Workers are fed up with the occupation of Iraq, Bush and Kerry support it

. This article is from Detroit Workers' Voice #42, August 5, 2004. (It is reprinted in CV #35, March 15, 2005, which accidentally identifies it as the leaflet distributed by the CVO at the Million Worker March of October 17, 2004 in Washington, DC. Actually, it was the CVO leaflet of October 5, 2004 that was distributed at the Million Worker March of Oct. 17, as well as prior to the MWM in order to inform workers about it. This leaflet supported the MWM while giving a critical assessment of the orientation of its organizers. See Bush and Kerry back war and big business/Workers! Mobilize for class struggle! - CVO leaflet of Oct. 5.)


. Workers in the US are increasingly fed up with the occupation of Iraq. They are seeing past the flag-waving rhetoric and lies of the Bush administration. They are looking into the real motive behind the Iraqi war, protecting US domination in that oil-rich region, the Persian Gulf. They have seen the torture at Abu Ghraib and the suffering of the Iraqi masses under the occupation. American workers have seen over ten thousand of their own sons and daughters killed or wounded. And there is no end in sight for this nightmare.

. While there aren't many anti-war demonstrations at the moment, there are clear signs of anti-war sentiment. Networks of worker-activists in the trade unions and workplaces have been carrying out anti-war organizing. Anti-war resolutions have been passed by many local unions. And 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 US troops from Iraq.

. Worker disgust with the occupation is also reflected in the fact that a few unions are pushing 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).

. But the anti-war resolutions at the union conventions bring to the fore a glaring contradiction. Despite the anti-war resolutions, the leaders of these unions are mobilizing the workers to become foot soldiers for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Yet Kerry favors continuing the bloody occupation.

. Kerry quibbles with Bush only over how to carry the war out better. But the Democrats, like the Republicans, are a party of the rich. As a party of the capitalists and the multinational corporations, they are obligated to defend the imperialist empire in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. In contrast, the workers' interests lie in an immediate end to the occupation. Our interest lies in fighting that class force, the capitalists, which backs imperialism and which finances the Democratic Party.

Kerry and the occupation

. What would a Kerry administration actually do about Iraq? Both Kerry and Edwards voted for Bush's Iraq war. They merely whine that Bush botched things up. They claim that they, unlike Bush, could get support from other imperialist powers like France, Germany and Russia so the US would not have to go it alone. These countries would then share the burden of casualties in occupying Iraq. In other words, the working class youth of these countries would also be killed and maimed alongside US troops.

. Indeed, Kerry would enlist the other big powers so that the US 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 his 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. " As Kerry puts it, what's needed is "an expanded international security force, preferably with NATO, but clearly under US command. " (April 30 speech in Fulton, MO) In the same speech, Kerry declares we should be ready to send more US troops to Iraq.

. Kerry's speech also warned European imperialism that "Iraq's failure could endanger the security of their oil supplies. " So according to Kerry, control of oil resources is what's at stake.

. Given Kerry's stand on the occupation, it's little wonder his campaign has decided to de-emphasize it as an issue. If anything, he now presents himself as a tougher militarist than Bush. This is Kerry's appeal to the section of the imperialist bourgeoisie that's upset with Bush's bumbling.

"Anti-war" Kucinich caves in to Kerry's pro-war platform

. Some people have hopes in such liberal Democrats as Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Among the Democrats, Kucinich has been one of the most strident critics of the Iraq war. He has emphasized the need to bring US troops home quickly. Thus, there was a question of whether there would be a fight at the Democratic convention over the what the party platform would say about the war.

. But the pro-Kerry forces insisted that no questioning of Kerry's views would be allowed. And Kucinich instructed his delegates to capitulate. So there was no debate. This was a shameless capitulation. It showed Kucinich wasn't serious about his anti-war views.

. So the Democratic platform has no opposition to a continuing occupation, not even a timetable for withdrawal. Likewise, the platform takes no position on whether launching 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-war forces, provided the anti-war forces now shut up and support the occupation.

. How could this happen? Well, for all his peace rhetoric, even Kucinich's own stand was never what it seemed. Even though he emphasized a timetable for US withdrawal, he too wanted a multinational occupation to replace US occupation. So when push came to shove, it had a lot in common with Kerry's militarism. No wonder he capitulated to Kerry at the convention.

. There was no protest from other liberal Democrats either. And no wonder. 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, the draft would supply the additional troops that would be needed for a continuing occupation or other military efforts.

