This article appeared at The Huffington Post on August 11, 2011.
"There is no way to fund what we must do as a nation without bringing our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The militarization of our foreign policy has proven to be a costly mistake. It is time to invest at home” – AFL-CIO Executive Council, Aug. 3, 2011
In a major victory for the progressive movement, the AFL-CIO has condemned the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as a “militarization of our foreign policy” and a “costly mistake.” The statement, adopted August 3, is the most forthright in the history of a labor movement marked by pro-war allegiances for many decades. It reflects a deep sentiment among working families, estimated at 80 percent opposition by one longtime labor official in Washington D.C. Much credit goes to the patient bottom-up organizing by U.S. Labor Against the War and others, who solicited endorsements from hundreds of locals and mobilized labor contingents at countless rallies across the country.
The AFL-CIO officially opposed the Iraq war at its 2005 convention. But the organization was supportive of Afghanistan, or at least reluctant to oppose the administration’s policy until recently. For example, at a closed meeting last year, the labor federation refused to participate in a large Washington march if the demands included withdrawal from Afghanistan. Peace advocates were disappointed, but speakers like Harry Belafonte proceeded to attack the war policy in any event, to cheers from thousands of marchers.
The San Francisco labor federation, led by Tim Paulson, has long advocated that the national federation oppose the interventionist wars on the basis of their economic cost. That position prevailed in a discussion of 30-some local labor leaders in the week before the Aug. 3 executive council meeting. According to Paulson, who was there, the inclusion of the anti-war statement was “first and foremost a product of the disastrous budget debate that led to the debt ceiling deal.” The Afghanistan war cost is over one trillion taxpayer dollars, not including long-term costs for veterans’ health care.
In the advisory committee meeting, Paulson said, “we really struggled over ways to take back the jobs debate and needless to say, the subject of how the largest part of our massive debt comes from our foreign policy made its way prominently back on the table. Our advice to the executive officers included exiting the wars.
It is known that Rep. Barbara Lee, a leader of the Democratic peace forces in Congress, also called AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka in February with a plea to support the majority of House Democrats demanding a rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the same month, the Democratic National Committee, which includes a heavy labor representation, unanimously passed a resolution calling for a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan with a transfer of dollars to job creation.
The AFL-CIO is expected to decide this week on messaging and resources to implement its statement.
If the Obama administration withdraws all 47,000 troops from Iraq this year, and just half (or 50,000) its troops from Afghanistan by 2012, the taxpayer savings would be $200 billion to invest in America during the next two years. The Senate Democratic deficit proposal included $1.2 trillion in tax savings from “winding down” the two wars in the next several years.
According to Judith LeBlanc of Peace Action, “this development opens the door to more intense activity at all levels of the labor movement to partner with community, social service, religious, student and other organizations for racial and economic justice in an effort to turn back the deficit mania sweeping the country and establish new priorities in public policy that create jobs and provide the social services people need.”