Larry Cohen and Carol Gay on Where the Sanders Movement Should Go From Here: Two Different Views

Introduction

Below please read two different views on where the Sanders movement should go from here. The authors are Larry Cohen and Carol Gay. Readers are urged to submit their own ideas, which will be posted here.

Larry Cohen is Past President of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Senior Adviser of Labor For Bernie; Carol Gay is president of the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council and Retired CWA International Representative.


Three Next Steps in the Political Revolution
Bernie Sanders Can’t Do It Alone

By Larry Cohen

Bernie Sanders will campaign all the way up to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia to seek the nomination — and to continue building the “political revolution.”

What is that political revolution, beyond his call to get the billionaires and corporations out and the people in?

Electing candidates to public office like Sanders — both this year and in years to come — is one leg.

The second leg is democratic, structural political reform. This means changes to our electoral system, such as instituting automatic voter registration and matching small donations with public funds.

It also means transforming the Democratic Party to a populist-based party by reforming its inner workings. Sanders’ campaign offers the most comprehensive challenge to the wealthy Democratic establishment since Jesse Jackson’s historic 1988 campaign. Sanders stumped that year for Jackson, helping him win in Vermont. At the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, the Jackson campaign negotiated party reforms that included ending winner-take-all primaries and halving the number of super delegates.

Partly as a result of the end of winner-take-all, Bernie is on track to win at least 500 more delegates than Jackson did in 1988. But the reforms to the super delegate system were never enacted, and the Sanders campaign (to which I am an adviser) plans to bring some version of that demand back this year. The delegate selection process will also be back on the table, based on a growing list of serious flaws beginning with the Iowa Caucus, where the Democrats refused to release or review the caucus precinct results.

Twenty-three years before Occupy Wall Street, Jackson also pressured the Democrats to include a call for higher taxes on the 1% in the party’s platform. This and other platform demands pushed Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in a more progressive direction. Today, as in 1988, issues are the third leg of the political revolution—and the most apparent. Clinton and Sanders hold clearly different positions on trade, foreign policy, financial reform (including breaking up the big banks), the role of money and super PACs in politics, and critical economic reforms such as free higher education, Medicare-for-all and Social Security expansion. These issues will not only be raised from now through July, but for years to come in mobilizations of the emerging progressive base.

Those of us who are working day and night to elect Bernie Sanders president are determined to sustain this movement beyond the moment. The congressional and other electoral campaigns this year, combined with the emerging focus on democracy itself and the issues that mobilize our supporters, will carry that movement forward.


Another Point of View

By Carol Gay

I agree with almost all the points raised by Brother Cohen in this important and necessary discussion, but what I do not understand is why we are talking about reforming a morally bankrupt party, the Democratic Party.

Why are we not at the very least leaving open the possibility of a discussion about a new party, a party of our own that embraces all progressive forces — Labor, Environmentalists and Greens, Black Lives Matter, $15 NOW, Money Out of Politics, etc.?

The Bernie Sanders campaign has unleashed so much new energy that is adding to the already growing movements for progressive change, and I don’t think we want to discourage participation by any of these groups by supporting the party of the establishment, even if it is couched in “reform” terminology.

The Democratic Party is almost unrecognizable to most of us who have worked for progressive change our entire lives. I am speaking as a life-long Democrat and active member of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), but I cannot find it within me to support the status quo any longer.

I think this is an historic moment in time that will probably not come again in my life.

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Interview with Mark Dudzic on Equal Time Radio, Vermont (March 12, 2016)

[Note: Following is an interview with Mark Dudzic, national coordinator of the Labor for Single Payer campaign and past coordinator of the Labor Party. The interview was aired on March 12, 2016 on Equal Time Radio (WDEV 550AM/96.1FM–Vermont) and was conducted by radio host Traven Leyshon, secretary-treasurer of the Vermont state AFL-CIO. The transcription is by Unity & Independence, the labor supplement of The Organizer newspaper.]

Traven Leyshon: The Sanders victory in Michigan rocked the political establishment. Sanders tapped into and expressed the deep anger among labor and youth, and he is making more inroads into the African-American community. Beyond the immediate primaries or Democratic Party national convention, could we be seeing the first steps toward a party of our own?

