Assembly Final Media Advisory

by 
U.S. Labor Against War  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 31, 2003  CONTACT: Bob Muehlenkamp - (301) 346-3665  Gene Bruskin ? (202) 833-8526    LABOR ANTIWAR ASSEMBLY LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR IRAQI LABOR ...
U.S. Labor Against War
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 31, 2003
CONTACT: Bob Muehlenkamp - (301) 346-3665
Gene Bruskin ? (202) 833-8526

LABOR ANTIWAR ASSEMBLY LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN FOR IRAQI LABOR RIGHTS

Nearly two hundred delegates representing unions, labor councils, union-based antiwar committees and other labor organizations from across the country met in Chicago at a National Labor Assembly for Peace on October 24-25. The Assembly, convened by U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), launched a Campaign for Iraqi Labor Rights.

The Campaign calls upon the Bush administration to nullify laws enacted by Saddam Hussein that barred workers in the public sector from joining unions and bargaining over the terms of their employment. The U.S.-run Occupation Authority continues to enforce this Hussein-era labor law and has added a new prohibition against strikes in both the public and private sectors.

Bob Muehlenkamp, Co-Convenor of the Assembly, condemned this decision. ?It is unconscionable and hypocritical that the Bush administration enforces anti-democratic laws imposed by a regime which it went to war to remove, purportedly to bring democracy to Iraq,? Muehlenkamp said. ?The Bush administration has betrayed its own anti-labor bias by going beyond Hussein?s anti-labor laws to impose a decree that bans strikes and threatens any worker who encourages strike activity with being held as a prisoner of war.?

The Assembly drew delegates from 100 labor organizations, including 56 local unions, 14 regional and 8 national labor organizations from across the U.S.
In addition to its decision to organize the Campaign for Iraqi Labor Rights, the Assembly heard a detailed account from two trade unionists sent by USLAW to Iraq as part of an international labor delegation that met with representatives of newly organized labor federations, union organizers, workers at a number of worksites, organizers of the unemployed, and representatives of the Interim Governing Council. Clarence Thomas, former Secretary-Treasurer of ILWU Local 10 in San Francisco and member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and David Bacon, a freelance photojournalist who specializes in labor issues, joined two European labor officials and an Iraqi exile living in France for the six-day fact-finding mission that ended on October 15th.

They reported that the U.S.-led occupation forces have continued to enforce the Hussein-era anti-labor laws, have prohibited strikes, and have eliminated many of the social benefits workers had previously received, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the standard of living for those fortunate enough to have jobs, while further impoverishing the majority who remain unemployed or marginally employed. Poverty and hunger, they said, are growing while the U.S. is moving rapidly to sell off state enterprises that had employed the majority of Iraqi workers, an action that will result in hundreds of thousands more losing their jobs as a consequence of privatization. ?While billions of our tax dollars are being diverted from healthcare, education and other essential social services in the U.S. to line the pockets of corporations like Halliburton, Kellogg, Brown & Root, Bechtel, and Stevedoring Services of America, none of the $87 billion authorized for Iraq is being spent to provide unemployment benefits or decent wages for Iraqi workers,? Thomas said.

The Assembly called for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq and return of all U.S. military forces, full restoration of labor and human rights there, and committed USLAW to organize other delegations to Iraq. USLAW will also help to build participation in the December 10th International Human Rights Day Campaign of the AFL-CIO for recognition, protection and enforcement of labor rights. USLAW will make the connection between the assault on labor rights in the U.S. and the attack on labor rights in Iraq. Gene Bruskin, the other Co-Convenor of USLAW, observed, ?Workers? rights around the world are under attack by corporations intent on maximizing profits at workers? expense. Iraqi workers have an internationally recognized right to organize into the unions of their choice, to bargain freely and to strike if necessary?but so do workers in this country. Our fight for labor rights in Iraq and labor rights in the United States are one and the same fight against powerful multinational corporations and the politicians like George W. Bush who does their bidding. Human rights are universal rights and the struggle for human rights is a global struggle.?

The Assembly adopted a mission statement that broadened the scope of USLAW?s concerns from responding to the war in Iraq to examining the broader impact of U.S. foreign policy and military spending on the U.S. economy, and the lives and jobs of working families. In addition to the Iraqi Labor Rights Campaign, USLAW is organizing to give voice to antiwar sentiment among union members who are veterans and members of military families. It has also launched a series of educational workshops in collaboration with United for a Fair Economy that elucidate the connection between a militarized economy and the welfare and liberties of working people.

The Chicago Assembly was also addressed by Bill Fletcher, President of TransAfrica Forum and former special assistant to John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO; Joslyn Williams, President of the Washington, DC Metro Labor Council; Gerry Zero, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 705, the second largest Teamster local union in the U.S. and host of the event; Daniel Gluckstein, Coordinator of the Paris-based International Liaison Committee; and Nancy Wohlforth, President of Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgendered constituency group and Secretary-Treasurer of Office & Professional Employees International Union.

- 30 -