AFL-CIO Calls for Rapid Return of U.S. Troops
Chicago: In a major change of course, the AFL-CIO Convention delegates voted this afternoon in favor of a resolution calling for a "rapid" return of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
Eighteen AFL-CIO state federations, central labor councils and unions had submitted resolutions to the convention calling for an immediate or rapid end to the occupation and return of the troops. The General Executive Council, meeting on the eve of the convention, submitted a resolution that borrowed heavily from elements of those eighteen but failed to clearly call for a prompt end to the occupation.
When it came time for the convention to act on the resolution Tuesday afternoon, Fred Mason, President of the Maryland/District of Columbia AFL-CIO and Co-Convenor of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), offered a "friendly" amendment that clarified and strengthened opposition to continued occupation of Iraq. The amendment was accepted by the leadership and the modified resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority of delegates following a parade of delegates who spoke in favor of its adoption (none spoke in opposition).
(This action occurred after delegates of four unions — SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW, and UNITE HERE had already departed the convention after announcing their decision to boycott the proceedings. The SEIU and Teamsters subsequently also announced their disaffiliation.)
Rising to speak in favor of the resolution, Henry Nicholas, President of District 1199 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) of Pennsylvania, told the delegates that his son had been deployed to Iraq four times and was about to be sent again. He said, "In my forty-five years in the labor movement, this is my proudest moment in being a union member, because it is the first time we had the courage to say 'enough is enough.'"
Also speaking for the resolution, Nancy Wohlforth, Secretary-Treasurer of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (also a Co-convenor of USLAW), introduced Iraqi trade union leaders attending the Convention as guests. She made the point that all three of the labor federations whose leaders toured the U.S. in June under the auspices of USLAW called for an end to the occupation as essential to restoring peace and ending terrorism in Iraq.
USLAW Co-Convenor Gene Bruskin observed, "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 American public opinion." Polls taken in late June show more than half of the American people feel the war was a mistake and similarly that it has made the U.S. less, not more safe. A majority of Americans also say the administration "intentionally misled" the public in going to war.
U.S. Labor Against the War had rallied its affiliates and supporters to press for the AFL-CIO to take an unambiguous stand for an end to the occupation and return of all U.S. troops. Widespread antiwar and anti-occupation sentiment among the delegates became even more evident when USLAW and Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO constituency group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered union members (also affiliated with USLAW) hosted a reception for Iraqi union leaders attending the convention as guests. The reception, which took place after the plenary on Monday, drew more than 150 delegates and guests, including top officials of a number of unions.
The convention action comes on the heels of a 26-city U.S. tour by six Iraqi trade union leaders from three of Iraq's major labor federations organized by U.S. Labor Against the War in mid-June. The Iraqi union leaders were unanimous in their call for an immediate end to the U.S. occupation, describing it as a source of instability, violence and terrorism in Iraq. (For more about the tour, visit the USLAW website at www.uslaboragainstwar.org.)
The resolution pays tribute to the troops in Iraq and says, "... they deserve a commitment from our country's leaders to bring them home rapidly....." It accuses the Bush administration of misinforming the American people about the reasons for going to war and about the reality on the ground since it launched the invasion. It calls for expanded benefits for veterans and protection for workers affected by military base closings. The resolution also heralds the courage demonstrated by Iraqi workers and unions. It calls for full respect for the right of Iraqi workers to freely organize and bargain in unions of their choice and unconditional cancellation of the foreign debt and reparations accumulated by Iraq during the Hussein regime. It pledges continuing solidarity in concert with the international trade union movement with the workers of Iraq "... as they lead the struggle for an end to the violence and a more just and democratic nation."
Adoption of this resolution represents the first time in its 50 year history that the federation has taken a position squarely in opposition to a major U.S. foreign policy or military action.
Resolution #53 The War in Iraq
Submitted by the Executive Council, as amended from the floor and adopted by the delegates
to the AFL-CIO Convention in Chicago, July 26, 2005
The AFL-CIO supports the brave men and women deployed in Iraq, which include our members in all branches of the armed services.
