by Mark Williams
(CV #34, August 25, 2004)
. (A condensed form of the following article was turned into a leaflet as Detroit Workers' Voice
#42, August 5, 2004.)
Kerry and the occupation
"Anti-war" Kucinich accepts Kerry's pro-war convention platform
Union leaders' hypocrisy: anti-war resolutions while supporting Kerry
U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)
. The occupation of Iraq has been a fiasco for the Bush administration. Not only has Bush aroused the anger and resistance of the Iraqi working masses, but the workers in the U.S. are increasingly fed up with the occupation. The workers are seeing past the flag-waving rhetoric and lies of the administration and are looking into the real motives behind the Iraqi war. They are increasingly aware that it was not self-defense or liberation that was the motive for the war, but protecting U.S. domination in that oil-rich region. They have seen Bush's promises of democracy shattered by the reality of the torture at Abu Ghraib and the suffering of the Iraqi masses under the U.S. military and their hand-chosen Iraqi helpers. American workers have seen thousands of their sons and daughters killed or wounded for a worthless cause. The toll on the Iraqi population has been much worse. And there is no end in sight for this nightmare as Bush's fake declaration of Iraqi sovereignty still leaves the U.S. as the supreme power in Iraq.
. While there are presently not many large or militant demonstrations, there are clear signs of growing anti-war sentiment among the workers. Networks of worker-activists in the trade unions and workplaces have been carrying out anti-war organizing and are getting a good reception among rank-and-file workers. Anti-war resolutions have been passed by many local unions. This June, delegates to the conventions of two large national unions, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) passed resolutions critical of the occupation. The AFSCME resolution called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Worker disgust with the occupation is also reflected in the initiative of Local 10 of the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) for a "million worker march" in October despite opposition from the president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney. This march has gotten support from several other unions including the NEA (National Education Association).
. Further evidence of the disgust of workers and other sections of the masses has been the large and enthusiastic audiences for the anti-Bush, anti-war film Fahrenheit 9-11. Even the bourgeois polling agencies recognize a serious shift against the occupation among the masses.
. While the fact that anti-war resolutions were passed by two large national unions indicates
worker sentiment against the occupation, they also bring to the fore a glaring contradiction. For
while the AFSCME and SEIU adopt anti-war resolutions, the leaders of these unions are also
mobilizing the workers to become foot soldiers for Democratic presidential candidate John
Kerry, who is in favor of continuing the bloody occupation. As well, most of the AFL-CIO union
leaders aren't even interested in making the war and occupation a big issue.
Kerry and the occupation
. While many workers are angry at Bush's Iraq debacle, they are not necessarily as clear about Kerry. Even among those workers and activists who look at Kerry somewhat critically, the intense hatred for Bush often drives them to place their hopes on Kerry. This is understandable. But what would a Kerry administration actually do about Iraq? Both Kerry and Edwards voted for Bush's Iraq war. Neither Kerry or Edwards has expressed any regrets for voting to go to war. They merely whine that Bush botched things up and they had no idea Bush would be so incompetent. To distinguish themselves from Bush, they say they would have gotten support from other imperialist powers like France, Germany and Russia so the U.S. would no not have to go it alone. These countries would then "share the burden" of the takeover of Iraq. In other words, the working class youth of these countries could also be killed and maimed alongside U.S. troops for the sake of big-power access to Middle East oil. In short, they would have been competent imperialists.
. Indeed, Kerry would enlist the other big power so that the occupation could last indefinitely. True, he chides Bush for not having "a realistic plan to win the peace and bring our troops home." But what's the Kerry plan? In the July 4 Washington Post Kerry argues that "Our goal should be an alliance commitment to deploy a major portion of the peacekeeping force that will be needed in Iraq for a long time to come. " The alliance Kerry is referring to has nothing to do with peace, but is an alliance with other capitalist powers to militarily impose their will in Iraq. This alliance is to be dominated by the U.S. As Kerry puts it, what's needed is "an expanded international security force, preferably with NATO, but clearly under U.S. command. " (April 30 speech in Fulton, MO) In the same speech, Kerry declares we should be ready to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. And in this speech he also revealed the sordid imperialist motives for the occupation. In appealing for the European powers to join in, Kerry stated "Iraq's failure could endanger the security of their oil supplies. " So according to Kerry, control of oil resources is what's at stake. In summation, Kerry's position is that the slaughter of the Iraqi masses and the slaughter of U.S. and other countries' workers must continue because the imperialist bourgeoisie needs to control Middle East oil resources.