Mark Dudzic: Certainly that is my hope, and it’s the hope of a lot of other activists in the labor and other social movements. But it’s a little too early to tell. Clearly the Sanders campaign has captured the widespread disgust with the kind of “accommodationism” that characterizes Democratic Party politics, especially at the national level. There’s a constant feeling of betrayal. Senator Sanders has given voice to working people who never recovered from the 2008 economic crisis and who see no future under the current system.

Traven Leyshon: Labor unions are diminished in strength, but they’re still the largest mass organizations that people have. What do you see in regard to the ferment in labor or more widely among working people? A lot of people who had given up on the political process, it seems, have become more politicized.

Mark Dudzic: I don’t think people who are active gave up on politics; they gave up on politics that produced no real benefits for themselves, their neighbors, and their co-workers. Sanders represents a real sense of hope for them. I do most of my work within the labor movement, and, as you said, despite being weakened over the years, labor is still central and essential to the working class and to working-class politics.

We’re now in an unusual situation where the contradictions of what labor is all about are really coming to the fore. On the one hand, you have a long-term practice of “instrumentalism,” trying to utilize whatever small space labor can find within politics to protect or preserve the institutions within labor and the conditions of the people they represent. And we’ve been doing this for ages, to the point where labor’s vision becomes restricted to the very narrow politics of what’s possible.

On the other hand, there is what I would call labor’s “transformative” side—that is, its capacity to act and think in terms of the long-term interests of working people. And Sanders has crystallized this transformative vision: What would politics in this country look like if it were conducted on behalf of people who work for a living? Why should college not be free, just like high school? Why shouldn’t we have healthcare for all like every industrialized country? These are issues that wake up and energize working people, and reach the core of the group of activists who do the work of the labor movement.

Traven Leyshon: What is Labor for Bernie, and where is it going?

Mark Dudzic: Labor for Bernie is an informal structure; it is not connected to the Bernie campaign. Labor activists were asked to sign a pledge. Close to 20,000 people have joined the network. Some national unions have come on board. These are the change agents in the labor movement; they are people who feel that labor’s many compromises have made it impossible to represent our members. They have a different view of how we must do our politics and where we must be as a labor movement. It’s very exciting.

It’s such a significant movement, in fact, that it’s resulted in the national AFL-CIO maintaining a position of neutrality in the campaign—which has certainly disrupted the plans of the Democratic establishment and the Clinton campaign.

Traven Leyshon: Let’s review for a few minutes the period of the Labor Party in the 1990s. It was a period of great hope, when people had a broader vision, where a wing of the labor movement made links with poor people’s organizations; there was institutional support from labor organizations. First we had Labor Party Advocates, then the Labor Party, which was more of an organizing committee for a future Labor Party, as we were not running candidates. Do you see the possibilities of networks, Labor for Bernie, unions that have come out for the Sanders campaign, or other community organizations…creating some kind of institutional support for other experiments, non-partisan networks, with some kind of political independence?

Mark Dudzic: It’s a complex situation. Everything is in flux right now. It’s always hard to make a prediction when you’re at this point in the movement.

I think that what happened in the 1990s is very relevant to what’s happening today. You had two significant things going on in the 1990s: You had an internal insurgency in the labor movement after decades of getting our butts kicked, both politically and in the shops and bargaining units. There was a sort of fightback movement that talked about new ways of organizing, be it new-member organizing, more sophisticated campaigns to represent our members, or breaking with some of the collaborationist ideas that the national labor movement had adopted when it was fat and lazy in the 1950s, ’60s. and ’70s. All this resulted in the only contested leadership election and a new leadership in the AFL-CIO.

This was coupled with the deep disillusion with another Clinton—Bill Clinton—who was elected in 1992. There was a lot of hope after 12 years of Reagan and Bush that Clinton would start advocating for workers’ interests—but instead, the administration completely dropped the ball on healthcare reform, instituted vicious blame-the-victim welfare reform and criminal-reform policies, walked away from labor-law reform and then, the thing that really capped the disgust, was Clinton’s wholehearted support for the NAFTA agreement—which really was the fast march toward globalization and de-industrialization.

That disgust and that insurgency combined for about 10 years. We had a very powerful movement within the labor movement to call for a party of our own, for a Labor Party, that would represent the interests of working people—not the compromises in parties that were dominated by corporate interests.

