Minnesota unions to lead anti-war rally

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Minnesota unions will lead a rally Sunday, Sept. 23, at the state Capitol to demand an end to the war in Iraq.

The demonstration, which will involve many of the state’s leading labor organizations, is the first major union anti-war protest to take place in Minnesota in many decades, organizers said. The rally starts at 1 p.m. on the south steps of the state Capitol.

Traditionally, unions would rather remain neutral on issues of war and peace, but the nature of the Iraq War makes standing on the sidelines impossible, labor leaders said.

“The toll in terms of human lives and the economic cost has fallen disproportionately on working folks,” said Steve Hunter, secretary-treasurer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, one of the participating organizations. “There has not been shared sacrifice in this country. It’s time to find our way out of this mess.”

In addition to the Minnesota AFL-CIO, labor organizations participating in the rally include AFSCME Council 5, Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, SEIU Minnesota State Council and the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly.

Tara Widner, who travels the region as a staff representative for the United Steelworkers, has noticed growing frustration and discontent over the four-and-a-half-year-old war.

“I think people are fed up with dollars going overseas to fund a war that none of us think is going to gain the outcome it was intended to do,” she said. “At the same time, we have people without health care, we have bridges that need repair. The money needs to be spent here building America and helping working families, not lining the pockets of large corporations like Halliburton and KBR.”

Taking a stand

The rally takes place as Congress is considering whether to provide more funding for the troop surge that the Bush administration maintains is needed to ensure a win in Iraq. According to the National Priorities Project, a nonpartisan research organization, the cost of the war to American taxpayers is approaching $500 billion.

More than 3,700 U.S. troops have died, thousands more have been injured and untold numbers of Iraqis have been killed since the start of hostilities in March 2003, according to Department of Defense figures.

Opposition to the Iraq War among union members began before it started, with the formation of organizations such as U.S. Labor Against the War. Protest slowed after invasion by U.S. forces, but has grown as no weapons of mass destruction were found and casualties mounted.

In July 2005, the national AFL-CIO, at the urging of several state labor federations, central bodies and local unions, approved a historic resolution calling for a rapid return of all U.S. troops from Iraq. The federation – which represents more than 10 million workers – issued an even stronger statement early this year.

“We should not be asking our young men and women who serve this nation in its armed forces to remain in Iraq on extended tours without proper armor or equipment, caught in an endless occupation in the midst of a civil war . . . It is time to bring our military involvement in Iraq to an end,” the AFL-CIO said.

The Service Employees International Union, one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing unions, issued a resolution opposing the war in 2005 and is a key player in the coalition “Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.”

Earlier this year, SEIU President Andy Stern stated, “It is time to begin to allow the Iraqis to take over the future of their country and begin to bring our troops home.”

Local action

In Minnesota, debate has taken place in local unions and central labor councils such as the Duluth Central Labor Body and the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly.

“It’s been an issue for quite some time,” said Assembly President Shar Knutson.

In July 2005, the Assembly passed a resolution backing Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s proposal to create a withdrawal plan for U.S. troops. The Sept. 23rd rally is a continuation of that effort, Knutson said.

“We are seeing the sons and daughters of our friends, our members, going to Iraq,” she said. “We are painfully aware of the cost to our families.”

For more information

Read the entire text of the AFL-CIO’s statement at http://blog.aflcio.org/2007/03/07/end-our-military-involvement-in-iraq/

Learn more about labor opposition to the Iraq War at www.uslaboragainstwar.org