Recently the two biggest stories in the U.S. news media have been the war in Iraq and the presidential election campaign. Labor unions have been part of a number of major stories on the presidential campaign, especially stories about Senator Kerry’s selection of John Edwards as a running mate.
But labor has not been part of stories on the war. There was some reason for that up until a few weeks ago. The AFL-CIO has not taken a position on the war, and most of the international unions have followed suit. That changed at the conventions last month in California of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Kerry spoke at both conventions, and his speeches received significant media coverage.
What did not receive coverage and should have was that both SEIU and AFSCME passed resolutions at their conventions supporting the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. These strongly worded resolutions passed by two of the largest, most politically active labor unions in the country — two unions that have received substantial coverage from national political reporters on other stories — were quickly followed by passage on July 13 of a similar resolution by the California Labor Federation, the largest state federation within the AFL-CIO. Together, these three organizations represent close to 5 million union members. Other union conventions will be addressing the issue throughout the summer, a remarkable development and a striking contrast to labor’s behavior during the Vietnam War.
It should be noted that other unions, both internationals and locals, have led the way on this issue, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) which took a strong stance against the war at its May 2003 International Convention, and later backed that up with a resolution in support of Iraqi workers’ right to organize. The ILCA passed a resolution in support of Iraqi workers’ right to organize in November 2003.
Extensive Nexis searching on July 17 turned up virtually no coverage during the past 60 days of U.S. labor opposition to the war. The few exceptions: a story in the Nation Magazine by independent labor reporter/photographer David Bacon touched on the topic. An Associated Press story from the AFSCME convention covered a speech by a U.S. soldier formerly held prisoner in Iraq but made no mention of AFSCME’s resolution, and the soldier was not opposed to the war. Oh, and Fox News (Special Report With Brit Hume) on July 3 mentioned an organization that’s rather hard to find in corporate media: U.S. Labor Against the War (a large and active coalition of unions opposed to the war) — but the point of briefly mentioning USLAW was to accuse it and other “Bush-hating” groups of planning to “sabotage the Republican Convention.”
It’s not that media have entirely refused to inform the public of this story, it’s just that the outlets doing so are neither well funded nor tracked by Nexis. Google searches turn up stories on the ILCAonline.org website from the ILCA, from Press Associates Incorporated (a wire service used by many labor papers), and from AFSCME, as well as stories from FrontPageMag.com, Zmag.org, People’s Weekly World, Workday Minnesota, Socialist Worker, Workers’ World, Labor Educator, Under News, Anti-Imperialism, and many other labor and alternative online publications, discussion lists, and blogs.
The story of US labor opposition to the war appears to be a prime example of the corporate media’s blackout of labor’s issues, and yet another argument for devoting our energies to building stronger labor media.
Details on Nexis searches performed:
1. (“organized labor” w/s Iraq) AND (Iraq w/3 war) = five articles, none relevant
2. (“labor union” w/s Iraq) AND (Iraq w/3 war) = 15 articles, none relevant
3. “labor union” w/s Iraq = 45 articles, including the Nation and AP stories mentioned above but nothing else related
4. USLAW = two articles, one unrelated and the other the same Nation article
5. “labor against” AND war = 31 articles, including the Nation article again and the Fox News story mentioned above
6. AFSCME AND Iraq = 24 articles, none relevant
7. SEIU AND Iraq = 22 articles, none relevant
8. “California Labor Federation” = 46 articles, none relevant
David Swanson is Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA) at http://ILCAonline.org