Unions Question Rush to Invade Iraq

Associated Press

Hollywood, Florida (AP)- The nation’s largest labor federation declared its opposition Thursday to war against Iraq at this time, saying President Bush has not made a case for an attack without broad support from U.S. allies.

The executive council of the AFL-CIO, made up of 65 unions, ended its four-day meeting by unanimously passing the carefully worded resolution, which also says Saddam Hussein (news – web sites) must be disarmed — with “multilateral resolve, not unilateral action.”

Organized labor had tough words for President Bush, without naming him directly, saying the United States has squandered the goodwill it enjoyed after the terrorist attacks and insulted the nation’s allies.

“The president has not fulfilled his responsibility to make a compelling and coherent explanation to the American people and the world,” the resolution said.

Organized labor has typically backed military action in the past, including strong support for the Vietnam War. “By historical standards, this is unusual and this is significant,” Robert Bruno, labor professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said of Thursday’s resolution.

Morton Bahr, president of the Communications Workers of America, said the resolution was the result of a number of briefings on Iraq with officials who worked in the Clinton administration, including former national security adviser Sandy Berger and former chief of staff John Podesta.

“We had real broad input from these guys who had been living with this for a long time,” Bahr said, adding that organized labor has historically taken positions on wars that involve American workers and their families.

The resolution urges the Bush administration to pursue broad, global consensus to put pressure on Iraq, “ensuring that war, if it comes, will truly be a last resort.”

Labor officials ended the meeting with a sense of unity in a time of uncertainty, with mounting job losses, a poor economy and a presidential administration that is hostile to their cause, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.

Perhaps the defining moment was Wednesday’s address by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, which shocked and enraged labor leaders, Sweeney said.

They were particularly angry about her response to a question about the department’s proposed new financial reporting requirements. She read from a paper a list of criminal charges involving one union.

Teamsters Union President James P. Hoffa, a White House ally whom officials said was growing frustrated with Bush for his administration’s anti-union tactics and policies, was particularly enraged over Chao’s remarks. He told colleagues in the closed meeting that unions should support a presidential candidate friendly to working Americans.

Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell said Thursday that the union received calls from White House political director Ken Mehlman and Labor Department (news – web sites) lawyer Andrew Siff.

Substantive conversations have not yet occurred, Caldwell said, “but the White House certainly is concerned about our dissatisfaction with their approach to labor at this point.”

An insider trading scandal at a union-owned life insurance company had been expected to dominate the meetings this week. But the executive council took no action or stance regarding Ullico Inc., choosing to wait until a special committee completes its review and issues recommendations regarding the special stock sale that some union leaders took advantage of, netting millions of dollars. The Labor and Justice departments also are investigating, as is a grand jury.

AFL-CIO: http://www.afl-cio.org/

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