" which is generally business interest. But now we have not the issue of anti-communism so much as the whole issue of the fight against terrorism which is essentially the same set of logic has replaced -- you know, the Domino Theory is now the spread of terrorism.
David Bacon: And then, perhaps, I think one other factor -- maybe you could comment on this, Mike -- that played into this was the cost of the war on working people. I remember hearing this argument made at the first assembly of US Labor Against the War. And the fact that our labor movement now has a very, very large sector of public workers in it who are much more directly effected by the cost of the war and that there was a basis for saying to the people that if this war goes on people are going to lose jobs.
Mike Eisenscher: That certainly is true --
Philip Maldari: Wait a second, we've got to get your mike on. Go ahead, Mike.
Mike Eisenscher: Uh, that's certainly true. Another factor related to that is that the composition of the labor movement has changed quite a bit and there are now many, many immigrant workers in the labor movement who bring with them experiences in their own country that give them a different view of the international situation and a much more rounded and critical perspective.
David Bacon: So, Gene, the -- sort of compressing the history here a bit -- from the beginning of the war and the occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the convention at the AFL-CIO where the AFL-CIO officially adopted a position calling for the withdrawal of US troops which I believe took place in the summer of 2005?
Gene Bruskin: Right.
David Bacon: Right. There was obviously a great deal of activity that went on in terms of getting union by union opposition to that war organized. Can you kind of like go through that history pretty quickly for us here?
Gene Bruskin: Well what was, in a way, breath taking to many of us was that after US Labor Against the War was launched in January 2003 and then the war happened. We weren't, unfortunately, able to prevent it. But then rather than have the reaction that happened after the Gulf War when the yellow ribbons went up everywhere, people got even angrier and there was just a-a huge wave that summer and all into the next year through every union virtually of any significance in the labor movement -- on the shop floor, at monthly union meetings, at regional meetings and a meetings of international Unions, resolutions went onto the floor and there were really intense debates where people were just saying, "This is not the role of the labor movement to take these kind of positions. We're supposed to just deal with people's job-related issues." And in many cases what happened is vets or military families stood up and said, "Look, you know, I got a son that is about to go over there and I want the troops home tomorrow cause I don't want my kid to die." That kind of stuff --
Philip Maldari: Well let's talk about exactly who's in the army, who is in the marine corps, who's fighting this war. It seems like more often than not, it's the children of the working class. It's not the children of the upper middle class that are uh-uh troops, you know, boots on the ground in Afghanistan right now.
Gene Bruskin: Right. I mean it was clearly a thing where people said, "It's us that's fighting the war, it's -- we're paying for the war and we don't want it." And it came at the time when our rights were clearly under attack from every corner, from the Bush administration. So it was very clear to see that. And we made the link even to the extent of going to Iraq. David Bacon was a part of that on a couple of occasions. And bringing Iraqi trade unionists here to make the link to workers in both countries that we had more in common with each other than we did with the Bush administration, we should oppose the war.
David Bacon: So Kathy, here we are. First of all, the Iraq War is not over yet. But we have a whole new emphasis on increasing US military intervention in Afghanistan. A very different war, one that essentially was described by Obama during his election campaign as the war we should be fighting as opposed to the Iraq War which was the war that we should not be fighting. And there are a lot of important differences between Afghanistan as a country and Iraq as a country and the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. How do you think US unions are going to relate to the war in Afghanistan and what kind of tactics and strategies were developed at the recent national assembly of US Labor Against the War in relation to developing labor opposition to this war
Kathy Black: Well it's a much more difficult task for us now. Bush is no longer president. The solidarity work that Gene referred to, that you were such an important part of, is a harder thing to establish. Afghanistan doesn't have unions although Pakistan does and we do have connections there. But we're not going to be bringing a tour of Afghani union leaders to this country to put that human face and make those direct connections for union people. And uh, and then of course there's the concern that the labor movement feels that they elected Obama, that he's our president and they're loathe at this point to criticize him for almost anything -- and certainly to come out in opposition to a major policy initiative like this. So it's a tougher lift but, unfortunately, we think that events and the trajectory of this war is on our side to build that opposition. And some of the tools -- probably the most important tool that we came out with was this terrific DVD that Michael Zweig, one of our major activists in New York has developed called Why Are We In Afghanistan? And actually it's already having a very positive effect. It was shown here in Pennsylvania there was a big SEIU state worker council and they immediately passed a resolution opposing the war and there have been some other reports like that around the country.
One small voice
Speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice
Speaking with the values we were taught as children
So you walk away and say, Isn't he divine?
Don't those clothes look fine on the Emperor?
And as you take your leave, you wonder why you're feeling
So ill-at-ease--don't you know?
Lies take your soul
You can't hide from yourself
Lies take their toll on you
And everyone else
One small voice speaking out in honesty
Silenced, but not for long
One small voice speaking with the values we were taught as children
Tell the truth
You can change the world
But you'd better be strong
Too much time has been wasted pathetically propping up Barack
. We spoke the truth on Bush (those of us who did when it mattered, when it was hard) and we changed the perception. Those of us who do the hard lifting, "the tough lift," we're already doing that, we've been doing that. We don't cut slack for War Hawks. Those of us who've been doing the heavy lifting will continue to do so. Like the Little Red Hen, apparently all by ourselves. And those who are useless will continue to be so. Paul Street (ZNet) observes and names some of the useless
Another example is Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of the liberal weekly public affairs magazine The Nation. "Whatever one thinks of Obama's policy on any specific issue," Vanden Heuvel proclaimed last month, "he is clearly a reform president committed to improvement of peoples' lives and the renewal and reconstruction of America ... Progressives should focus less on the limits of the Obama agenda," Vanden Huevel intoned, "and more on the possibilities that his presidency opens up."