What’s different today is that the labor insurgency basically was defeated; the labor movement is a lot weaker and more isolated than it was in the 1990s. But today, there are all sorts of new coalitions and organizations that aren’t strictly speaking part of the institutions of organized labor, but are talking about economic and social justice issues for working people. These movements are coming together and are becoming more and more significant in working-class life.

But new opportunities for organizing and for doing politics are a lot less clear. I’m not sure there’s a consensus in the activist community that we must move toward a complete break with the Democratic Party to build a party of our own, as the next step to take.

I am very hopeful that this moment will result in a broad discussion within the labor movement and other social movements about how we can move away from corporate-dominated politics toward independent working-class politics. But I am not sure anyone yet knows what exact form that discussion and that organization will take at this point.

Traven Leyshon: A lot will be impacted by whether or not the Sanders campaign continues to develop momentum. People are holding their breath every time there is a mega-Tuesday. Sanders is proving the pollsters wrong, like in Michigan, where he proved he can win a greater percentage of African-American voters. You now have more union activists and more community organizations, like National People’s Action, doing real grassroots organizing for Sanders—and many of these organizations are going to continue mobilizing around their issues after the campaign, no matter what happens.

We certainly have that in Vermont. The most enthusiastic supporters of Sanders are not the Democratic Party establishment; it’s independents, it’s Progressive Party members, it’s the affiliates of National People’s Action. Do you see any formations developing that can capture and express in an organized way this Labor for Bernie campaign, this enthusiasm and upsurge nationally, that we’ve got to do something?

Mark Dudzic: I think that the understanding that we need to do something is everywhere across the country right now. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, even if Sanders never wins another primary. I think that the energy and vision that he unleashed are not going to go away, certainly not in the labor movement. These are folks who have taken a stand against the way their unions do politics. So that’s not going to go away. But I’m not so sure at this point that there’s any clarity about what kind of coalition will come together after the campaign.

The trouble with an election campaign is that it’s an urgent moment when you have to work exclusively around campaign issues. Historically, it’s been very difficult for permanent organizations to emerge from the aftermath of progressive campaigns. So there’s reason to be concerned that all this energy will dissipate once the campaign is over, however it ends.

I am hopeful, though, that people can weigh in now, while the campaign is still viable and still reaching millions of people, on what we need to do to communicate with one another and keep momentum going after the elections are over in November.

Traven Leyshon: Exactly. In the 1980s, the Rainbow Coalition was dissolved, nothing was left.

Mark Dudzic: This is an important lesson: You have to think about the future while the campaign is still going on. There’s a difference between a political campaign, on the one hand, and a substantive and sustained campaign and movement-building for working people, on the other. An election campaign is just one manifestation of this—but you can’t build a movement around a political candidate.

I hope that these lessons will inform the work that we do here. Also Senator Sanders, to his credit, has talked about the need to build a movement; he has said that he supports any effort during this campaign to turn it into a real, long-term force for social change

Traven Leyshon: Any concluding thoughts?

Mark Dudzic: We are going to be meeting soon to put together the activist core of the Labor for Bernie movement. There are also other efforts under way; folks are organizing a People’s Assembly in mid-June in Chicago.

This is a time when we have to put our energies into continuing the Sanders campaign on the ground while building networks of activists that use this campaign as an opportunity to build the kind of movement that is needed to build the kind of politics that can represent the real concerns of working people in this country.

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Regardless of Who Ultimately Wins the Democratic Nomination for President, Labor Must Have Its Own Independent Voice

Senator Bernie Sanders’ victory in Michigan has clearly rocked the political world. It has exposed Hillary Clinton’s vulnerabilities and underscored the deep anger of working people nationwide with Wall Street and with the politicians funded by Wall Street. It has also demonstrated the massive support nationwide for the far-reaching demands put forward by Sanders, including tuition-free education at public colleges and universities, Medicare for All/Single Payer, breaking up the big banks, and strident opposition to the corporate “free trade” agenda.

The race for the Democratic Party nomination is still not resolved, but regardless of who ultimately wins the Party’s nomination for president, labor must have its own political voice.

