Labor-based peace coalition maps plans

CHICAGO – Teamster Local 705 hosted some 200 delegates and guests who met here Oct. 24-25 to plan the future of a labor-based peace coalition. On the agenda were proposals for a mission statement, structure, leadership, voting and other aspects of formalizing the inner workings of the organization.

During the two-day meeting, the name of the coalition went through a slight change as well. United States Labor Against War added the word “the” and became United States Labor Against the War, retaining its acronym, USLAW.

Bob Muehlenkamp, co-convenor of USLAW, said the 10-month-old coalition had some impressive victories in its brief history. Some highlights include a National Day of Labor Antiwar Action; a report published in six languages (including Arabic) exposing the war profiteering of 18 corporations given contracts in Iraq by the Bush administration; sending a delegation of labor activists to Iraq to meet with trade unionists there; helping to move the AFL-CIO to question Bush’s drive for war; and, by Muehlenkamp’s estimate, moving one-third of the labor movement to officially take a stand against the Iraq war.

An illustration of how union members were brought to support the peace movement was given by Sal Rosselli, president of Service Employees International Union Local 250 in Northern California. A full-time education position was created by the local to help members understand the connection between the war and the impact on their jobs. As health care workers, much of the funding for their work comes from the government, and as more money is diverted to war, there is less available for human needs, he said.

Internationalism was given a large portion of time during the assembly. A message of support was received from Julio Turra, a leader of Brazil’s CUT labor federation, and Edgar Ramirez, a labor leader in La Paz, Bolivia. Though the leaders could not attend, their letter was read to the participants. Among other things, the letter spoke of the recent demonstrations against exporting their natural gas to the U.S., which brought down President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. The rallying cry of the workers in La Paz was, “Bolivia is not for sale!” The letter also warned that U.S. Green Berets were recently sent to Bolivia to “protect the embassy.”

Six task forces were created during the assembly to map out the future work of USLAW. These task forces will focus on working with veterans and military families; continuing education on war and the economy; international solidarity and labor rights in Iraq; defending immigrants and communities of color; as well as defending civil liberties and social programs.

Preparations are already in the works for three events that USLAW will help build: Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, to promote union organizing rights; Tax Day 2004 (April 15), to defend social programs; and May Day 2004, when USLAW will be initiating actions to fight for immigrants’ rights.

The author, who attended the USLAW National Assembly as a delegate for Puget Sound Labor for Peace, can be reached at commiett@yahoo.com