Our soldiers — the men and women risking their lives in Iraq — come from America's working families. They are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our husbands and wives. They deserve to be properly equipped with protective body gear and up-armored vehicles. And they deserve leadership that fully values their courage and sacrifice. jost importantly, they deserve a commitment from our country's leaders to bring them home rapidly. An unending military presence will waste lives and resources, undermine our nation's security and weaken our military.
We have lost more than 1,700 brave Americans in Iraq to date, and Iraqi civilian casualties are in the thousands. In recent months, the insurgency increasingly has focused its terror on the Iraqi people, engaging in a deliberate campaign to frustrate their aspirations to take control of their own destiny. These aspirations were clearly demonstrated earlier this year when Iraqis defied widespread intimidation and escalating violence by turning out in the millions to elect a new Iraqi interim government tasked with writing a constitution. The AFL-CIO applauds the courage of the Iraqi people and unequivocally condemns the use of terror in Iraq and indeed anywhere in the world.
No foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. The American people were misinformed before the war began and have not been informed about the reality on the ground and the very difficult challenges that lie ahead.
It is long past time for the Bush administration to level with the American people and for Congress to fulfill its constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities. The AFL-CIO supports the call from members of Congress for the establishment of benchmarks in the key areas of security, governance, reconstruction and internationalization.
Since the beginning of the war aljost two-and-a-half years ago, the AFL-CIO has emphasized the support and participation of a broad coalition of nations and the United Nations is vital to building a democratic Iraq. Greater security on the ground remains an unmet precondition for such efforts to succeed. The AFL-CIO calls on the international community to help the Iraqi people build its capacity to maintain law and order through a concerted international effort to train Iraqi security and police forces.
Future efforts to rebuild the country are hampered by the weight of the massive foreign debt accumulated under the Saddam Hussein regime. The AFL-CIO calls for cancellation of Saddam's foreign debt without any conditions imposed upon the people of Iraq, who suffered under the regime that was supported by these loans. Further, the AFL-CIO calls for the cancellation of reparations imposed as a result of wars waged by Saddam Hussein's regime and the return of all Iraqi property and antiquities taken during the war and occupation.
The bedrock of any democracy is a strong, free, democratic labor movement.
That is true in the United States and Iraq.
Our returning troops should be afforded all resources and services available to meet their needs. Our members should return to their jobs, with seniority and benefits.
The AFL-CIO calls on Congress and President Bush to expand benefits for veterans and assist those affected by military base closings, including a G.I. Bill for returning Iraq veterans and a Veterans Administration housing program that meets current needs.
The AFL-CIO supports the efforts of Iraqi workers to form independent labor unions. In the absence of an adequate labor law, the AFL-CIO calls on the Iraqi government, as well as domestic and international companies operating in Iraq, to respect internationally recognized International Labor Organization standards that call for protecting the right of workers to organize free from all government and employer interference and the right to organize and bargain collectively in both the public and private sectors. These rights must be extended to include full equality for working women.
The AFL-CIO condemns the fact that Saddam's decree No. 150 issued in 1987 that abolished union rights for workers in the extensive Iraqi public sector has not been repealed. Under current laws, payroll deductions for union dues are not even permitted. The AFL-CIO calls on the Iraqi government to place as a top priority the adoption of a new labor law that conforms to international labor standards to replace the old anti-worker laws and decrees.
Despite legal obstacles, Iraq's workers and their institutions are already leaders in the struggle for democracy. Trade unionists are being targeted for their activism, and some have paid for their valor with their lives. The AFL-CIO condemns these brutal acts of intimidation.
The AFL-CIO has a proud history of solidarity with worker movements around the world in their opposition to tyranny. In concert with the international trade union movement, the AFL-CIO will continue to provide our full solidarity to Iraq's workers as they lead the struggle for an end to the violence and a more just and democratic nation.