The Guardian 3 August, 2005

AFL-CIO: rapid return of US troops

In a historic vote on Tuesday July 26 in Chicago, AFL-CIO Convention delegates voted in favour of a resolution calling for a "rapid" return of all US troops from Iraq. Eighteen AFL-CIO state federations, central labour councils and unions had submitted resolutions to the convention calling for an immediate or rapid end to the occupation and return of the troops.

Rising to speak in favour of the resolution, Henry Nicholas, President of District 1199 of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) of Pennsylvania, told the delegates that his son had been deployed to Iraq four times and was about to be sent again. He said, "In my 45 years in the labour movement, this is my proudest moment in being a union member, because it is the first time we had the courage to say ‘enough is enough’."

US Labor Against the War (USLAW) Co-Convenor Gene Bruskin observed, "The action taken by this convention puts the AFL-CIO on record for a rapid end to the Iraq occupation — a stand squarely in the mainstream of American public opinion."

Polls taken in late June show more than half of the American people feel the war was a mistake and similarly that it has made the US less, not more safe. A majority of Americans also say the administration "intentionally misled" the public in going to war.

The convention action comes on the heels of a 26-city US tour by six Iraqi trade union leaders from three of Iraq’s major labour federations organised by USLAW in mid-June. The Iraqi union leaders were unanimous in their call for an immediate end to the US occupation, describing it as a source of instability, violence and terrorism in Iraq.

Adoption of this resolution represents the first time in its 50 year history that the federation has taken a position squarely in opposition to a major US foreign policy or military action.

The resolution says:


The AFL-CIO supports the brave men and women deployed in Iraq, which include our members in all branches of the armed services.

Our soldiers — the men and women risking their lives in Iraq — come from America’s working families. They are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers, our husbands and wives. They deserve to be properly equipped with protective body gear and up-armoured vehicles. And they deserve leadership that fully values their courage and sacrifice. Most importantly, they deserve a commitment from our country’s leaders to bring them home rapidly. An unending military presence will waste lives and resources, undermine our nation’s security and weaken our military.

We have lost more than 1700 brave Americans in Iraq to date, and Iraqi civilian casualties are in the thousands. In recent months, the insurgency increasingly has focused its terror on the Iraqi people, engaging in a deliberate campaign to frustrate their aspirations to take control of their own destiny. These aspirations were clearly demonstrated earlier this year when Iraqis defied widespread intimidation and escalating violence by turning out in the millions to elect a new Iraqi interim government tasked with writing a constitution. The AFL-CIO applauds the courage of the Iraqi people and unequivocally condemns the use of terror in Iraq and indeed anywhere in the world.

No foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. The American people were misinformed before the war began and have not been informed about the reality on the ground and the very difficult challenges that lie ahead.

It is long past time for the Bush administration to level with the American people and for Congress to fulfil its constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities.

Since the beginning of the war almost two-and-a-half years ago, the AFL-CIO has emphasised the support and participation of a broad coalition of nations and the United Nations is vital to building a democratic Iraq. Greater security on the ground remains an unmet precondition for such efforts to succeed. The AFL-CIO calls on the international community to help the Iraqi people build its capacity to maintain law and order through a concerted international effort to train Iraqi security and police forces.

Future efforts to rebuild the country are hampered by the weight of the massive foreign debt accumulated under the Saddam Hussein regime. The AFL-CIO calls for cancellation of Saddam’s foreign debt without any conditions imposed upon the people of Iraq, who suffered under the regime that was supported by these loans. Further, the AFL-CIO calls for the cancellation of reparations imposed as a result of wars waged by Saddam Hussein’s regime and the return of all Iraqi property and antiquities taken during the war and occupation.

The bedrock of any democracy is a strong, free, democratic labour movement.

That is true in the United States and Iraq.

Our returning troops should be afforded all resources and services available to meet their needs. Our members should return to their jobs, with seniority and benefits.

The AFL-CIO supports the efforts of Iraqi workers to form independent labour unions.

The AFL-CIO calls on the Iraqi government to place as a top priority the adoption of a new labour law that conforms to international labour standards to replace the old anti-worker laws and decrees.

Despite legal obstacles, Iraq’s workers and their institutions are already leaders in the struggle for democracy. Trade unionists are being targeted for their activism, and some have paid for their valour with their lives. The AFL-CIO condemns these brutal acts of intimidation.

The AFL-CIO has a proud history of solidarity with worker movements around the world in their opposition to tyranny. In concert with the international trade union movement, the AFL-CIO will continue to provide our full solidarity to Iraq’s workers as they lead the struggle for an end to the violence and a more just and democratic nation.


(This action occurred after delegates of four unions — SEIU, Teamsters, UFCW, and UNITE HERE had already departed the convention after announcing their decision to boycott the proceedings. The SEIU and Teamsters subsequently also announced their disaffiliation — more on that next week.)

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