2003.04.14: ALAA Antiwar Vote

M E M OTO:      ALAA Members

FR:       Michael Letwin, Former President (1989-2002)

RE:       ALAA Antiwar Vote

DA:      April 14, 2003

IntroductionThis week, we vote on whether ALAA will officially join hundreds of other labor bodies—including our regional parent union—who have adopted resolutions against the war.  In essence, the proposed resolution reaffirms that, rather than a distraction from “legitimate” union business, opposition to this war of empire is an inextricable part of that business.

The War Is (Still) Wrong

What the media seeks to portray as a glorious act of “liberation” is in reality an illegal and immoral  crime against peace, the most serious charge for which Nazi leaders were convicted at Nuremberg.[1]

The entire world accurately perceives this war as undisguised conquest, envisioned long before 9/11 by the likes of such Vietnam Chicken-Hawks as Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Perle.  The Reagan and Bush/I administrations, of which they were part, were only too happy to provide biological and other weapons to Hussein’s brutal regime.

Ironically, although the supposed existence of such weapons was the main pretext for the war, none have yet been found; thus, the first act of U.S. and British invaders was to secure not “weapons of mass destruction,” but 600 oil wells.  U.S. “re-destruction” has ensured massive “reconstruction” contracts for Bechtel, Halliburton and other companies closely linked to the administration.

Thus, the war will not create a democracy accountable to the Iraqi people, but an open-ended, bloody occupation run by the U.S. military government and/or its appointed puppets.  And even before the fighting is over, the administration has declared its intention to continue similar wars on Afghanistan, the Palestinians, Colombia, the Philippines, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and /or any number of other targets.

For this imperial crusade, ordinary people are paying a terrible price:  numerous U.S. and British casualties amongst troops disproportionately of color and nearly all working class; untold Iraqi deaths and injuries; mass deprivation of food, water, sanitation and health care; destruction of the national infrastructure; and widespread looting and chaos.

At home, the war’s incalculable economic cost—combined with new tax cuts for the wealthy—is already coming directly out of education, fire protection, sanitation, veterans’ benefits, social security, health care, and virtually every other essential government service.  These policies will further devastate our clients’ communities, and bode poorly for funding such programs as indigent legal representation.

The war also continues to serve as a pretext for ever-greater attacks on civil liberties, labor and immigrant rights.  And it virtually ensures retaliatory—and largely unstoppable—terrorism.

In April 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. opposed the Vietnam war in the recognition that “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today . . . [is] my own government.”[2]  This fact, and the moral obligation it imposes on us, remains no less true today.

 

The War in ALAA

Most U.S. labor organizations initially gave unqualified support to the Bush administration’s post-9/11 “war on terror.”[3]  In response, scores of metro-area trade unionists immediately endorsed New York City Labor Against the War’s statement of September 27, 2001, which condemned both the World Trade Center attack and Bush’s war.[4]  These included many ALAA officers and members,[5] who made explicit their individual trade union affiliations and positions, which were listed “for identification only.”  As one of eight original local union founding presidents of NYCLAW,[6] I became one of the organization’s co-conveners and spokespersons.

It was no secret that this antiwar stance would expose NYCLAW endorsers to political attack.  Nonetheless, we felt bound by the principle with which Dr. King defended his public opposition to the Vietnam war: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”[7]

Though once a small minority, such early efforts have played a critical role in turning labor against the war.  Eighteen months later, antiwar resolutions have been adopted by bodies representing more than a third of all union members in the U.S., including our own UAW Region 9A.  In January 2003, this was reflected in establishment of U.S. Labor Against the War, and by late February, even the invariably prowar AFL-CIO opposed this war.

Within ALAA, however, the response to these antiwar efforts has been more varied.  A growing number of ALAA members have participated in antiwar activities.  Other members have reasonably and civilly expressed prowar views, while defending the speech rights of antiwar members.

