Minneapolis, Minn. — In February, the AFL-CIO's top leadership passed a resolution opposing unilateral military action against Iraq. Union locals across the country and in Minnesota have passed similar resolutions.
"The war is a labor issue because it's working people who will die in this war," says Phyliss Walker, a clerical worker at the University of Minnesota and president of AFSME Local 3800, which represents U of M clerical workers. "Our sisters and our brothers and our sons and our daughters will be sent over there, and many of them will not come back. And of the ones who do come back, they will come back with all sorts of diseases and conditions similar to what happened in '91 in the Gulf War, and they will not get the help that they need from the United States government."
Walker says the war is a labor issue because it will cost billions of dollars that could go to low-income housing, medical care, and other help to working families. In November, the clerical workers local passed a unanimous resolution against an Iraq war.
"Members of our local have marched in all the anti-war rallies. Clerical workers at the University of Minnesota intend to walk out the day the bombing begins, on their lunch hour. They're going to attend a rally at the University of Minnesota on the Northrop Mall. If they didn't have to worry about getting fired from their jobs, there are many clerical workers who wouldn't go to work the day the bombing starts," says Walker.
Twin Cities labor leaders have agreed to encourage their members to attend anti-war marches. The unions also plan to draft an antiwar statement, send letters to all Twin Cities labor unions, and meet with various labor representatives.
A few of the organizers expressed concern that their stance might be seen as a lack of support for U.S. troops. The group has agreed to put the words, Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home on their parade banners.
The anti-war campaign marks the first time the AFL-CIO has ever taken a stance opposing a U.S. president's war policy.
"In manufacturing unions like the steelworkers, we live in a global economy today, and it matters very much to us the foreign policy our government conducts," says David Foster, director of the United Steelworkers District 11. "When the companies we work for are multinational companies, they operate in virtually every country on the globe. We're part of a world labor movement today that is universally against this kind of war."
We're part of a world labor movement today that is universally against this kind of war.
But not all of the rank-and-file supports the labor movement's official stand. Larry Sillanpa tracks labor issues as editor of the Union World newspaper in Duluth. "It's one of those hot button issues that is a little bit outside the realm of normal labor issues, so we're naturally just like the American public in general going to have members who are on the other side of the issue," he says. However, he says union members haven't come forward to express opposition to the official labor stance.
A number of locals have passed resolutions to make sure labor's support of US troops is clear.
The national AFL-CIO resolution reads, "The AFL-CIO is proud to represent thousands now serving in our armed forces. The AFL -CIO reiterates its support for all working men and women in our armed forces and honors their courage."