At Montpelier Antiwar Rally, January 18, 2003

By Jonathan Kissam

Good afternoon.

I bring greeting on behalf of the national executive board of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE). UE was the first national union to denounce this war, back in September, but we have been joined by many others in the trade union movement, including the 1.3-million member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and dozens if not hundreds of local and regional labor organizations. Just last Saturday, over 100 trade unionists representing more than 2 million workers gathered in Chicago to found U.S. Labor Against the War. And just this morning, the Vermont Workers Center, a labor-community coalition including many Vermont unions such as the Vermont State Employees Association, the United Nurses and Allied Professionals at Copley Hospital, the Alliance@IBM and the Washington-Orange County Central Labor Council, passed a resolution against the war.

The mission of the labor movement is to fight for justice for working people. This war is a threat to the lives, the economic well-being, and the civil liberties of workers, both here and in Iraq, so we in the labor movement must speak out against it.

This war is a threat to our lives. The history of warfare is for the most part the history of some rich guy getting into an argument with some other rich guy about some stuff – land, oil – and then large numbers of working people have to go fight other working people who we really have no quarrel with. This war clearly fits the pattern – it’s one unelected oil tycoon wanting to grab oil from another unelected oil tycoon. As UE has unequivocally stated, no one, not a single American and not a single Iraqi, should die to boost the profits of oil and military corporations.

This war is a threat to our economic well-being. Over the past year, we have witnessed a tidal wave of corporate corruption, as the con artists and kleptomaniacs in charge of corporations like Enron have looted their employee’s retirement funds, laid off tens of thousands of workers, and rewarded themselves richly with stock options, golden parachutes, and the ill-gotten gains of insider trading. Meanwhile, Bush has skillfully used the threat of war with Iraq to distract the American public from this corporate malfeasance, and to prevent any meaningful reform. Furthermore, the costs of this war will preclude the federal spending we so desperately need for infrastructure and schools, and for rebuilding our manufacturing base — investments that would provide real economic stimulus and put people back to work. And this war will push the economy even further into recession, while war spending draws money away from our already inadequate social safety net. It is criminal that in the richest country on earth, twelve percent of the population, including twelve million children, live in poverty, and it is doubly criminal that Bush is proposing to divert resources away from social spending to pay for an unjust war.

This war is a threat to our freedom. The assault on civil liberties is an integral part of this war, and part of that assault is a vicious attack on trade union rights. When workers being merged into the new Department of Homeland Security were excluding from collective bargaining rights and civil service protections, we were told that it was justified in the name of “national security.” Last week, workers at the Transportation Security Administration were told, in effect, that the clause in the UN Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing all workers the right to collective bargaining does not apply to them, again in the name of “national security.” And last November, also citing “national security,” the Bush administration used an injunction to force the west coast longshore workers to work essentially under government supervision, stripping workers in this highly dangerous industry of their rights to take collective action to protect their own safety, life and limb. Despite all this, there is hope. If we stand together, we can stop this war. If we stand together, we can build a peaceful and just tomorrow.

No War on Iraq!
Fight for a Fair Economy!
Defend Our Civil Liberties!

Thank you.

Jonathan Kissam is Secretary-Treasurer of District 2 of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE)