SEIU Veterans and Military Families Speak Out Against the Iraq War

by Steve Thornton


­SEIU International Convention, San Juan, Puerto Rico

June 4, 2008

Convention Speakers in Favor of Resolution 103b, “Iraq and the Economy”

Stan Israel, Vice President, 1199 New England, Providence RI

After two tours of duty in Vietnam, I came home and I became a charter member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1968.Don’t let anyone tell you that being against the war is not a labor issue or a union issue.  I found out that the closer you got to where the shooting was, the darker the skin of the workers who were there fighting, the lower the pay they got. It’s the sons and daughters of working people who did the fighting and dying, for the rich to get richer.Despite the argument from George Bush that democracy is coming to Iraq, Iraqi workers are still as oppressed as ever.The anti-labor law that Saddam Hussein put into effect in 1987, banning public sector and oil workers from unionizing, is still in place. We hosted courageous trade union activists from Iraq who told us they do not believe that the U.S. military presence helps them in their struggle.Rather it provides the excuse for more violence on them and their leaders.I urge support of the resolution against the war.

Deborah Bohn, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania

I’m a thirty-year union member. I lived the American Dream.I’m a military wife, my husband has served thirty-five years between the Navy and the National Guard.My son is an ensign in the Navy Reserve and my daughter is Ensign Elizabeth Bohn, U.S. Navy flight officer. We know the numbers: the deaths, the wounded, the suicides. I want to talk to you about the emotional toll. On January 10, 2006, at 11:10 pm, I had that knock at the door.I was told my daughter’s plane was missing. Twenty four hours later I was told the plane was found and there were no survivors.This happened two weeks before her 24th birthday, three days after her boyfriend proposed marriage and she had accepted. Seven months later I found out that the common remains from that plane accident were inadvertently disposed of in the incinerator with the garbage. I stand before you today just a shell of a person I was.  I no longer function at the level I was before. I ask you to support this resolution.No mother, no parent should do what I did and bury their child. Our local union is an affiliate of US Labor Against the War and I ask other locals to join us.

Catherine Osten, President, Corrections Supervisors’ Council, CSEA Local 2001, Hartford CT

I am a Vietnam-era veteran.The war has had a devastating effect on thousands, who have given all they had, and it has brought home tens of thousands of veterans with injuries – some obvious, some not.The economic cost of the war is devastating our country. This money should have been spent on our ailing and crumbling infrastructure, and on health care for each and every one of us. This war continues and George Bush holds out his hand again, demanding $135 Billion more.He continues to place this war as a priority over working families and even over the adequate treatment of our military women and men.As a union we need to keep the ending of the war on our national agenda.

Ray Kroger Local 517 MI

I’m a retired Army first sergeant for 22 years.No one opposes war more than a soldier does, even though sometimes it’s necessary.I believe we need to get out of there. I do not believe this war was necessary. The United States Army should not be used to impose our political ideas on another nation.

Phil Martini Local 73, Chicago, IL

On April 8, 2006, I got the call, as my Gold Star sister did.My son was killed by sniper fire at El Anbar, at 14:20:22 hours.Not long after my son had died, I went to his memorial in San Diego.  Of his twelve-man squad, only five came back and only three were uninjured.  I was asked if I wanted to see a storyboard so I went with a colonel to see these aerial photos.I suddenly realized I was looking at my son in his partner’s arms, and the time on the photo was 14:20:22.My son joined the Marines with our next door neighbor who just completed his third tour.He also was squad leader; ten of his twelve men died in his arms.He now has a 75% disability, post traumatic stress syndrome.  Those that come home not physically harmed are mentally injured.  We have to do everything we can to get our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters home.

Bob Christian, SEIU HealthcarePennsylvania

I’m an army brat all my life, we’ve moved place to place all my life. I’ve been told the service is the only place to go, the service is 100% right. When I first heard a resolution against war at my local, I was very offended.I’m here to tell you today, I was wrong.  Because there are people who can’t afford to live, don’t have health insurance, and we’re spending billions and billions on a war we shouldn’t have started to begin with.My father told me just a couple of months ago that the war is wrong.And if I can see a man who has lived that long in the service change his opinion, then I know in my heart my change of opinion is also correct.Join USLAW, spread the word, talk to people, because if we don’t do it no one else will. It’s got to stop now.

