Sweeney Scabs on Anti-War
By Charles Walker
Less than twenty-four hours after U.S. missiles struck Baghdad,
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney on March 20 announced his "unequivocal"
support for the war and presumably for the war's aims. "Now that a decision
has been made," he said in a prepared statement, "we are unequivocal in our
support of our country and America's men and women on the frontlines as well
as their families here at home." Nothing in the context of the statement indicates
the slightest doubt that the war on Iraq deserves the absolute support of
Clothing his "unequivocal" support for the war as support for the nation's
military personnel, Sweeney is echoing the statements made by the top leadership
of the Democratic Party Teamsters president James P. Hoffa, a charter member
with former Secretary of State George Shultz of the Committee for the Liberation
of Iraq, agrees with Sweeney, saying that "the battle for the liberation of
Iraq has begun, we must close ranks [and] rally behinds our troops." But the
real supporters of the men and women in harm's way, the burgeoning U.S. and
worldwide anti-war movements, are demanding that the troops be brought home
Expressing his confidence in the U.S. government's intentions, Sweeney said
that, "We sincerely hope this conflict will result in a more democratic and
prosperous Iraq and that it will be resolved with little loss of life." But
Sweeney's sincere hopes will be cold comfort to innocent bystanders in the
wrong place, at the wrong time.
Sweeney failed to explain why he thinks that a more prosperous and democratic
Iraq will emerge as a U.S. protectorate, when the same U.S. government is
determined to stifle the human, civil and union rights of its own population.
When the AFL-CIO at its February Executive Council meeting adopted a resolution
opposing a unilateral attack on Iraq, the document stated that, "The president
[Bush] has not fulfilled his responsibility to make a compelling and coherent
explanation to the American people and the world about the need for military
action at this time." That was true, and, according to many policy analysts
and millions of protesters, it's still true.
It's also true that Sweeney has failed to make a "compelling and coherent"
explanation to the labor federation's 13 million members why Sweeney seemingly
no longer holds that the "American people and the world are entitled to an
explanation "about the need for military action at this time.
The union's February resolution was understood by many anti-war activists
in the labor movement to be quite limited, perhaps no more than a tactical
difference with Washington's warmongers. Nevertheless, they hoped that the
resolution would give them some "space" for their anti-war organizing. By
the same logic that "space" is now gone.
But that doesn't mean that workers' efforts to bring the troops home now
are likely to cease. The anti-war sentiment in the labor movement is growing
stronger, even as Sweeney seeks to mislead workers as to the reactionary aims
of this war. Sweeney's failure to stand up to the pressures of the nation's
ruling circles to "rally around the flag," is of the same cloth with his
failure to put up a real fight for workers' living standards.
Sweeney has no business being a shop steward, let alone being the head of
organized labor's largest federation. His urge for basically collaborative
relations with Corporate America explains his support of the war on Iraq;
just as it explains his starkly feeble resistance to Corporate America's downsizing
of the U.S. labor movement.
Should the troops be brought home now? Should organized labor build its
own fighting political party? Should unions resist the war on labor, on workers'
living standards? Is Sweeney, the labor bureaucrat, the leader for organized
labor's fightback? To pose the question is to answer it.
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