More voters now call themselves independents due to many years’ disenchantment with, and disenfranchisement from, the policies of the oligarchic two-party system. They are disgusted with a system that no longer even pretends to hear their needs or their voice.

In our view, it is not too soon for supporters of independent labor political action to map out a strategy for the post­election period. If we decide to wait and attempt to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the November election, we risk confusion and disorientation setting in.

Recognizing that a significant sector of the working class has become politicized to an extent not seen in decades, here is what we in the Labor Fightback Network believe:

  • First, that a large number of unions and labor activists have had it with “establishment politics” and are open to an independent course in the period ahead.
  • Second, that it is essential that a forum or network be provided for these forces to come together and unite in mass actions around the kind of domestic program that Sanders has popular­ized, while adding a plank on foreign policy that opposes U.S. interventions, occupations and military engagements in unjust wars. In this context, the groundwork will be laid for running independent labor-community candidates for public office at the local level.
  • Third, that community of color groups need to be included from the start, together with other progressive forces, as part of the mix.
  • Fourth, that the Labor for Bernie campaign be encouraged to help spearhead the development of this network.
  • Fifth, that whatever formation is created, it be and remain staunchly nonpartisan and function democratically.

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Bernie Sanders Campaign Should Be Seen as an Initial Step in a Process Leading to the Establishment of a Labor Party

The Sanders campaign has won the support of tens of millions of people—especially college-age men and women—behind the progressive domestic program he expounds to a national audience. His campaign brings to the forefront a combination of demands not presented to the general public in modern times: tuition-free education at public colleges and universities; Medicare for All/Single Payer; the imperative to boldly fight climate change; a $15 an hour minimum-wage; opposition to trade deals such as the anti-worker/anti-democratic TPP and TTIP; the erosion of democracy due to corporate money’s stranglehold on policy and the effects of Citizens United; a strong emphasis on labor’s rights; breaking up the big banks; condemning the scandalously highly inflated prices for prescription drugs, and a host of other demands and arguments pointing out the decades growth of economic inequality.

Sanders unabashedly and squarely places the blame on Wall Street and the millionaire and billionaire class for the multiple crises they fostered the policies that adversely affect the vast majority of working people and the poor. Sanders has revitalized the tarnished image of a social agenda, and even of the word socialism itself. And he has done all this against the backdrop of others who, at best, favor incremental changes only.

Throughout the singular and unexpected momentum Sanders has generated, he repeatedly emphasizes that electing a president alone will not bring about the sweeping changes he advocates. He calls for a revolution fostered by the engagement of millions of people to fight for the changes needed, economically and politically. We of the Labor Fightback Network emphatically agree.

That is why we believe that the Sanders campaign presents an opportunity not seen for decades, and this moment should be seized and utilized as a potential step forward in the struggle to establish an independent mass workers’ party based and built on labor and its community allies.

Of course, we realize that this would be foundation-building in order to create a national party with enough representatives in Congress to get legislation passed. Absent this, and with control of Congress remaining in the hands of the two corporate parties, the result would be continued gridlock and more dysfunctional government.

More voters now call themselves independents due to many years’ disenchantment with, and disenfranchisement from, the policies of the “oligarchic” two-party system. They are disgusted with a system that no longer even pretends to hear their needs or their voice. Therefore, now is the moment to seriously build the sentiment for a third party—a mass Labor Party—answering the needs of the 99%.

Assume that Hillary Clinton locks down the nomination. In that case, Sanders will no doubt continue to campaign for his program leading up to the Democratic convention and at the convention itself. Since the Party will need the energy—and money—of those Sanders has won over and invigorated, he will, no doubt, be given a prominent role at the convention. He will then dutifully campaign for the Democratic Party’s candidates while urging his supporters to do the same. Many will follow his lead and vote for the “lesser evil” Clinton candidacy rather than risk a victory for the ultra-reactionary Republicans.

But what about the hundreds of trade union bodies and the huge numbers of trade union and community activists who will have had it with “establishment politics,” to quote Sanders’ term? Many will reject giving support to hawk Hillary Clinton as the head of the Democratic Party. And they will be fully justified in refusing to support this “lesser-evil.”