Some, however, have enlisted in the broader post-9/11 crusade against dissent by using the war as a club with which to punish and silence antiwar voices.  This witch-hunt, carried out largely over the ALAA e-list, has included relentless personal attacks, red-baiting, baseless accusations of antisemitism, efforts to block the Union from even adopting a statement in defense of civil liberties,[8] demands that management discipline members for posting messages on the ALAA e-list, and/or racial harassment.  It has been accompanied by false charges—explicitly rejected by the International UAW—that Union affiliation and resources had been improperly used to promote NYCLAW,[9] and factually-inaccurate allegations that antiwar work had interfered with bread and butter union issues.[10]

 

While this campaign has not silenced many of ALAA’s antiwar voices, it has helped drive most members out of the public discussion and undermined the Union’s traditional commitment to social justice.[11]  It has also created an atmosphere in which some members, including several who purport to hold antiwar views, have found it politically advantageous to remain silent about such attacks, or even to align themselves with the witch-hunters.[12]

 

Conclusion

For the reasons discussed above, adoption of the proposed antiwar resolution is more critical now than ever.  Bush’s wars of empire and colonial occupation have a profoundly destructive impact on our Union, Legal Aid Society funding, our clients, their communities, and the world in which we live.

This resolution is also an opportunity to reaffirm ALAA’s historic commitment to social justice; to honest, open, mutually-respectful internal discussion; to principle over opportunism; and to a more effective union.

 


[2]King, Beyond Vietnam, Address delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, at Riverside Church (April 4, 1967), at http://www.africanamericans.com/MLKjrBeyondVietnam.htm .

[3]See, Letwin, Growth of Labor Anti-War Action Tied to Bush’s Anti-Worker Moves, Labor Notes, April 2003, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/files/ ; Year One of New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW, Oct. 25, 2002), at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/message/1270 .

[4]NYC Labor Against the War (Sept. 27, 2001), at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/files/ .

[5]The fifty-five NYCLAW signers as of June 24, 2002 included (with then-current titles listed “for ID only”):  George Albro Secretary‑Treasurer; Elizabeth Anderson (CDD­Manhattan), Daniel Ashworth, Delegate (CDD­Brooklyn); Harold Bahr, Chair, GLTGC (CDD­Manhattan); Simone Berman‑Rossi (CDD­Brooklyn); Tracey Bing‑Hampson, Vice President (CLO); Peter Blum, Alternate Vice President (CAB); Ricky Blum (Civil­Appeals); Katie Brennan (Civil­BNO); Anne Cammett, Civil­BNO; Maria Chiu, JRD­Queens; Antonia Codling, Chair, ACLA (CLO); Brooke Davis (Civil­BNO); Lisa Edwards (CLO); Craig Fielding (Civil­Queens); Kate Fitzer (CDD­Brooklyn); Josephine Flores (Civil­Queens); Oda Friedheim (Civil­Queens); Josh Goldfein (Civil­HRP); Winston Gordon (CDD­Brooklyn); Elon Harpaz, Vice President (CAB); Carol Hochberg, Vice President­JRD (JRD­Queens); Adriene Holder, Vice President­Civil (Civil­Appeals); Tania Horton (CDD­Brooklyn); Daniella Korotzer, Alternate Vice President (CDD­Brooklyn); Nanette Kripke (CDD­Brooklyn); Michael Letwin, President; Simone Levine (CDD­Manhattan); Milande Louima (Civil­BNO); Beth Lyons, CAB; Eileen McCann, Alternate Delegate (Civil­SI); Kevin McManus (CDD­Brooklyn); Eric Meggett (CDD­Brooklyn); Aaron Micheau (CAB); Marie Mombrun (Civil­Queens); Florence Morgan (CDD­Queens); Susan Morris, Delegate (CDD­Brooklyn); Catherine Newton, Alternate Delegate (CDD­Brooklyn); Elizabeth Newton, Alternate Delegate (Civil­Queens); Gloria E. Quiñones, Fmr. member (CLO); Karena Rahall, Alternate Delegate (CDD­Brooklyn); Kyla Ratliff (Civil­Queens); Eve Rosahn (PRDU); Mimi Rosenberg, Delegate (Civil­BNO); Andrew Rowe (CDD­Brooklyn); Lisa Sbrana (Civil­BNO); Hasan Shafiqullah (CLO); Steve Terry, Alternate Delegate (CDD­Brooklyn); Azalia Torres, Alternate Vice President (CDD­Brooklyn); Edlyn Willer, Delegate (CAB); Cheryl Williams (CAB); Kelley Wind, Delegate (Civil­BNO); Christopher Wright (CDD­Brooklyn); Milton Zelermyer, Delegate (PRP); and Robert Zuss, Vice President (CDD­Brooklyn).

