The AFL-CIO and the Iraq War
By James Petras
The U.S. labor confederation, the AFL-CIO, is in a deep crisis. Following a recent split, it lost over 3 million members, reducing it to a mere 9 percent of the labor force and 7 percent of the private sector.
The crisis of the AFL-CIO is the result of politics, including the politics of collaboration with employers and opposition to militant “grass-root” organizing. Over the past 50 years the AFL-CIO trade union bureaucrats have intervened against militant local unions, surrendered past gains to avoid struggles with employers, passively accepted corporate plant closings and relocations to low-wage areas, and refused to organize the tens of millions of low-wage workers in the retail and other service sectors.
The privileges in salaries and “benefits” of the top and middle level trade union bosses exceed, on average, $300,000, apart from multiple pensions, and corrupt management of billion dollar pension funds. The key to the internal rot in the AFL-CIO is its long-standing structural linkages to U.S. imperialism, including its role in joint ventures with the CIA in overthrowing democratic regimes and training and financing pro-business “trade union officials.” The AFL-CIO has supported every major U.S. imperial war, (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, and Iraq); and every major U.S. intervention (Guatemala 1954, Guyana 1955, Iran 1955, Chile 1973, Panama 1980 and Grenada 1983, Venezuela 2002).
The AFL-CIO has undermined legitimate militant unions and paved the way for pro-U.S. business regimes to come to power, thus facilitating the relocation of U.S. multinationals from the U.S. to low-paid, non-union U.S. client countries.
True to its tradition as an accomplice to U.S. imperial wars, the AFL-CIO has supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to hold billions of dollars in Israel bonds.
By July 2005, over half of the U.S. population is questioning the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Most of the major traditional religious organizations are opposed to the war. Over 25,000 U.S. soldiers have been incapacitated by mental or physical injuries and over 1800 U.S. soldiers have been killed and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the U.S. war. The AFL-CIO in its recent “split” congress (July 25-28, 2005) characteristically refused to condemn the war and call for the immediate withdrawal of troops, despite the fact that many Americans are moving in that direction.
A close reading of the AFL-CIO resolution on the war in Iraq approved by its last convention reveals that it continues to echo the military agenda of Washington, despite claims by many U.S. “leftists” and “progressives” that the resolution represents a victory for the anti-war movement.
The opening paragraph bluntly states its support for the U.S. occupation army in Iraq…in all branches of the armed forces, which must include the “men” and “women” engaged in torturing Iraqis in Abu Ghraib…. The statement goes on to call for greater armaments and stronger military leaders for the occupation.
What follows is the single sentence, which is cited by the “progressives” as their “victory.” The sentence reads: “Most importantly they (the U.S. soldiers) deserve a commitment from our country’s leaders to bring them home rapidly.” This is a statement which is no different from what Bush, Blair or Rumsfeld have promised: to return our soldiers as rapidly “as security allows,” “as the Iraqis can defend their democracy,” and “as we train their soldiers to replace our servicemen and women.” In fact, the day the AFL-CIO passed its resolution, the Pentagon announced it hoped to reduce U.S. troops guarding the 16,000 Iraqis held in concentrations camps as soon as next spring when the Iraqis presumably could be trusted as the mercenary jailers of their own compatriots. The AFL-CIO’s time schedule mirrors that of Bush/Rumsfeld; both are indefinite in time and place. The AFL-CIO’s reason for an eventual withdrawal have nothing to do with the ravages and destruction of a colonial war and everything to do with empire building – globally.
The follow-up sentence reads: “An unending military presence will waste lives and resources, undermine our nation’s security and weaken our military.” In other words, the U.S. military faced with a prolonged war in Iraq cannot engage “insurgents” elsewhere!