Clinton is one of the main candidates, if not the main candidate, of Wall Street in the coming elections; her multi-million dollar corporate funding attests to this. She is also one of the main pro-war candidates on either ticket. But that’s not all: She is opposed to the Sanders’ domestic agenda on key points: She is in favor of pursuing the corporate-led assault on public education pursued by Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She claims to oppose TPP but then tells the Chamber of Commerce not to worry because once elected she will implement TPP (Truthout.org, Jan. 31, 2016). She strongly opposes Medicare For All/Single Payer. And the list goes on.

Adrift and unwilling to compromise their convictions, where will Sanders’ supporters go? With no clear alternative for a place to land, widespread demoralization and apathy will inevitably ensue, as it did with Obama’s policies. The simple truth is that the interests and aspirations of the millions of Sanders’ supporters cannot be attained through the Democratic Party—a party of, by and for the ruling 1%.

What About the Third Parties Currently on the Scene?

There will no doubt be other third party choices on the November ballot with progressive programs. Unfortunately, they will all have the same limitation: their appeal to a limited sliver of the population and an absence of a mass base. None can or will substitute for a mass party based upon the working class – upon its trade unions and its community allies. The pressing challenge will be to take immediate concrete steps to advance toward that objective that will find them a home, one that truly has their interests at heart.

What We Advocate

In the event that Sanders does not succeed in winning the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency, we urge those unions that have endorsed him to stick together and establish a network geared to advancing the cause of independent labor politics with serious outreach to community-based organizations on the forefront of struggle, to the goal of establishing a Labor Party in the future.

Plans should be made for a national meeting, with invitations to the broad forces in the struggle for economic justice, centered around the issues of race, class and peace, and built upon truly democratic principles. Simultaneously, such a network could enhance its visibility with periodic demonstrations in the streets, including against all attempts that are coming down the pike to attack collective bargaining rights of public employees, such as the Friedrichs case. The network could start off with a number of planks from the Sanders program and add others, especially a foreign policy that opposes occupations, interventions and unjust wars that serve the corporate class. Instead of spending trillions for “defense,” use the money saved for education and human service programs plus infrastructure here at home. It could begin running independent labor-community candidates for public office at a local and state level, as a bridge to a Labor Party.

Such a network would need to reach out to the youth and recruit them to play a leading role; and involve from day one communities of color—African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Muslims and other oppressed nationalities—on a program that reflects their needs.

Moreover, a network could promote discussion and dialogue on these issues, while at the same time encouraging joint and coordinated organizing campaigns.

We hope that you agree with this perspective and will seize the moment to help make real dynamic and systemic change. If so, please fill out the coupon below and send to the address indicated to begin this timely process.


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Open Letter to United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard
International President
United Steelworkers

Dear President Gerard:

The undersigned are leaders of the Labor Fightback Network, a national formation that advocates a more militant and aggressive labor fightback against the escalating attacks directed by the corporations against our unions.

We are writing to express our appreciation for the campaign you and your union are waging to defeat the TPP. Your comment that “TPP may be the final blow to manufacturing in America” succinctly sums up what is at stake here in this historic fight to prevent the TPP’s enactment.

We recognize that the many organizations that oppose the TPP are employing diverse tactics to educate and to expand the numbers of active opponents of the trade pact. All of these, of course, contribute to the overall goal and have their value. However, time is rapidly running out for us to defeat TPP. We feel strongly that there is no substitute for as many organizations as possible to work together to organize a national day of action featuring a mass demonstration in Washington, D.C., the seat of power where the decision on the measure will ultimately be made. We are confident that with your union leading the way, in combination with environmentalists and our other allies, a united day of action would generate a turnout of hundreds of thousands. News coverage of the event would help educate millions, who may be unaware of the existential damage that would result if TPP were to be enacted.

A call for workers and others to take to the streets of Washington, D.C., would send a clear-cut and unmistakable message to corporate America that we are bound and determined to do whatever is necessary to defeat TPP. Moreover, it would energize our ranks and provide an additional avenue for organizing and reaching out to the population as a whole.

We hope that you feel the same and will initiate the steps needed to organize and build a day of action with the objective being to mobilize enough people to subject the TPP to a crushing defeat.

