President Bush’s troop escalation, the anti-war sentiment of the new Democratic Congress, and the rising cost of the war are motivating thousands of union members to board buses bound for an anti-war protest Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C.
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Edward Hysyk, a top District Council 37 official, said unions opposing the war in Iraq now find themselves in step with much of the country; Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen lamented the waste of funds that “might otherwise be available for education, health-care and housing.”
The rally is aimed at pressing Congress to end the war and will feature a labor contingent and a pre-rally feeder march made up of unions from around the country. City unions endorsing the protest include the United Federation of Teachers, District Council 37, Local 1180 of the Communication Workers of America, and the Professional Staff Congress.
“This is a year where no one can look at protesters and say we’re a fringe element,” said Edward W. Hysyk, a military veteran who’s president of Local 2627 of DC 37. “That’s no longer the case.” DC 37 plans to send at least four buses.
A Gallup poll taken in early January after Mr. Bush proposed sending 21,000 additional troops to Iraq showed that 54 percent of Americans thought the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq within a year. The poll also indicated that 71 percent of the country thinks the war is going badly.
Union leaders said that the enormous cost of the war, estimated at about $400 billion so far, was motivating some of their members to take a stand.
“The war directs public funds that might otherwise be available for education, health-care and housing,” said Barbara Bowen, PSC president. “It has a direct effect on the state shortfall in funding, since each state pays a portion of the war costs.”
Ms. Bowen noted that the City University of New York had been underfunded for years and that several CUNY students have died fighting in the war.
The PSC had been urging its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers [which is also the parent of the UFT], to oppose the war for the past three years. Last spring, the AFT passed an anti-war resolution at its convention.
Powerful, primarily private-sector unions such as 1199 of the Service Employees International Union are also sending buses to Washington, but union officials said that some city unions had been slow to take an anti-war position. AFL-CIO Central Labor Councils in Cleveland, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have all passed anti-war resolutions, but the New York City CLC has resisted.
CLC Not on Board
“We believe that’s beginning to change,” said Tom Gogan, eastern mobilization coordinator for U.S. Labor Against War. “We came fairly close last spring and we haven’t tried again since then.”
Acting CLC Executive Director Ed Ott could not be reached for comment. Some union officials said the new Democratic majority in Congress gave them hope for a change, but others said the Democrats would need a major push to act on their campaign promises.
“Keep the pressure on.”
“I think that they’ve got their eye on how to go down the middle of the road until the election,” said Arthur Cheliotes, Local 1180 president. “They won’t pull troops out on their own because that will mean making an actual decision, but we’ve got to keep the pressure on.”
Mohamed Zaman, who is a member of Local 2627 and has worked as a Computer Specialist for the city for 15 years, said he was planning to go to the protest because he knew what it was like to live through a war, having emigrated from Bangladesh during the conflict there.
“I ended up here because of that war,” said Mr. Zaman. “I’m one of the lucky ones who got out.”
He said that, as a Muslim, he felt it was risky getting involved in anti-war activity because of anti-Islam sentiments stirred by 9/11.
“That’s one of the good things about being with the union,” he said. “They understand my feelings. They understand it is not about religion. War is war. Everybody suffers.”
Meredith Kolodner is a reporter for The Chief-Leader, a civil service employees’ weekly. This article appeared in The Chief on 22 January 2007. It is republished here with the author’s kind permission.