Union leaders' hypocrisy:
anti-war resolutions while supporting Kerry

. The top AFL-CIO union leaders have long been tied to the Democratic Party. This leads them to clash with the growing anti-war sentiment of rank-and-file union members. This happened at AFSCME's national convention in June. One of the resolutions introduced from the floor called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The national union leadership tried to add wording calling on Bush to "bring our troops home as soon as possible. " This addition would accommodate Kerry's stand of an indefinite US occupation of Iraq. But this change was challenged by several local union officials and activists, and was defeated. The final resolution called for bringing the troops home "now", and it was approved by a large majority of the delegates.

. This victory showed the anti-war sentiment among the workers. But AFSCME bureaucrats continued their all-out support for Kerry anyway. True, AFSCME president Gerald McEntee said the war in Iraq is one of the reasons Bush had to go. But he mobilized AFSCME into an all-out campaign for pro-war Kerry. Indeed Kerry was a featured speaker at the union's convention.

. Something similar happened at the SEIU national convention, which was also in June. The SEIU national convention also passed an anti-war resolution. But the SEIU bureaucrats enthusiastically backed Kerry, who was a featured speaker here too.

. So these 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 themselves do not mention that the Democrats have supported the war. Instead they blame all the ills of the occupation on the mistaken policy of Bush. They pretend that if only Bush weren't there, the US would have a wonderful foreign policy. They denounce Bush's unilateral imperialism but either support or are silent about a multilateral occupation of Iraq.

. Thus the AFSCME resolution denounces Bush's "unprovoked pre-emptive war", but ignores that Kerry promised pre-emptive military actions in his speech to the AFSCME convention. The SEIU resolution talks about "bringing our troops home safely", but it doesn't say if this means immediately. It thus leaves the door open for a long occupation. It calls for a foreign policy that will "give high priority to improving the lives of people around the world". But it gives the impression that this would happen if only Bush wasn't running things. It ignores that so long as the government is run by the capitalists, foreign policy will always be aimed at empire-building and enriching the multinational corporations.

US Labor Against the War (USLAW)

. There is a network of left-wing union activists, called US Labor Against the War (USLAW), that is pushing for anti-war resolutions. Certain local unions and a few national unions are among its members. National and local SEIU leaders are among USLAW's supporters, and the recent SEIU resolution says that the union supports the principles of USLAW. It also appears that local AFSCME union officials in USLAW were instrumental in getting the AFSCME convention to pass its anti-war resolution. It's good that USLAW has taken the initiative to push the anti-war issue. But USLAW's work suffers from the limitations of the SEIU and AFSCME resolutions. It's quiet about the multilateral imperialism of the Democrats. And it doesn't expose the hypocrisy of the top union leaders, because its policy is to recruit those union leaders.

. For example, a recent USLAW statement, "The Occupation of Iraq Must End", says it will oppose anyone who doesn't support peace and justice. But it is silent about the track record of the Democrats in voting for war and repression. It denounces Bush's policies but is silent about Kerry's.

. This doesn't mean that USLAW is simply a bunch of Kerry supporters. But its resolutions don't conflict with the all-out pro-Kerry campaigns of the pro-imperialist union leaders. At the same time, the more radical activists in USLAW are supposed to take comfort in resolutions including phrases like the "labor movement" will fight not just Bush, but "anyone who follows his [Bush's] policies". USLAW thus seeks to paper over the differences in the labor movement.

. But the labor movement is not a united whole. The big-wig leaders of the AFL-CIO are supporters of one capitalist party or another. They seek compromise with the capitalists, not struggle. So there can be no real progress in the labor movement until the workers are organized independently of the class-collaborationist leaders. Rank-and-file work in the unions should aim at building up an independent movement that exposes the hypocrisy of the top union leaders, not at joining with these leaders. And real left-wing work should aim at building up a trend that stands up for class struggle and against class collaboration. Both in the unions and in the left, there must be a struggle to build up a stand truly capable of struggling against the capitalists.

Build a class movement against bipartisan imperialism

. The workers are the real force that can fight imperialism and war. And anti-war sentiment is rising among the working masses. But for workers to be an effective anti-war force, we must not only fight Bush's unilateral imperialism, but Kerry's multilateral imperialism as well. A foreign occupation by any other name is still an occupation.

. Workers need to develop our own independent class politics, not the Bush-lite politics of Kerry and Edwards. The AFL-CIO hierarchy isn't going to orient the workers in this direction. This is a task for rank-and-file workers and militant activists. <>

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Last modified: May 1, 2005.