League for the Revolutionary Party Statement, November 11, 2002
At the September 24 Health Systems I-V Delegate Assembly, 1199 delegates overwhelmingly adopted a straightforward resolution, demanding that our union oppose the war against Iraq and mobilize for upcoming anti-war demonstrations. 1199 President Dennis Rivera and his Executive Council said they supported this resolution. But since then they have done the opposite.
On October 4, instead of carrying out the resolution adopted by the delegates, the Executive Council adopted its own resolution. This was different than the anti-war statement passed by the delegates. In fact it was not really an anti-war statement. Rather it was a statement designed to show loyalty to the U.S. government and its capitalist/imperialist ruling class.
The union heads then put out an open letter which was addressed to President Bush and Congress – and was signed by President Rivera and 1199 Secretary-Treasurer George Gresham.
First of all, it assured Bush that: “Like you, we demand that Iraq give complete access and cooperation to UN inspection teams and immediately destroy any weapons of mass destruction that may exist on its territory.” This is basically saying that U.S., because it is the most powerful imperialism in the world, should have the unassailable right to have these weapons of mass destruction – while at the same dictating that other nations should disarm themselves. Yet the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction in the world belong to the U.S. itself! The U.S. has a long and bloody history of using them to terrorize the oppressed people of the Middle East as well as Africa, Latin America and Asia. This is because the U.S. is an imperialist nation that gains a great deal of its profit-making ability out of draining the rest of the world. Of course not a word about this.
Second of all, the letter says “The policy of containment of the Saddam Hussein regime has worked well for a decade.” This means that the union officials do not at all condemn the UN sanctions against Iraq that have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through starvation, malnutrition and disease. On the contrary, this policy is praised and Bush is urged to continue it! Not a word about the fact that economic sanctions are a form of deadly attack in and of itself.
Thirdly, the Executive Council’s resolution and the letter say there is “no convincing evidence of an imminent danger from Iraq to our country or the countries of the Middle East (all of which have urged restraint).” It is in fact true that Iraq doesn’t pose an immediate danger. But the comment hidden in parentheses is actually false: there is one country in the Middle East which has not urged restraint, and in fact has done the opposite, rabidly urging the U.S. to attack Iraq. That country would be Israel, the country which, by no accident, plays the role of imperialist oppressor in the region.
Israel’s weapons of mass destruction are the deadliest danger in the Mid-East. But not a word about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction (supplied by the U.S.), or the ever increasing horrors it inflicts on the Palestinians.
1199 workers should be aware that the leadership of our union is claiming to make their statements in our name! The letter to Bush and Congress begins by saying: “On behalf of the 220,000 members of 1199SEIU New York’s Health & Human Service Union”. We must not let the Executive Council misuse its authority. We should not support this rotten resolution and open letter put out by the Executive Council.
Further, the union leadership does very little to really mobilize the ranks. The October 6 rally in New York City and the October 26 demonstration in Washington, D.C. were very big, but they did not mobilize the workers of 1199 in serious numbers or any other sector of the working class. Yet it is the working class which can pose the most serious threat to Bush’s war drive. If a large and powerful union like ours did mobilize tens of thousands of members against the war, then the political scene would begin to change.
The union leadership has the power and the resources to do it. It can be done. But it’s no accident that Rivera doesn’t mobilize workers and instead puts out the kind of Executive Council resolution and letter to Bush that we described. These decisions and actions by the leadership of our union reflect its fundamental loyalty and material ties to the capitalist system. U.S. capitalism wages a two-pronged attack in order to boost its profit rates. One aspect is the domestic war on the working class, which takes the form of rising unemployment, low wage jobs, and all sorts of cut backs and increased poverty. Side by side with this are the attacks on people of color. Right now, they are also especially singling out immigrants. The other part of the picture is that the U.S. is the strongest imperialist power in the world. It wages economic and military wars against oppressed nations, which often threaten the very survival of large numbers of the workers and the poor of Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.
We must see the direct connection between the attacks on our class at home and the wars being waged abroad. If this pattern is not stopped, the working class is going to be suckered into supporting another war abroad and paying for it in every way. Without an enormous rise in the class struggle, there will be a war and there will continue to be more suffering of the workers and poor at home too.
The Executive Council statement pretends that the question is “us” (i.e. Americans) versus “them” (i.e. Iraqis). That is a lie. All these attacks on Iraq and other oppressed nations do not benefit the working class, they only benefit the ruling class.
We do not demand that union resolutions and actions have to be revolutionary or even explicitly anti-imperialist to be supportable. But we do oppose the union leadership’s resolutions and actions when they are explicitly pro-imperialist.
We believe that many working people already oppose the impending war, and that more and more workers will oppose it as time goes on. We are eager to collaborate with other workers in fighting against this war drive. We also believe that the course of the struggle ahead will show that the only way to stop the imperialist war drive, as well as the war on the working people and poor here in this country, is through socialist revolution. We are trying to build a new leadership for the unions and the whole working class for this reason.