Antiwar Labor at the RNC Protests
by Michael Letwin
September 18, 2004
On August 29, what may have been the largest labor antiwar assembly since 9/11 marched with half a million people to protest the Republican National Convention in New York City. The march was sponsored by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).
More than 1,000 trade unionists assembled behind a solid row of labor banners that followed the lead contingent of military families and veterans — including the newly-formed Iraq Veterans Against the War — among which a number of union members also marched.
Participating labor bodies included: 1199ers for Peace & Justice; AFM Local 1000; AFSCME DC 37; AFSCME locals 215, 375, 1930, 1549, 1723 and 2187; AFSCME district councils 47 and 1707; AFT Local 2026; BMWE, NY Lodge 3068; CWA Local 1180; ILCA; IWW-NYC-GMB; NWU/UAW Local 1981, NJ Labor Against the War, NYC Labor Against the War; NY Taxi Workers Alliance; NY Teachers Against the War (UFT); Postal Workers Against the War; PSC-CUNY/AFT Local 2334; SEIU District 1199P; Transit Workers Against the War (TWU Local 100); UNITE/HERE; and U.S. Labor Against the War. Members of numerous other labor bodies also marched.
As in past NYC antiwar demonstrations, the union with the largest presence was PSC-CUNY, which estimated that some 500 of its members were there, holding red-and-white placards that said “Money for Education, Not for War.” NYCLAW’s banner declared “Bring the Troops Home Now, End the Occupation of Iraq.” Another large banner announced the Million Worker March on October 17 in Washington, D.C. Signs and banners also identified individual labor bodies.
Labor officials at the march included PSC-CUNY president Barbara Bowen, AFSCME DC 37 program director Frances Curtis, HERE/UNITE president Bruce Raynor, AFSCME DC 1707 president Brenda Stokely and TWU Local 100 president Roger Toussaint.
While still modest relative to the overall march, labor’s presence on August 29 reflected rising antiwar sentiment throughout the United States. Over the summer, trade union activists successfully proposed resolutions against war and occupation – without significant opposition, and with strong support from military veterans – at the international conventions of AFSCME, APWU, CWA, NPMHU and SEIU. Another antiwar resolution was defeated at traditionally pro- war AFT, but only after unprecedented floor debate.
Debate in the Movement
While these resolutions are symbolically important, however, they were not accompanied by large-scale mobilization for August 29 on the part of international unions, which have devoted virtually all their political energies to electing Democrat John Kerry — who supports the war.
Kerry’s candidacy also appeared to blunt the official message of August 29, which UFPJ labeled “Say No to the Bush Agenda.” New York City Labor Against the War had unsuccessfully proposed that UFPJ substitute “End the Occupation of Iraq and Bring the Troops Home Now” – which applies equally to both presidential candidates.
This slogan was first widely voiced last year by Military Families Speak Out and antiwar veterans’ organizations. Soon after, NYCLAW successfully proposed its adoption by both UFPJ and U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW). By June 2004, the Washington Post and ABC News reported that 42% of those polled agreed.
Working people also participated in other RNC protests. Thousands attended a September 1 New York City Central Labor Council anti-Bush rally. While war in Iraq went virtually unmentioned from the speakers’ platform, rank-and-file unionists were receptive to PSC-CUNY antiwar placards, NYCLAW flyers, and materials for the Million Worker March.
Others joined marches organized on August 30 by Still We Rise/Racial Justice 911 and the Poor People’s Human Rights Campaign, a September 2 march sponsored by Harlem antiwar organizers, and a memorial vigil for victims of the Iraq war organized by antiwar vets and military family members.
In addition, thousands of people participated in a rally cosponsored by International ANSWER, NYCLAW and other organizations outside Madison Square Garden during Bush’s acceptance speech, which called for “U.S. Out of Iraq, Bring the troops home now, and End the Colonial Occupation of Iraq, Haiti, Palestine and everywhere.”
The RNC protests were exciting and energizing. But as reflected throughout the week of protest, labor antiwar activists have a range of views about what comes next.
Many feel that Bush’s defeat is paramount – even it means campaigning for John Kerry. Others
(including NYCLAW) are mobilizing for the Million Worker March, which has an expressly antiwar position. Although USLAW voted not to support the MWM, it has been endorsed by a growing number of labor bodies, including CWA, NEA, APWU and AFSCME DC 37, and by UFPJ. For more information: <http://millionworkermarch.org/index.php>.
The future of antiwar labor will be the subject of two fall meetings: NYCLAW’s organizing conference on November 20 and USLAW’s National Leadership Assembly on December 4-5 in Chicago. NYCLAW can be contacted at: <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LaborAgainstWar/>, email@example.com. USLAW can be contacted at: <http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/>. firstname.lastname@example.org.
RNC Protest Sight & Sound
Visual and audio coverage of antiwar labor at the RNC protests include: Photos: <http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/mletwin2001/album?.dir=/f342&.src=ph>. Video: <rtsp://video.c-span.org/project/c04/c04082904_protest1.rm>, at 29:00,
31:00, 34:00. Audio: <http://email@example.com/123-1-20040905-clcrnc30.mp3>.
Michael Letwin is a co-convener of New York City Labor Against the War, on the national steering committees of USLAW and UFPJ, and former president of UAW Local 2325.