2002.03.28: NYCLAW Article for NLG

NYCLAW Article for NLG
March 28, 2002
by Michael Letwin
President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325[1]
Co-Convener, NYC Labor Against the War

New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW) was begun in first days after September 11 by a small, interracial group of elected local union officers and rank-and-file union members. Its dual purpose has been to serve as an antiwar pole within labor, and as a labor pole within the antiwar movement.

NYCLAW was founded on the premise that, much as Vietnam Veterans Against the War had a particular credibility and obligation in the 1960s and ‘70s, trade unionists who have directly witnessed and suffered from September 11 have a special role to play in dissenting from enthusiastic support for Bush administration’s “war on terrorism” voiced by most of U.S. labor officialdom.

On September 27, therefore, NYCLAW issued a written statement arguing that workers in the United States should oppose the war-both abroad and at home.[2] Unlike either the pacifism or generalized anti-imperialism which characterizes many antiwar statements, NYCLAW is a conscious attempt to outline, without lapsing into left sloganeering, why the war undermines with the collective interest of workers in New York and beyond.

Within days, the statement had been signed by scores of New York metro area trade unionists, including a small, but significant number of elected union officers.[3] All but one of these officers speak in an individual capacity; AFSCME DC 1707, which represents some 25,000 workers at non-profits with city contracts, is the only union body in New York City to have officially endorsed NYCLAW. Since that time, the statement has been endorsed by more than 500 New York City union officers and members, and by an additional 350 trade union bodies, officers and individual members from other cities and countries.

NYCLAW participants are, by any standard, few in number, and the organization has been virtually ignored by the mass media. Yet, in voicing a labor antiwar position from the moral high-ground of “Ground-Zero,” the group has faced surprisingly little hostility from workers or official labor. Thus, Brian McLaughlin, head of the New York City Central Labor Council-which is affiliated with the pro-war AFL-CIO-responded that NYCLAW signers were “entitled to express their own views.”[4]

With similar tolerance, the International UAW’s magazine reported that “[d]espite his proximity to the [September 11] attack, [a UAW local president active in NYCLAW] is opposed to a military response or an ethnic response, or to have the disaster turned into a pretext for an assault on civil rights.”[5] Shortly thereafter, the UAW summarily rejected a demand for removal of this local president for his antiwar activity.
Meanwhile, NYCLAW has played a modest, but important role.

NYCLAW’s statement has been widely circulated via hard-copy and the internet, and has been spontaneously translated into Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Turkish, and other languages, and the organization operates a listserv with 1100 subscribers. It is affiliated with, and one of the most active components of, the New York Coalition for Peace and Justice, which sponsored a 10,000-strong protest on October 7 in New York City-the largest post-9/11 antiwar demonstration in the U.S. to date. NYCLAW representatives have spoken at numerous events, including the 100,000-strong London antiwar demonstration on November 18,[6] and at the 25,000-strong February 2 Counter-WEF protest in New York City.

NYCLAW has helped convene an informal national labor antiwar network that includes the Labor Committees for Peace and Justice in the San Francisco Bay Area, D.C. and Albany. It held a December 12 labor forum on civil liberties and immigrant rights attended by about 100 people, and was largely responsible for organizing a March 23 Day of NYC Labor Solidarity with Immigrant Detainees in Brooklyn endorsed by some ten labor bodies[7] and attended by nearly 400 people. [8] NYCLAW is one of four host organizations for national antiwar protests in D.C. on April 20.[9]

These efforts reflect a high level of dedication, cooperation and principled behavior on the part of some fifty of NYCLAW’s most active participants, both independents and members of various left organizations, who have united to express working class antiwar voice.

To subscribe to the NYCLAW listserv, send an e-mail to: ,or visit .

Notes

1. NYCLAW’s other three co-conveners are: Larry Adams, President, Mail Handlers Union, L.300; Ray Laforest, Staff Representative, AFSCME DC 1707; and Brenda Stokely, President, AFSCME L.215, DC 1707. Union positions for Letwin and Adams given for identification only; no organizational endorsement implied.

2. The full text of NYCLAW’s statement is available at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/files/.

3. To date, these have come to include:  Larry Adams, Pres., National Postal Mail Handlers Union L.300; Barbara Bowen, Pres., Professional Staff Congress-CUNY/AFT L.2334; Arthur Cheliotes, Pres., CWA L.1180; Glenn Huff Jr., Pres., AFSCME L.205, DC 1707; Uma Kutwal, Fmr. Pres., AFSCME L.375, DC 37; Michael Letwin, Pres., Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW L.2325; Jill Levy, Pres., Council of Supervisors & Administrators, NYSFSA, AFSA L.1; Kim V. Medina, Pres., AFSCME L.253; Pres., DC 1707; Victoria Mitchell, Pres., AFSCME L.107; VP, DC 1707.; Maida Rosenstein, Pres., UAW L.2110; Viji Sargis, Pres., AFT L.6025, Montclair State U.; Joel Schwartz, Pres., AFSCME, Civil Service Employees Assn. L.446; Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, Chair., State Del. Assembly, NY State Nurses Assn.; Brenda Stokely, Pres., AFSCME L.215, DC 1707; and Jonathan Tasini, Pres., Natl. Writers Union/UAW L.1981.

4. Deidre McFadyen, Some Union Heads Oppose ‘Bush War,’ Chief-Leader, Oct. 26, 2001, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/message/246.

5. Ashes Fell as UAW Members Fled from the Carnage, Solidarity, Nov. 2001, at http://uaw.org/solidarity/01/1101/feature01.html.

6. Extensive coverage of NYCLAW’s participation at the London protest can be viewed at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/message/383.

7. The full list of over 100 endorsers of this event can be viewed at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/message/709.

8. Christopher Lawton, Giving Detainees a Voice, B’klyn protests continue, joined by labor unions, Newsday, March 24, 2002, at http://www.newsday.com/news/local/newyork/ny nyprot0324.story; and Albor Ruiz,  New Outcry Over Jailed Immigrants , N.Y. Daily News, at http://www.nydailynews.com/2002 03 25/News_and_Views/City_Beat/a 145443.asp; photos are available at:  http://dianelent.com/news/news.html and http://www.nyc.indymedia.org/.
ALAA/UAW 2325’s statement concerning defense of civil liberties following September 11  is available at: <http://www.topica.com/lists/LegalAidAttorneysBulletin/read/message.html?mid=903587941&sort=d&start=25&gt;.
The Bay Area Labor Committee for Peace and Justice organized a simultaneous labor antiwar demonstration.  Josh Richman, Unions fight for post 9/11 respectability, 200 workers rally in Oakland over threats to ‘civil rights,’ Oakland Tribune, at http://www.oaklandtribune.com/Stories/0,1002,1726%257E483919,00.html.

9. Information about the April 20 protests is available at: http://unitedwemarch.org/.

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