. Of course, Kerry hastened to add the occupation will be a mighty blow to Islamic terrorists. Rubbish! First of all, the potential oppression under Islamic theocracy cannot justify a brutal U.S. military dictate. The imperialist war and occupation has brought untold suffering to the Iraqi working people. That's what's the main impetus for the widespread hatred of the occupation among the Iraqi masses. But Kerry, like Bush, doesn't care about what the Iraqi masses think of the occupation, but what's best for imperialism. Secondly, while Islamic fanaticism is not the main reason the occupation is hated in Iraq, the occupation has fueled its influence. It's the tyranny of the occupation that has given Islamic terrorists another opportunity to paint themselves in liberation colors.
. Given Kerry's stand on the occupation, it's little wonder his campaign has decided to
de-emphasize it as an issue. He knows his stand on the occupation differs little from Bush's and
by not calling attention to this, Kerry hopes the anger against the occupation will sink Bush while
leaving himself unscathed. At the same time, with his muted criticism of Bush's handling of the
occupation, but not the occupation itself, Kerry appeals to the section of the imperialist
bourgeoisie that's upset with Bush's bumbling. Such cynical tactics only further show his
contempt for the anti-war sentiments of the working people.
"Anti-war" Kucinich accepts Kerry's pro-war convention platform
. The issue with the Democratic Party is not just Kerry's stand, however. It's the imperialist nature of the party as a whole. It's innumerable ties with the bourgeoisie mean it will always be a bastion of imperialism and war. Just look at the unprincipled deal over the Democratic Party platform on Iraq between the mainstream party leadership backing Kerry's position and delegates of Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of the most liberal Democrats.
. Among the Democrats, Kucinich has been one of the most strident critics of the Iraq war. He has emphasized the need to bring U.S. troops home quickly. But the pro-Kerry forces insisted that no questioning of Kerry's views would be allowed. They insisted that the platform reflect Kerry's position of a long-term U.S. military occupation. In response, Kucinich instructed his delegates to capitulate to this for the sake of party unity against Bush. The platform allows the U.S. military occupation to last indefinitely. As the chairman of the platform committee, Governor Vilsack of Iowa put it, U. S. troops would "stay there until the job is done. " Likewise, the platform takes no position on whether the war was just or not, merely saying that "people of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq. " In other words, the Democratic Party welcomes both pro and anti-Iraq war forces, provided the anti-occupation forces now shut up and support the occupation.
. If Kucinich was really the great champion of peace, he could have at least forced a debate on Iraq which would have exposed Kerry a bit. But he backed down instead. As it turns out, Kucinich wants a quick withdrawal of U. S. troops from Iraq -- except if John Kerry doesn't. Indeed, while Kerry is trying to show he's even more for the war machine than Bush, Kucinich decided to whitewash this and defend his retreat by stating "John Kerry is immeasurably better than George Bush and it's not even a close comparison." (interview with Amy Goodman on the radio show Democracy Now) Hmmm. Kerry and Bush are for the war and occupation. Kerry and Bush backed the police-state Patriot Act. What a huge difference!
. What explains Kucinich's capitulation? Well, for all his peace rhetoric, Kucinich own stand was never what it seemed. Even though he emphasized a timetable for U. S. withdrawal, he too wanted a multinational imperialist military force to replace the U. S. occupation, and conditioned U. S. troop withdrawals on this. So when push came to shove, Kucinich's stand had a lot in common with Kerry's.
. There was no protest from other liberal Democrats either. For example, Congressional Black
Caucus members like Charles Rangel of New York and John Conyers of Michigan are
spearheading efforts to restore the draft. This is floated as a peace measure under the bogus
notion that if children of the wealthy may be drafted, the capitalists will be hesitant to launch
wars. But in reality efforts to revive the draft coincide with a growing worry among a number of
liberal and conservative politicians alike that the military needs more troops for such things as
conquering Iraq and launching other wars of aggression in the name of fighting terrorism. Thus,
even the most "left-wing" Democrats tailor their policies to serve imperialism.
Union leaders' hypocrisy: anti-war resolutions while supporting Kerry
. The conflict between the anti-war mood among the workers and the stand of the Democratic Party has been reflected in developments in the AFL-CIO trade unions. The top AFL-CIO union leaders have long been tied to the Democratic Party, telling the workers that this party stands for their interests. This is clashing with the growing anti-war sentiment of the rank-and-file. An example of this occurred at the June national convention of AFSCME. One of the resolutions introduced from the floor called for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. The national union leadership tried to nullify this by adding wording calling on Bush to "bring our troops home as soon as possible." This wording would avoid conflicting with Kerry's stand of an indefinite U.S. occupation of Iraq. But this change was challenged by several local union officials and activists who wanted troops out "now", and this wording wound up in the final resolution approved by a large majority of the delegates.
