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Media Blackout

The Press (Left and Right) Continues to Ignore Labor Opposition to the Iraq War

by DAVID SWANSON

You wouldn’t know it from reading, watching, or listening to the "mainstream" media, but many of the largest labor organizations in the United States have passed resolutions demanding that U.S. troops be brought home from Iraq and the war be ended. On July 19, the ILCA published an article on the media’s failure to cover this turn of events.

Back then the story was already huge. In a reversal of the support that labor has traditionally given to wars, some of the largest unions, the SEIU and AFSCME, and the California Federation of Labor, had recently passed resolutions against the Iraq War, joining early leaders of opposition, including the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the United Farm Workers, UNITE, the IWW, and the ILWU Hawaii Local 142 and ILWU San Francisco longshore local 10, later joined by the ILWU International.

This story has grown dramatically since July, as the media blackout has continued unabated. The Communications Workers of America (many of whose members work in the media), the Postal Workers (APWU), the Mail Handlers (a division of the Laborers’ Union LIUNA), and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance have joined the opposition. The list of state labor federations opposing the war now includes Washington, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Maryland in addition to California. At least 20 district and regional bodies, over 20 central labor councils, and over 20 local unions are on board, as well as dozens of ad hoc committees and other labor organizations, including the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Pride At Work (all allied organizations of the AFL-CIO). For a full roster, see US Labor Against War.

Adding up the membership of those unions opposing the war for which I have reliable membership figures gives a total of 5,399,800 people. Doing the same for regional and state labor organizations gives a total of 4,165,000. There is an unknown amount of overlap between these two counts, since some of the unions opposing the war have locals that belong to state and regional bodies opposing the war. But there are also a number of unions and regional organizations opposing the war and not included in the count. It seems safe to say that something approaching half of the U.S. labor movement is now officially for peace. (Details of this calculation are posted as a footnote to this article on ILCAonline.org.)

The resolutions passed by these organizations are not all identical, but all oppose the war, and most very clearly call for immediate withdrawal. Here is an excerpt from the CWA’s resolution (technically an amendment to a resolution on national security, introduced on the floor of the convention and approved overwhelmingly):

"That CWA demands that the President abandon his failed policy (of preemptive war) which has made our nation less – not more – secure, and support our troops and their families by bringing our troops home safely now."

Many reporters are members of CWA, which voted overwhelmingly in support of the anti-war resolution. Ironically, however, not one has been able to print or air a story about working people organizing against the war. Regardless of whether they’re union members, reporters know much more about the situation in Iraq than they’ve shared with the general public.

During the past week, an Email that Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi sent to friends has become <>quite popular on the internet, because it includes honest observations that would never have made it past the owners and editors of the Wall Street Journal. Fassihi wrote, in part:

"Iraqis say that thanks to America they got freedom in exchange for insecurity. Guess what? They say they’d take security over freedom any day, even if it means having a dictator ruler.Despite President Bush’s rosy assessments, Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a ‘potential’ threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to ‘imminent and active threat,’ a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come."

The Iraq War has continued over the past months to be the largest story in the media. And the conventions at which unions have passed their resolutions have in many cases been covered by the media, because Senator John Kerry has spoken at them. And yet labor opposition to the war remains a blacked out story. The ILCA has reported on many important stories that the media has covered poorly or insufficiently, but this one continues to stand out as having received a near total blackout.

Extensive searching of the Nexis database for articles between July 17 and October 5, 2004, found not one article or transcript on U.S. labor opposition to the war. There was one column on the topic. It was published in the Hartford Courant on September 5 and written by Steve Thornton, a vice president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199/SEIU. There was also a column in a university newspaper in Hawaii that ridiculed liberals for opposing the war and included union members in the group worthy of ridicule. And the Honolulu Advertiser printed in its calendar a labor event related to opposition to the war, on which it apparently did not report. (Details of Nexis searches are posted as footnote to this article on ILCAonline.org.)

That’s all the coverage there was. A search for "Million Worker March" turned up a few articles about a labor-organized march planned for October 17 in Washington, D.C., but none of them mentioned the war as an issue related to the march although war figures prominently in a document in which the organizers lay out their "mission," and posters promoting the march prominently display the words "Labor Anti-War Contingent."

