Saturday, October 20, 2007 (SF Chronicle)

Labor leaders say politicians won't end war, urge workers to protest

Susan Sward, Chronicle Staff Writer

(10-20) 17:30 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- Labor leaders from around the world gathered in San Francisco today to call on workers to stand up and take organized action against war in Iraq, saying that politicians can't be counted on to halt the bloodshed.

Several speakers cited the civil rights movement of the 1950s and the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s as models to follow, saying that both achieved change that would not have occurred if matters had been left in the hands of those running the country.

"Until people get off their asses and do something, there won't be a change," Clarence Thomas, past secretary-treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 and a third-generation ILWU member, told the audience at the local's hall near Fishermen's Wharf.

Jeremy Corbyn, a Labour Party member of Parliament in Britain, cited the staggering number of civilian deaths in the Iraq war and the thousands of returning soldiers who have needed psychiatric care to deal with what they faced during battles in that country.

Corbyn told the audience of about 150 labor officials - who came from countries including Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Australia – that the war in Iraq is "a disaster of the grandest scale possible for the people of Iraq and the rest of us."

In an interview later, Thomas said the lesson of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements was that people had to take it upon themselves to bring about change. "The Republicans and Democrats aren't going to do it - elected officials don't lead."

Thomas, whose local and ILWU local 34 co-hosted the conference, and other speakers called on those attending the conference to go back to their unions and begin a dialogue resulting in concrete actions that highlight their opposition to the war.

Several speakers mentioned that while billions of dollars funnel ito the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there are urgent needs for health care, education, disaster relief and housing that go unmet or underfunded.

In interviews, several leaders acknowledged that they face a tough challenge in trying to energize workers to take anti-war actions in an era when people are not prone to militancy.

Sometimes, they said, what protest does occur gets little attention. Richard Cavalli, president of ILWU Local 34, said that in May "there was an anti-war rally at the Port of Oakland, and we shut down the port for a day. There was very little coverage of that event."

But he said the labor's anti-war effort has to be waged against "this war that came about on a lie about weapons of mass destruction" being present in Iraq. "Today you get these people together in this hall - it's a beginning."

Posted: 25 October 2007