. Despite the anti-war sentiment of the rank and file, the AFSCME bureaucrats continued their all-out support for Kerry. AFSCME president Gerald McEntee said the war in Iraq is one of the reasons Bush had to go, but at the same time he's mobilizing the union into an all-out campaign for pro-war Kerry. Around the same time the SEIU national convention also passed an anti-war resolution, but again, the SEIU bureaucrats were enthusiastically backing Kerry. Not surprisingly, Kerry was a featured speaker at both the AFSCME and SEIU conventions.
. Thus, the anti-war resolutions do not mark a break with the multilateral imperialism of the Democrats. The union leaderships still back the Democrats. And even the resolutions do not mention the Democrats complicity in the war and tend to blame all the ills of the occupation on the mistaken policy of Bush. They pretend that if only Bush weren't there, the U. S. would have a wonderful foreign policy. They denounce Bush's unilateral imperialism but either support or are silent about the Democrats advocacy of multilateral imperialism.
. While the AFSCME resolution politely "asks President Bush to bring our troops home now", it doesn't mention a single word about Kerry or other Democratic supporters of the occupation. The AFSCME resolution's words against Bush's "unprovoked pre-emptive war" sound good, but ignore that Kerry's speech to the convention also promised pre-emptive military actions "to get the terrorists before they get us."
. The resolution criticizes the Iraqi adventure, but from the standpoint that it weakens the U.S."war on terrorism." But the U.S. "war on terrorism" is itself a fraud. The conflict between the bin Ladens of the world and a Bush or Kerry is not between terrorism and anti-terrorism. It's between a small, upstart terrorist and the defenders of a world corporate empire that has never hesitated to carry out its own terrorism and back pro-U.S. terrorist regimes. Indeed, when Kerry first returned from Vietnam, he justly helped expose the U.S. military's terrorism against the Vietnamese people. From Vietnam to Abu Ghraib, terrorism has always been a bipartisan weapon of "our" ruling class.
. The AFSCME resolution thus has nothing to say against the basic imperialist program of U.S. world domination. Instead it talks about "the ideal of international cooperation and mutual defense under universal rules among nations. " In the real world, these words simply mean that the U.S. imperialist efforts to impose their will around the world would be better served with a coalition of imperialist powers (France, Germany, Russia, etc. ) and the blessings of the UN. What the resolution tries to prettify was spelled out in Kerry's speech to the AFSCME convention as follows: "And we're here to build a strong military, and lead strong alliances, so that our military is never overextended and young Americans are never put in harms way because we went it alone. " More multinational casualties to defend the U.S. empire -- that's the essence of Kerry's differences with Bush's foreign policy.
. The SEIU resolution follows a similar pattern. It talks about "bringing our troops home safely"
though it doesn't even specify if this means immediately or not. It talks about the need for a
foreign policy that will "give high priority to improving the lives of people around the world" and
other nice things. But from the resolution, you would get the impression that all this would
happen if only Bush wasn't running things. There's not a word on the Democrats and their
imperialist foreign policy, but promotion of working with the UN, which has worked to help the
U.S. occupation or Iraq.
U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW)
. One of the forces pushing for anti-war resolutions in the unions is an organization of left-wing union activists called U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW). Certain local unions and a few national unions are among the groups affiliated with USLAW. National and local SEIU leaders are among USLAW's supporters, and the recent national SEIU resolution mentions that the union supports the principles of USLAW. It also appears that local AFSCME union officials who are affiliated with USLAW were instrumental in fighting for the anti-war resolution passed at the AFSCME convention. It's good that USLAW has taken the initiative to push the anti-war issue to the fore in contrast to the bulk of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. Unfortunately, USLAW is not also helping the workers develop their own class politics that really breaks free from the grip of the Democratic Party politicians and the labor traitors at the heads of the AFL-CIO unions.
. For example, recently their web page featured a USLAW statement called "The Occupation of Iraq Must End. " It calls for "an end now to the U.S. occupation" and raises the issue of supporting organizing attempts by Iraqi workers. But this statement also reflects some of the general underlying problems in how USLAW is orienting the workers. While pointing out the rotten nature of Bush's occupation, the statement never raises the question of Kerry and the Democrats' imperialist policy. It states:
. "It's time to acknowledge this tragic mistake and to hold to account Bush and those who prosecuted this disastrous war. At the polls in November, let's resoundingly reject four more years of bravado, unilateralism, and squandering of precious lives and the public treasury on corporate cronyism, militarism and global domination. In helping to defeat George W. Bush, the labor movement can demonstrate that the American people will turn out of office anyone who follows his policies of war, occupation, and attacks on working people. But no matter who is elected U.S. president in 2004, the anti-war movement, including its labor component, must be prepared to challenge U.S. foreign and domestic policies that harm our people and the peoples of the world and to hold all our elected officials to a course of peace and social justice at home and abroad. "
. Such USLAW statements do not mean that this group is simply a bunch of die-hard Kerry supporters. And the above USLAW statement makes some bows to the more radical activists in the organization. While it implies that Kerry is the alternative to Bush, it doesn't explicitly say so. And it talks about opposing any elected official opposed to peace and justice. But to talk about opposing anyone against peace and justice without mentioning the warmongering and anti-worker record of Kerry and the Democrats is empty rhetoric. It's a sham for the statement to confine itself to dumping Bush in the elections while avoiding what Kerry in office would mean. Why not level with the workers? Why not explain that Kerry is also for beefing up the military machine, is also for the occupation, is also in favor of neo-liberal "free-trade" measures to benefit the capitalists, etc.?