In solidarity,

Donna Dewitt, President Emeritus, South Carolina AFL-CIO
Dennis Serrette, Former CWA International Education Director (Ret.)
Carol Gay, President, New Jersey State Industrial Union Council;
former CWA International Representative
Alan Benjamin, Executive Committee, San Francisco Labor Council
Jerry Levinsky, SEIU Local 509
Millie Phillips, Former member, IBEW Local 1245
Tom Bias, ITU Local 103 (Ret.)
Jerry Gordon, UFCW International Representative (Ret.)

[Titles for id only.]

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Bring the Troops Home Now!

The December 21, 2015, killing of six U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan once again vaulted the U.S. war and occupation of that country onto the front pages. The Obama administration declared that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan had ended as of the end of 2014. Tell that to the families of the six who expected their loved ones to come home but received coffins instead.

The question continues to be asked: Why are U.S. troops still in Afghanistan after 15 long years?

This war has lasted longer than the U.S. civil war, World War I, and the Vietnam War combined. Supposedly, U.S. troops are there to train Afghans to do the fighting. But we’ve all seen that movie before: After 15 years, shouldn’t the Afghans be “trained” by now?

To be sure, part of the rationale for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan was getting Osama bin Laden. But he was killed in Pakistan in May of 2011. So that can no longer be asserted as a reason for perpetuating the U.S. war.

The essence of U.S. foreign policy is occupation, militarization, escalation, war and expansionism—all in furtherance of the corporate agenda. And it certainly is not limited to Afghanistan. The U.S. has invaded 74 countries over the past century and currently has military deployments in over 150 of them.

As a working class formation, the Labor Fightback Network (LFN) urges that the labor movement help provide leadership in building a broad and united labor-community coalition to demand that the troops be brought home now, starting with Afghanistan but also including in rapid order Iraq (where U.S. troops have re-engaged) and Syria. And that would mark a fundamental change in Washington’s foreign policy to one based on respect for the right of other nations to settle their own destiny.

Our country cannot be the world’s policeman.

Historical Background

Washington long was interested in occupying Afghanistan—well before 9/11. As George Mantiot of the Guardian wrote:

“Afghanistan has some oil and gas of its own, but not enough to qualify as a major strategic concern. Its northern neighbors, by contrast, contain reserves which could be critical to future global supply. In 1998, Dick Cheney, [later] U.S. vice president but then chief executive of a major oil services company, remarked: ‘I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.’ But the oil and gas there is worthless until it is moved. The only route which makes both political and economic sense is through Afghanistan…

“Pipelines through Afghanistan would allow the U.S. both to pursue its aim of diversifying energy supply and to penetrate the world’s most lucrative markets. Growth in European oil consumption is slow and competition is intense. In South Asia, by contrast, demand is booming and competitors are scarce. Pumping oil south and selling it in Pakistan and India, in other words, is far more profitable than pumping it west and selling it in Europe.”

As the author and journalist Ahmed Rashid has documented, in 1995 Cheney’s U.S. oil company Unocal started negotiating to build oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and into Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea. The company’s scheme required a single administration in Afghanistan, which would guarantee safe passage for its goods. Soon after the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996, the Telegraph reported that “oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.”

For the first year of Taliban rule, U.S. policy towards the regime appears to have been determined principally by Unocal’s interests. In 1997 a U.S. diplomat told Rashid, “the Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco [the former U.S. oil consortium in Saudi Arabia] pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that…

“In September [2001], a few days before the attack on the Twin Towers, the U.S. energy information administration reported that ‘Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan.’ Given that the U.S. government is dominated by former oil industry executives, we would be foolish to suppose that such plans no longer figure in its strategic thinking.”

The Costs of the War

Over 2,000 U.S. soldiers and marines have been killed and thousands more grievously wounded to date in the Afghanistan war and occupation. Authoritative figures of Afghans who met a similar fate are hard to come by but a Wikipedia article states “During the war in Afghanistan (2001–present), over 26,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented; 29,900 civilians have been wounded. Over 91,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are recorded to have been killed in the conflict, and the number who have died through indirect causes related to the war may include an additional 360,000 people.”

The war has cost U.S. taxpayers a trillion dollars and will require hundreds of billions more after the fighting ends, according to the Financial Times.

This at a time when virtually every human services program in this country is under severe assault, including pensions. The infrastructure continues to crumble despite repeated assurances from the bosses and bankers that it will at last be addressed. But where will the money come from given the prioritization given the wars and occupations?