[6]Since September 27, 2001, the NYCLAW statement had been endorsed by some 1500 trade unionists, including the following sixteen NYC-area current or former principal officers:  Larry Adams, Pres., National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 300; Barbara Bowen, Pres., Professional Staff Congress‑CUNY/AFT Local 2334; Arthur Cheliotes, Pres., CWA Local 1180; Raglan George Sr., Exec. Dir., AFSCME Local 215, DC 1707; Glenn Huff Jr., Pres., AFSCME Local 205, DC 1707; Uma Kutwal, Fmr. Pres., AFSCME Local 375, DC 37; Michael Letwin, Pres., Assn. of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Jill Levy, Pres., Council of Supervisors & Administrators, NYSFSA, AFSA Local 1; Kim V. Medina, Pres., AFSCME Local 253; Fmr. Pres., DC 1707; Victoria Mitchell, Pres., AFSCME Local 107; VP, DC 1707; Maida Rosenstein, Pres., UAW Local 2110; Viji Sargis, Pres., AFT Local 6025, Montclair State U.; Joel Schwartz, Pres., AFSCME, Civil Service Employees Assn. Local 446; Judy Sheridan‑Gonzalez, RN, Chair., State DeLocal  Assembly, NY State Nurses Assn.; Brenda Stokely, Pres., AFSCME DC 1707; and Jonathan Tasini, Pres., National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981.

[7]King, at n.1, supra.

[8]As a result, it took five months for ALAA to adopt a resolution opposed to the wave of post-9/11 government assaults on civil liberties.  In Defense of Civil Liberties (ALAA, Feb. 21, 2002), at http://www.nlada.org/News/News_From_The_Field/Items/2002041556242899 .

[9]On October 26, 2001, then‑ALAA Vice‑President Allen Popper (CDD­Qns.) asked the International UAW to “remove and suspend” me from office for having allegedly misused my position, organizational affiliation, and local union resources to support NYCLAW.  Just three days later, the UAW rejected that request since, “[i]in expressing his opinions, absent a special membership direction otherwise, Brother Letwin has not violated the UAW Constitution.”  Letter of Oct. 29, 2001 from Sue Goulding (Intl. UAW) to Allen S. Popper.  (Soon thereafter, Popper successfully demanded that management punish members who posted messages on the ALAA e-mail system).

The above allegations are more thoroughly addressed in Memo of Oct. 28, 2001from Michael Letwin, George Albro and Charlotte Hitchcock to ALAA Members Re: Labor Against the War Statement (Oct. 28, 2001); and in Memo of June 11, 2002 from Peter Blum to ALAA Members Re: NYCLAW (June 11, 2002).

[10]In fact, between 1998-2002, ALAA contracts increased compensation by an annual average of six percent—a higher rate than contracts for NYC teachers, police, or firefighters; when combined with salary steps, the increases are far greater.  Summary of ALAA Contract Changes:  1998‑2002 (ALAA, Sept. 30, 2002).  Moreover, while virtually all city-funded agencies have suffered massive budget cuts and even layoffs, ALAA’s 2002 electoral lobbying and federal litigation strategies were largely responsible not only for preventing the loss of $5.6 million (or 100 attorney jobs) in city criminal funds, but for an $8.6 million net increase that enabled the Society to hire scores of new lawyers in Fall 2002.  See, Wise, Legal Aid Society’s Contract Increases Trial‑Level Funding, NYLJ, Dec. 18, 2002, at http://www6.law.com/ny‑shl/displayid.cfm?state=ny&statename=NY&id=108821&table=news&flag=full .

[11]See, Letwin, History of The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325 (Rev. Aug. 1999), at http://alaa.org/frames/history.html .

[12]Jim Rogers won election in November by repeating much of the above disinformation and by promising not to be an antiwar trade union leader.  Thus, while my election statement reaffirmed that, “in my personal capacity, I have expressed the views of many ALAA members, and a growing number of other trade unionists, by speaking out strongly against the war,” the current President claimed that, “union leaders ought to avoid attaching the union’s name to political causes not voted on by the general membership even if the name is used for information purposes only.”

Today, ALAA is the only NYC‑area UAW local whose principal officer consistently declines to support adoption of labor antiwar resolutions.

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