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Labor and the Anti-War Movement
by Joanne Landy
December 30, 2004

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Harry Kelber's "Did AFL-CIO's Total Silence on War in Iraq Hurt Kerry's Chances to Win Presidency?" (Portside, December 24, 2004) is an illogical piece. Kelber is of course quite right to point out that the AFL-CIO's virtual silence on the war on Iraq during the election campaign was disastrous. But how can he possibly maintain, as he does in his article, that "Kerry would have received a lot more than his 65% share of the labor vote, if the AFL-CIO had tapped into the anti-war movement, where polls showed that about half of the American people believed the war in Iraq was a mistake and were critical of the Bush administration for not having an exit plan."

In fact, the AFL-CIO's silence on Iraq was the perfect companion to its enthusiastic support for John Kerry, since he was totally incapable of tapping into and building popular anti-war sentiment because of his vote to give Bush a blank check to invade Iraq, his repeated intonations that once the invasion took place the U.S. couldn't just "cut and run," and his call for a suppose "exit strategy" based on the vain (and reactionary) hope that other wealthy countries would join in the American imperial venture in Iraq.

To the extent that labor had really raised the anti-war issue it would have brought into question its mobilization for "Reporting-for-Duty" John Kerry and the Democrats, who don't effectively counter the Republicans' drive to the right. The tragedy is that the Democratic Party did not offer an anti-war presidential candidate, and that labor failed to wage its own campaign for immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and to demand that the candidates it supported oppose the war.

The Bush administration is clear in its intention to pursue the grisly and murderous occupation of Iraq for years, if not decades--no matter its cost in Iraqi and American lives, no matter how much it strengthens reactionary forces throughout the Muslim world. But the Democrats show no sign of offering an alternative foreign policy that could end the war or genuinely promote global democracy and justice.

Will labor challenge this bankrupt two-party system, with its de facto bipartisan foreign policy, or will it continue to go along? Labor needs to use the next four years to forge alliances with progressives outside the labor movement to start building a new political party, a party that probably wouldn't win right away but that would constitute the only hope for reversing the rightward stampede in American politics. Granted, that's not how labor or progressives from the anti-war, environmental, minority, women's and gay rights movements see it right now -- rather, they seem to be "digging in" ever deeper into the quicksand of the Democratic Party. This is self-defeating, since the Democrats' main criticism of the war seems to be that there are too FEW U.S. soldiers in Iraq and that they don't have sufficient armor, while on domestic issues the Democrats have already signaled a shameful accommodation to the Republicans on abortion rights and social security. Labor and its potential allies will argue that it's not realistic to try to form a new party in America. Admittedly it will be an uphill battle, but it's a lot more realistic than to remain locked into the Democratic Party, structurally dominated by corporate paymasters and political operatives who can't conceivably offer the American people a new progressive agenda.

Joanne Landy is co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and a member of the New Politics editorial board. She can be reached at:

Other Articles by Joanne Landy

* Iraq: The Case for Immediate US Withdrawal
* Questions for the Peace Movement: The U.S. Occupation of Iraq