Afghanistan: Anti-war protests – Voices in the US

Opinion polls in the US show overwhelming support for military action in Afghanistan. But as Diane Stokes in Chicago reports, the mood is more complex than the polls would suggest.

War in Afghanistan

Anti-war voices in the US

MANY WORKERS, temporarily at least, think we have to support Bush in the effort to remove the threat of terrorism.

As Marcus, a union steward of Lebanese and Jewish heritage put it: "This time it’s different. We’ve been attacked by fanatical terrorists. We have to stop them for our own security. Even if we don’t agree with Bush’s policies we have to get behind him to defend ourselves. What else can we do?"

When some of the facts about the history of relations between the US and Afghanistan or the US and the Middle-East are explained, people like Marcus will often consider what is being said. How deeply convinced some workers are that the US should go to war remains to be seen. When the civilian causalities begin to mount in Afghanistan and soldiers begin to be returned home in body bags, as they did during the war in the Gulf, support for a protracted and complex war will undoubtedly diminish.

In the welfare office where I work, I had a conversation with Alfredo. He was born in Puerto Rico, but moved to Chicago a number of years ago. Alfredo was in the army during the Vietnam War. When I asked him what he thought of Bush leading us into another war, he simply replied: "He’s dangerous. War is terrible. You lose your friends. You lose everything." 

Young workers and students are also concerned about being drafted into the military machine. Justin, a white worker from the suburbs, joined the army reserves so he could get financial aid for his college education. The stark reality that his unit could be called up for service was just setting in. "I can’t really complain about the war because I’m in the reserves. But I’m thinking about what I would do if I’m called up. My friend told me she would lock me up in the closet for a few months so they couldn’t take me away".

The frenzy of war propaganda coming from the corporate media has temporarily captured the imagination of a number of working class people. This is reflected on the job where some people feel they will stand out as unpatriotic if they do not display a flag or talk tough about terrorism. By extension, generalising about the nature of the enemy leads to racism, and scapegoating about entire countries and groups of people from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Muslims and Arabs in general.

The FBI have admitted that hate crimes have increased and 77 incidents nationally are being investigated.The government is using the drive to war to restrict the rights of people of Arab descent in the US as well as that of other immigrants. Airlines are considering the use of racial profiling for domestic flights. Congress is discussing expanded powers for the FBI and CIA in the areas of wiretapping, access to e-mail and use of government informers and agents.

Additionally thousands of immigration border patrols and other police measures in violation of fundamental democratic rights are being proposed. John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO (main trade union federation), recently issued a statement that backs a military response to the terrorists’ attacks. United Electrical Workers (UE), which is not in the AFL-CIO, issued a statement opposing the war (see below). Local 1199, a hospital worker’s union in New York, recently held a meeting where members voiced their protests against the war in a public statement.

The AFL-CIO will attempt to force compliance with the military policies of the ruling class upon the unions. This will be occurring as the economy is rushing towards a recession. Sharp struggles may emerge within the rank and file to declare their democratic rights and independence from both the economic and political policies of the capitalist class.

It is ever more urgent for Socialists, anti-war and anti-capitalist activists to combine their struggles and bring the working class and oppressed into the movement.

This article first appeared in The Socialist

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September 2001