NYCLAW’s Work Since 9/11
by Michael Letwin
President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325*
Co-Convener, NYC Labor Against the War
March 28, 2002
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.
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. All but one of these officers speak in an individual capacity. The exceptions are officers of AFSCME DC 1707, which represents some 25,000 workers at non-profits with city contracts, and which is the only union body in New York City to have officially endorsed NYCLAW.
In the subsequent year, NYCLAW’s statement has been endorsed by some 1,200 trade unionists and labor bodies, from New York City and across the globe.
NYCLAW participants are, by any standard, few in number, and the organization has been virtually ignored by the mass media.
Yet, by voicing a labor antiwar position from the moral high-ground of “Ground-Zero,” the group has faced surprisingly little hostility from workers or even labor officials. Just a month after 9/11, for example, the New York City Central Labor Council president told the press that NYCLAW signers were “entitled to express their own views.”
Similarly, in November, the International UAW’s magazine reported that “[d]despite 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.” Shortly thereafter, the UAW summarily rejected a demand for removal of this local president for his antiwar activity.
In the subsequent year, NYCLAW and its members have continued to play a modest, but important role, as reflected its:
•Wide circulation of the NYCLAW statement via hard-copy and the internet, including spontaneous translation into Arabic, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Turkish, and other languages;
•Listserv of 1,200-subscribers;
•Role in helping to create an informal labor antiwar network of labor antiwar committees in the San Francisco Bay Area, D.C., Albany, Detroit, Toronto and elsewhere;
•Affiliation with the New York Coalition for Peace and Justice, which sponsored a 10,000-strong protest on October 7 in New York City.
•December 12 labor forum on civil liberties and immigrant rights attended by about 100 people;
•Days of NYC Labor Solidarity with Immigrant Detainees in Brooklyn, in March and September 2002, endorsed by some sixteen labor bodies and attended by nearly 400 people.
•May 21 protest against trade union investments in State of Israel bonds.
More broadly, NYCLAW representatives have spoken at numerous antiwar events, including the 100,000-strong London antiwar demonstration on November 18, and at the 25,000-strong February 2 Counter-WEF protest in New York City.
In an effort to unite broad antiwar forces nationally, NYCLAW was one of four host organizations for national antiwar protests in D.C. on April 20, and is an initiating endorser of the upcoming national “Stop the War on Iraq” demonstration on October 26. [http://www.internationalanswer.org/pdf/o2602flyer.pdf ]
On October 19, NYCLAW will hold its first one-day organizing conference, which will be attended by trade unionists from NYC and beyond.
NYCLAW’s modest work at Ground Zero demonstrates the great need and potential for a labor antiwar voice even–and perhaps because of–the trauma of 9/11 and subsequent events. The Bush administration’s impending war on Iraq is likely to generate a much broader level of working class antiwar sentiment.
NYCLAW’s statement and signatories thereto are available on-line at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/files/ . To endorse, write to
email@example.com or NYCLAW, PO Box 233, Prince Street Station, New York,
To subscribe to the NYCLAW listserv, send an e-mail to:
*Affiliation for identification only and does not imply organizational endorsement.