The following paragraph mentions the 1,700 U.S. dead and vaguely refers to Iraqi civilians “in the thousands” and then, the supreme cant and hypocrisy blames the insurgency (resistance), which “has focused its terror on the Iraqi people.” The massive U.S. bombing of Fallujah, Baghdad, Samara and other cities; the wanton daily killing of hundreds of civilians—over 100,000 dead according to the medical journal, The Lancet, as of last year, are totally absent. The AFL-CIO blames the resistance for the crimes committed by “our leaders.” The AFL-CIO praises the election orchestrated by Washington under its colonial military occupation and run by its exile clients as an example of Iraq’s democratic aspirations, forgetting to mention that over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want the U.S. military out…yesterday! Once again the AFL-CIO echoes the Bush-Rumsfeld line on the occupation, the elections, the resistance and the constitution.
Following the overwhelming majority of the U.S. public, which recognizes that Bush lied in the lead-up to the war, the AFL-CIO fails to denounce the lies and multi-billion dollar theft of Iraqi assets which has taken place during the occupation. The best that the labor bosses can offer is support for a “call from members of Congress for the establishment of benchmarks (?) in the key areas of security, governance, reconstruction and internationalization.” They call for “benchmarks” (whatever that means) when there are a raft of detailed official reports on the pillage of reconstruction spending, the privatization and handover of billions of dollars of oilfields to U.S. multinational corporations (“internationalization” according to the euphemisms of the AFL-CIO), and the transfer of prisoners to Guantanamo to be tortured indefinitely (a lovely “security benchmark”).
In paragraph six, the AFL-CIO explicitly defends a continued military occupation of Iraq – purportedly based on a “broad coalition of nations.” At a time when even U.S. clients like Poland, Bulgaria, the Ukraine and most others are pulling out of Iraq, the AFL-CIO mindlessly parrots the John Kerry/Hilary Clinton parody of a multilateral colonial army, when the political basis for it has disappeared.
The military solution remains as the single most important reference point for the AFL-CIO: “Greater security on the ground remains an unmet precondition for such efforts (“building a democratic Iraq”) to succeed.” “Greater security on the ground” means U.S. soldiers, lots of them for a long time, because of “unmet preconditions,” a euphemism for massive sustained anti-imperialist resistance, which precludes the puppet regime from consolidating its rule.
The AFL-CIO resolution says nothing about socio-economic reform, job programs and channeling oil wealth into social welfare programs and real nation building—programs which would require the ousting of the U.S.-backed elite. Instead they call for police state repressive solutions. “The AFL-CIO calls on the international community [sic] 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.” More secret police, torturers, mercenaries, collaborators—the AFL-CIO is on familiar ground in Iraq as it was in orchestrating the aborted coup in Venezuela, the Chilean coup and other successful ventures in imperial “law and order.”
Perhaps the worst of the worst of the AFL-CIO apologia for the U.S. imperial occupation is found in its discussion of the destruction of Iraq and the efforts at reconstruction. The entire blame for the destruction of Iraq is placed on the Saddam Hussein regime, despite the fact that all testimony to date demonstrate that living standards, employment and health were better prior to the U.S. invasion than now. It would, of course, be beyond the capacity of the AFL-CIO to note that it was the U.S.-enforced economic sanctions under their Democratic President Clinton that 500,000 Iraqi children died. And that “rehabilitation” has failed because of the wholesale pillage of Iraqi assets, including oil revenues, and U.S. tax dollars by U.S. military contractors, security agencies, military officers and a host of other rapacious officials. The resolution ends by appealing for trade union freedoms, such as payroll deductions for union dues, no doubt the least concern of militants facing trigger-happy U.S. soldiers and their death squad “buddies” in the Iraqi special battalions. But payroll deductions for union dues are important for union bosses who do not fight for their members and have not secured their loyalty on the picket line. I am sure if the AFL-CIO trains Iraqi counterparts, the U.S. occupation will eventually come around to allowing these “unionists” to clip 10 percent off the starvation salary of an Iraqi oil worker.
The Iraq War resolution approved at the AFL-CIO’s latest convention, apart from an ambiguous phrase thrown in to pacify a few dissidents, remained true to its history of supporting imperial wars and tyranny while continuing to lose members and loyalties in the U.S. for its efforts.
—Rebelión, August 2, 2005