War, Climate and U.S. Labor

Hundreds of union members attended this webinar by the newly formed National Labor Network for Ceasefire. The webinar featured Prof. Wendy Pearlman, UAW President Shawn Fain, NEA President Becky Pringle, and Congressmembers Rashida Tlaib and Summer Lee presenting their views on the war.

By Steve Morse, March 2024

Steve Morse of the Veterans and Labor for Sensible Priorities campaign and Labor Rise Climate Jobs Action Group reports on the emerging solidarity of antiwar, climate, and labor groups calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

In the past nine months, important connections have been made between climate justice activists and organized labor, and within labor unions around the issue of war. This development deserves attention as steps toward the broad and deep unity needed to promote sustainability, workers’ well-being, democracy, and peace against brazen corporate rule, which opposes all these things.

Over 100 climate groups, including Labor Rise Climate Jobs Action Group, endorsed the bargaining demands of the United Auto Workers (UAW) last summer. This helped the UAW strike be successful, both from the support offered and because this prevented any effort to sow division between the interests of workers and the fight for sustainability. A key aspect was that the UAW did not oppose the introduction of green technology and electric vehicles; rather, the union successfully insisted that these new sectors operate under conditions of strong unionism.

Amidst the horror occurring in Gaza, armed and funded by the U.S., it’s important to notice the breadth of opposition within the U.S. and worldwide. It’s valuable to notice when this opposition comes from new places. It’s especially valuable when that new opposition comes from organized labor which, more than other civil society groups, can shut things down. 

At least 11 national unions, representing a clear majority of unionized workers in the U.S., and more than 260 national, regional and local unions and labor groups have endorsed a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine. (Palestinian trade unions called on unions worldwide for solidarity actions and statements of support.) Many of the labor unions and groups have endorsed the national labor movement statement which individual union members can sign onto as well.  (You can sign on here.)

The labor statements have been characterized by a concern for workers everywhere. They have condemned the Hamas killings in Israel along with Israeli military’s far more extensive killing and destruction in Gaza. Representing the diversity of workers within their ranks, including Arab and Jewish workers, the unions have condemned Islamophobia and antisemitism, which are both on the rise.  

Seven national unions have formed the National Labor Network for Ceasefire

  • United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) 
  • United Auto Workers (UAW) 
  • National Education Association (NEA) 
  • Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) 
  • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) 
  • National Nurses United (NNU) 
  • American Postal Workers Union (APWU) 

Four additional national unions have endorsed a Ceasefire: 

  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 
  • American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 
  • Communication Workers of America (CWA) 
  • American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 

This is an unprecedented development within U.S. Labor.  Despite widespread union member opposition to the Vietnam War, top AFL-CIO officialdom continued to support that war. The AFL-CIO also supported U.S. Cold War policy, shamefully working with the CIA to undermine militant unionism in Latin America and elsewhere. This shifted somewhat after the presidencies of George Meany and then Lane Kirkland ended in 1995. In 2005, the AFL-CIO adopted a resolution opposing the U.S. War in Iraq due to organizing by unions affiliated with U.S. Labor Against the War, a national antiwar coalition of more than 200 affiliated labor organizations. In 2011 and 2017, the AFL-CIO adopted resolutions calling for redirection of military funding to useful social needs. Yet the AFL-CIO has never made it a priority to organize against militarism. 

Responding to pressure from its affiliates, the AFL-CIO finally issued a (rather weak) ceasefire statement. National unions endorsing a ceasefire have responded to pressure from their locals, which in turn have responded to pressure from rank-and-file members. 

As people concerned with both workers and the planet, why should we address war and militarism?   

More than half of all discretionary spending in the federal budget goes to the military. Enormous US military spending crowds out resources for human needs and for addressing the climate crisis. The US military is the largest institutional producer of Greenhouse Gases (GHG). War has a disastrous effect on the climate and the environment (typically unaddressed by the climate and environmental movements). The unwillingness of most labor unions (until recently) to address war and militarism contributed to the narrow political agenda of many unions. This narrow “bread-and-butter-only” perspective fails to address the systemic relationship between our county’s militarized foreign policy, misdirected federal resources, and the economic and social welfare of most working people.

As people in the US, our opposition must focus on the US role in the death and destruction in Gaza, in the West Bank and in Israel. The US has set up and financed Israel to serve as the “US aircraft carrier” in the Middle East that keeps the region in turmoil and oil profits flowing, with disastrous effects on Palestinians, Israelis and Arab peoples throughout the region.   

The Veterans and Labor for Sensible Priorities campaign aims to get unions to endorse reducing the Pentagon budget by $100 billion per year. We see this as a logical next step after a Ceasefire Resolution. As of mid-March, 26 labor groups have endorsed the campaign.  [Check out Uncle Devin’s video Move The Money #pentagon #guncontrol.]

As we work for change: labor, climate and militarism are all issues that need to be addressed.

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Steve Morse is a retired member of SMART Local 104 and an active member of Veterans For Peace and Labor Rise Climate Jobs Action Group.

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