On 2/24, I attended a CUNY Democratic Party pep rally, “Learning from Paul and Sheila Wellstone.” Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel introduced the procedings, followed by Wellstone’s campaign manager, Jeff Blodgett, Barbara Ehrenreich of Democratic Socialists of America, John Nichols for the Institute for Policy Studies and Bob Muehlenkamp, National Co-Convenor of United StatesLabor Against War.
They uttered every “economic populist” pious wish ever invented. Description of the entire meeting is for a psychiatric journal, but Muehlenkamp’s expectations, as to what signatories of USLAW’s statements may or may not do if Bush wars without Security Council permission, should be known throughout the antiwar camp.
“To say the least, the US Labor movement is very cautious about addressing issues of foreign policy and war and peace…[It’ s a] cold war legacy… to oppose the government is unpatriotic.”
He estimated that the signatories represented about 5 million US workers, 1/3rd of the labor movement. He expected the AFL-CIO to call for more inspections, not oppose the war.
USLAW’s sales pitch was “we are in a war against terrorism, Hussein is a bad guy. He must be disarmed… You can’t reach out to trade union America and instead say other things. You may feel good,” etc.
But there is a built-in problem with adapting to the union bureaucracy. The “hardest moment is yet to come, and the madman starts this war anyway. We have to decide at that moment what to do. The trade union movement in this country is very patriotic. Its members are very patriotic. We have to decide how to carry on the struggle. I think the lesson that Paul would have taught is ‘think politically and make connections and swing back to the populist message’… If we can’t stop this war we stay together to stop them from doing it again.”
From then to intermission, when I fled, the gathering was a future music concert. Wellstone’s “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will rally about a peace candidate in the 2004 primaries, then beat Bush. There was no discussion of what to do if Bush goes to war on his own, much less if he gets UN approval. Naturally there was no discussion of how to involve labor’s ranks when some, many, most of USLAW’s signatories punk out, if war comes.
The audience, about 300, almost all white in a city with a “minorities majority,” mostly very young or else veterans of one too many class struggles, wasn’t allowed to directly question the panel. You had to fill out a card. Then the chair picked some and/or digested many into a question. This gave the chair complete control of the temper of the event, meaning that they evaded reality and comforted themselves with their victory in 2004, when the party that armed Afghanistan’s fundamentalists ushers in perpetual world peace.
USLAW’s paper legions may yet end up looking good. Whether war will happen is still an open question. Saddam is cooperating with the inspectors, if slowly. Many capitalists, here and abroad, correctly fear that war, even victory, would create more political problems, here and worldwide, than Washington could possibly solve.
The anti-war movement gathers strength everywhere. But whether it has enough momentum to stop the war is another matter. Certainly USLAW’s. ‘economic populist’ pandering to bureaucrats who in turn pander to the most backward elements in their union isn’t the way to go forth.
If anything, it underestimates the ability of the ranks to learn in a crisis. Instead of portraying an Iraq invasion as a diversion from the good ‘war against terrorism,’ USLAW would do better to talk about Bush and the oil industry. Most bus drivers aren’t brilliant. But they know enough about gasoline prices to understand a basic explanation about how the war is about oil. And of course even the talk show hosts are beginning to talk about the fanatic Christian fundamentalists and Neo-Con Zionists that surround the ex-town drunk as he rushes forward to political disaster, whether there is or isn’t a war.
LENNI BRENNER, editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis, can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com