Bob Fernandez, 4C’s Local 1973, Connecticut

I’m retired Navy, senior chief hospital corpsman who proudly spent ten years providing medical support for the Marine Corps, and I’m a veteran of the first Gulf War. When those boys and girls, men and women, who are in the sands of Iraq, die and get hurt, in the Marine Corps they call “corpsman up!” If you ever see what an AK-47 or an IED can do to a human body, then the debate would end. War is a machine of death and we dishonor these veterans because we went to war for a lie. A lie!Meanwhile, 200,000 of my brothers and sisters live in the streets.People can’t get health care in the Veterans Administration. Vietnam vets could go to college but these kids can’t.They are dying for a lie. I urge my brothers and sisters in the labor movement in this country: stand up, spend those billions of dollars at home treating these men and women .

Resolution #103b

Iraq and the Economy

There is no more shameful failure on the part of politicians than to send our young people to die bravely trying to carry out a counterproductive and unachievable mission.

With that in mind, SEIU President Andy Stern sent a letter to President Bush in January, 2003, with the approval of the elected local union leaders who make up the SEIU International Executive Board.

The letter questioned President Bush’s plans to invade Iraq because they were not consistent with four principles that should guide U.S. policy:

1.War involves enormous risks to our families and our communities and must be a last option, not the first.

2.The goal of our foreign policy must be to promote a safer and more just world – promoting peaceful, multilateral solutions for disputes.

3.U.S. foreign policy must give high priority to improving the lives of people around the world.

4.The rights and freedoms our government says it is fighting for abroad must be protected at home.

More than five years later, the invasion of Iraq has proven to be the worst policy disaster of our time. Even by the Pentagon’s own official figures, 30,000 Americans have been wounded and more than 4,000 killed. Iraqi deaths and casualties are hard to document but number in the hundreds of thousands.

This war that has lined the pockets of major corporate campaign contributors has drained the U.S. economy and local communities of resources urgently needed for health care, education, housing, and other needs. The annual cost of the war is estimated at twice what it would take to ensure access to affordable, quality healthcare for everyone in America.

Meanwhile, the war has made us less safe, not more. It has turned public opinion around the world against the United States, squandering the opportunity to unite people of goodwill after the September 11th attacks.

As far back as November 5, 2003, Senator McCain urged President Bush to send at least 15,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq, calling it “irresponsible” to suggest “it is up to Iraqis to win this war.” He said at that time that “it will require a commitment to do what is necessary militarily, to deploy as many American forces for as long as it takes.” (USA Today, 11/6/2003)

On November 19, 2006, just days after the American people voted for major changes in Congress, in large part to signal to officials in Washington that it was time to bring troops home, McCain renewed his call for Bush to send an “overwhelming” number of troops. (Associated Press, 11/19/06)

Two months later, President Bush implemented the escalation McCain had long called for. The Bush-McCain escalation has cost thousands more casualties and billions more dollars, but, predictably, has failed to achieve the objective of establishing peace and security in that country.

Senator McCain said at a videotaped town hall meeting with voters in New Hampshire early this year that he could foresee U.S. troops continuing to occupy Iraq for “a hundred” years, a sign that working families could be suffering from the effects of this failed policy for many more years to come if a dramatic change in direction is not made. (YouTube, 1/3/08)

Therefore be it resolved:

SEIU should continue to support our troops by leading and supporting coalitions (such as USLAW) of union members, veterans, and others who share our goals of:

·Bringing the troops home.

·Ensuring that they have the healthcare and other services they need.

·Shifting the billions now being spent on the war to strengthen our economy and meet the urgent needs of communities here at home.

Establishing a new foreign policy that promotes justice and basic rights for working people at home and abroad and that sees global alliances and problem solving, not unilateral military action, as the preferred option.

See the debate video on USLAW website