Labor's 'No' to War

A New Generation of Leaders Makes a Different Choice

"It is a different era," said Gene Carroll, a researcher at Cornell Institute of Labor Relations, who has helped promote the anti-war resolution. "Today's labor leaders grew up in a different generation: people who saw Vietnam as a great moral blunder. Yes, there are differences of opinion on foreign policy, but the anti-Communist factor that governed our life is just not there anymore," he said.

A reflection of those changed circumstances could be heard in the tone of the statement on Iraq issued last month by the American Federation of Teachers. The union has long been the stronghold of followers of former leader Al Shanker, whose social democratic philosophy was premised on a rabid anti-Communism. But the statement, while scolding those citizens opposed to the idea of unilateral intervention in Iraq, insisted that Bush has "not fulfilled his responsibility to make a compelling and coherent explanation to the American people and the world as to why military action in Iraq is necessary at this time."

Meanwhile, some 16 teachers' union locals—including those representing teachers in L.A., St. Louis, and Seattle—have endorsed the anti-war statement. Here in New York, a mild resolution, similar to Sweeney's position supporting war only as a last resort, was rejected at this month's delegate assembly of the United Federation of Teachers, headed by president Randi Weingarten.

Similar efforts have also been unsuccessful at New York's Central Labor Council. A December resolution against the war submitted by Communication Workers Local 1180 leader Bill Henning was rejected by council president and Queens assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, who said the council was obligated to follow the lead of its national parent, the AFL-CIO. Last week, when member unions presented a new resolution to the council's delegate assembly, it was rebuffed as unconstitutional. McLaughlin, in Florida at the AFL-CIO's annual midwinter meeting, couldn't be reached.

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