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On the picket line

January 17, 2003 | Page 1

Labor Against War

CHICAGO--More than 100 trade unionists formed a new organization, U.S. Labor Against War (USLAW) at the Teamsters Local 705 hall here January 11.

The meeting brought together elected officials, staffers and rank-and-file members of union bodies that had passed antiwar resolutions. It was convened by Gene Bruskin, president of the Food and Allied Services Trades in the AFL-CIO, and Bob Muehlenkamp, former organizing director of the Teamsters. Public-sector unions were prominent, especially the Service Employees International Union.

The development of USLAW is important, given the AFL-CIO's historic support for U.S. foreign policy and the pro-war position taken by labor following the September 11 attacks. This time, a labor antiwar organization has been formed even before a war has begun.

USLAW was following in the footsteps of several local labor antiwar groups, most importantly New York City Labor Against the War (NYCLAW), which published a statement of unity after September 11 that has gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

There was a sharp debate over USLAW's founding statement, however. With no advance notice, the organizers handed out a proposed founding statement after lunch in a meeting scheduled to end at 4 p.m.

The statement supported weapons inspections in Iraq and included the clause, "we support all efforts short of war to determine if Iraq has [weapons of mass destruction] and to dismantle and destroy such weapons if they are found."

The majority felt that this statement opened the door to supporting a UN-backed war on Iraq--and won passage instead of a statement based on the antiwar resolution passed at a Teamsters Local 705 membership meeting.

The group agree to form a continuations committee based on representatives of the main unions and labor antiwar committees involved. The potential for the organization could be seen the previous evening, when a group of Chicago trade unionists organized an antiwar panel featuring of labor activists and veterans against the war.

More than 110 people turned out to hear presentations by Bill Davis, an IAM shop steward and former national coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War; Dan Lane, a leading activist in the Illinois "war zone" labor struggles of the mid-1990s and also a Vietnam vet; Loretta Byrd, recording secretary of Teamsters Local 738 in Chicago; Trent Willis, business agent for ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco; and Brenda Stokely, president of AFSCME District Council 1701 and co-convenor of NYCLAW.

Labor activists in Chicago and other cities will meet in the coming days to discuss the formation of USLAW and the building of antiwar activities in their unions.

Portland teachers

By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--It seems that nothing short of blood is enough for the Portland Public School (PPS) board. The Portland Association of Teachers had told the school board that they would accept no cost-of-living increase and a cut of 9 (wage) days in the school year with no other givebacks to help out with the district's $55 million deficit.

PPS' refusal of this proposal even shocked the state mediator. Teachers who would never have dreamed of going on strike are now talking about it, and it could come as soon as March 3.

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