Reporters marking their calendars should also make note of US Labor Against the War’s national leadership <>meeting on December 4 in Chicago.

It should be noted that many labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO, have not supported the march, and many, including the AFL-CIO, have not yet taken a position on the war. The AFL-CIO’s magazine has yet to acknowledge in print that there is a war. And the publications of some of the unions that passed resolutions against the war, including the SEIU, have not printed a word on the subject. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney did send a letter to Congress two years ago questioning George W. Bush’s motives for rushing into war, and the post-debate talking points released by the AFL-CIO to its members following the first Kerry-Bush debate criticize, if not the war, Bush’s handling of the war:

"Bush failed to offer basic defenses of his decision to rush our nation into Iraq without allies or a plan to win — Bush,s decisions in Iraq and Afghanistan have in fact INCREASED terrorism, with al Qaeda recruitment soaring as a result of our presence in Iraq. Iraq is in chaos — as Bush,s own military and CIA say, things are getting worse, not better, with no end in sight. That means even more massive spending ahead, while we,re still not funding schools, health care, roads and bridges here in the U.S. — never mind funding frontline defenses like firefighters."

What is (or should be) news is not the failure of the labor movement to achieve unanimity in its newfound opposition to war, but the strength and newness of that growing opposition.

Michael Eisenscher, National Organizer of US Labor Against the War, had the following take on why his organization does not exist for the corporate media:

"Except when a union official is indicted for corruption, there is a strike or violence, or some other negative development involving unions, the commercial media, as you know, rarely tracks the labor movement. The exceptions are usually human interest stories, but even these are uncommon. That is the class and corporate bias of the media.

"In the same respect, the commercial media serves up fairly biased coverage of the antiwar movement and mass opposition to Bush’s policies. Add those together and you get a pretty good explanation for media failure to cover labor opposition to the war. That masses of working people (‘regular folks’) would be opposed to the Bush administration on this issue is not something to which the media wants to give prominence. It is more suited to their interests to portray antiwar sentiment and those who espouse it as a fringe and marginalized element that need not be taken seriously."

David Bacon is a reporter who often writes for "mainstream" publications and for labor papers and other "alternative" media. Bacon’s article in the ILWU’s Dispatcher about labor struggles in Iraq will on November 12 be awarded the Max Steinbock Award, the most prestigious award in the ILCA’s Annual Labor Media Contest.

Bacon has written about U.S. labor opposition to the war perhaps more than anyone else, and he has published nothing on it in the corporate media. Asked why not, Bacon said:

"First, there’s almost no coverage of labor and politics generally, disturbing in an election year. In some ways, this story is part of that overall story, so it gets silenced as part of this broader lack of coverage. Second, there’s no coverage of a working class perspective on the war. The story of workers and unions in Iraq (and therefore the relationship with unions in the US and US labor opposition to the war) has been largely uncovered in the media, mainstream or progressive. Only the labor press, and some progressive media outlets, have touched this story."

In fact, there are stories on U.S. labor opposition to the war on the ILCAonline.org website from the ILCA, Press Associates Incorporated, AFSCME, USLAW, the Labor Educator, Labor Notes, peacefile.org, and David Bacon. There have also been stories on US labor’s opposition and/or on the current struggles of labor in Iraq in The Nation, The Progressive, Alternet, Wartimes, Foreign Policy in Focus, the Contra Costa Central Labor Council’s Labor News, the ILWU’s Dispatcher, FrontPageMag.com, Zmag.org, Labor Standard, Counter Punch, People’s Weekly World, Workday Minnesota, Socialist Worker, Workers’ World, Under News, Anti-Imperialism, and many other labor and alternative publications, websites, discussion lists, and blogs. The forthcoming issue of CWA News will report on the CWA’s resolution. The Progressive is receiving an award from Project Censored for its coverage of U.S. repression of labor unions in Iraq. The story of U.S. labor opposition to the war, however, has not even made Project Censored’s list.

Notably absent from this list are such progressive outlets as Democracy Now, Mother Jones, In These Times, the Village Voice, the American Prospect, and LA Weekly and the rest of the "alternative" weeklies, none of which has done anything more on this story than what Fox News has done: completely avoid it.

DAVID SWANSON is the media coordinator for the ILCA. He can be reached at: dswanson@aflcio.org