. The answer is the USLAW wants to make sure its resolutions are acceptable to zealous pro-Kerry union bureaucrats. USLAW doesn't see mobilizing the rank-and-file against the union misleaders as a key issue. Rather they emphasize getting resolutions quickly passed in a lot of unions by making them palatable to the AFL-CIO leadership. That's why the Executive Board of the SEIU can hail USLAW's principles while backing Kerry for president. After all, the class-collaborationist AFL-CIO hierarchy has no intention of rejecting militarism or imperialism, provided it comes in a Democratic Party package.
. True, it could be argued that almost any statement against the war by the unions would improve the atmosphere a bit. Besides, it may be workers themselves will not accept an explicitly anti-imperialist resolution, but only a broader one. But that does make the task of providing the workers with an anti-imperialist orientation go away. Indeed, it emphasizes the need for such work.
. But USLAW has not been up to this task. It's not just that it supports resolutions taken by unions which don't hit at the Democrats or imperialism. Their own statements do not do this. The problem is USLAW does not focus its efforts on bringing a real anti-imperialist message to the workers through its own literature. Nor does USLAW have any idea of developing anti-imperialist organizational forms among the more class conscious workers so they can better spread these views among their class sisters and brothers. Rather USLAW seems content to provide material which the AFL-CIO bureaucrats can use to tap into the anti-war sentiment of the rank-and-file while simultaneously deceiving the workers with dreams of a peaceful world if only Bush isn't re-elected.
. The paramount importance that USLAW attaches to quickly getting many unions to adopt
anti-war resolutions also ignores that the bulk of the bureaucrats are masters of adopting
resolutions which are then ignored rather than used to mobilize the workers for struggle.
Build a class movement against bipartisan imperialism
. Covering over the contradiction between opposing the Iraq occupation and supporting the Democrats blunts the workers ability to do anything about the war, militarism and imperialist foreign policy. For the workers to really be an anti-war force, they need not only hatred for Bush, but the ability to see through the two-faced Democratic politicians. The workers need to establish their own independent class politics, not the Bush-lite imperialism of Kerry and Edwards. The AFL-CIO hierarchy isn't going to orient the workers in this direction. This is a task for the rank-and-file workers and militant activists themselves.
. The workers need to build their own class trend. Such a stand does not consist of mere sniping at Bush's fiasco, while wading deeper into the quagmire of occupation. We must demand an immediate and unconditional end to the occupation. We must take every opportunity to expose not only Bush, but the imperialist policy of Kerry and the Democrats. We must not denounce Bush's Iraqi adventure because it diverts attention from the "war on terror", but also denounce the "war on terror" as a pretext for endless imperialist wars overseas and repression at home.
. In order to wage an effective struggle, we must target the class force that is behind the Republicans and Democrats. The capitalists finance both parties and both parties protect the worldwide interests of the multinational corporations. The same capitalist class that exploits the workers and poor here also stomps on the workers around the globe in a never ending quest for new markets, new investment opportunities, resources and cheap labor. Thecapitalist monopolies have built a system of imperialism. And it this system that we must target. Only then can we get at the root causes of war and oppression.
. It's also in the workers interests to promote solidarity with workers and poor in Iraq. The struggle of the Iraqi masses against the occupation is a blow against our common enemy, the imperialist bourgeoisie. But solidarity also means promoting the Iraqi workers movement as the alternative to the Iraqi exploiters, be they part of the so-called "sovereign" government recently installed by the U.S., or the ex-Baathists and Islamic fundamentalists who want to rig up their own oppressive tyranny.
. Rank-and-file workers must expose the hypocrisy of the union misleaders who one moment denounce the occupation and the next moment rally support for pro-war candidate Kerry. We must not hope for unity with these class traitors, but build up our own trend independently of them.
. Workers and activists should fight for such a stand at the workplaces, union halls, and
communities. We should circulate leaflets that really tell the truth about the occupation and the
root causes behind it. We should develop networks of militant workers. We should work to
mobilize our coworkers into the mass protests. This is an orientation that can allow the workers
to begin to put their own class stamp on the anti-war movement. <>
Last modified: Sept. 12, 2004.