The choice is guns or butter, and it will take a mass movement of considerable power to force the nation’s rulers to change course and agree to the latter. After all, neither Alexander the Great, nor Great Britain, nor the former Soviet Union could prevail in Afghanistan. The U.S. is caught in a quagmire—a winless, endless war that can only result in more death and destruction.

Needed: A United Antiwar Movement

Ideally, there should be in place by now a broad, representative, democratic and united peace movement that can mobilize thousands in the streets in support of united front demands. A few years ago such a formation appeared to be on the horizon, and it included some key labor forces. But unfortunately differences over demands erupted causing the trade unionists to pull out.

Realistically, there is no prospect today for organic unity of the various key groups. But there remains an urgent need for united actions that, perhaps, could emerge if these groups were willing to move forward together to co-sponsor them. If this were forthcoming, the prospects could brighten for involving sections of the labor movement which would unlikely be won over to a fractured movement.

After all, the world looks to us—living as we do in the belly of the beast—to put aside all the barriers that have precluded unity in the past. Despite the fact that not a single member of Congress—so far as we can tell—has advocated the immediate withdrawal demand, no one disputes the fact that the people of this nation are war weary and would like to see the U.S. get out of Afghanistan and other countries in the region. If ever there was a time when fresh and constructive unity initiatives are needed from antiwar groups, this is it.

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Give Aid and Asylum to Syrian Refugees! No U.S. Intervention in the Syrian Civil War!

The horrific murders of 129 people in Paris on November 13 have served as the pretext for a dangerous escalation of war in Syria and Iraq and a head-on attack on civil liberties and the right to privacy in France and Belgium. It has also intensified the debate about admitting Syrians and Iraqis who are fleeing from the conflict, as many state governors in the United States are declaring that no Syrian refugees will be admitted to their states—empty rhetoric, to be sure, since nearly all of them are lawyers who know fully well that only the federal government has jurisdiction in asylum cases.

The attack in Paris was preceded by attacks in Beirut and Baghdad, which unfortunately received far less attention in the United States. Responsibility for all three attacks was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—ISIS. Though ISIS’s rule has been harsh and brutal within the territory it controls, it had not carried out attacks on civilians outside of that territory—until now. What ISIS has done is a dangerous escalation of the violence, which gives France, Britain, the United States, and other Western powers an opening to increase their military intervention in the Middle East with reduced opposition from the populations of their own countries.

Indeed, the United States, France, and Russia have been carrying out massive air strikes against ISIS. The U.S. has deployed Special Operations troops to the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria, in what could be just the beginning of a larger-scale U.S. intervention with ground forces. Presidential candidates including Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Hillary Clinton are calling for an even larger U.S. military intervention.

As refugees from the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars continue to stream into eastern and central Europe and into other Middle Eastern countries, the news is nothing short of heartbreaking. Families are boarding overcrowded vessels of questionable seaworthiness or attempting to cross into Lebanon, Turkey, or Jordan, where they are languishing in overcrowded camps where food and water are in short supply.

The U.S.’s intelligence services went into action to begin the process of regime change in Syria. Senator John McCain even went there and met with a group of opposition leaders. He promised them money and weapons and was even photographed with them. However, their opposition to Assad was based not on any desire for democracy but rather on their belief that Syria should be ruled according to Sunni Islam, the majority denomination among Muslims in Syria and indeed worldwide. Assad belongs to the Alawi sect, a branch of Shi’i Islam, which has existed since the eighth century.

Their organization was to take shape as ISIS, as they joined forces with Iraqi military officers—Sunni Muslims like their executed leader Saddam Hussein—who had been purged from the Iraqi army by the Shi’i-dominated government and its patrons in Washington.

In the spring of 2014 the world was subjected to the spectacle of gruesome executions in ISIS-controlled territory. Sensational news reports led to calls for American intervention to stop ISIS, conveniently forgetting that American intervention against the Syrian government is what led to the formation of ISIS in the first place!

Up until now, ISIS has been mainly a conventional military force, whose aim is to capture territory and add it to its fundamentalist caliphate. It is commanded by well-trained professional military officers. It has achieved considerable success, controlling a swath of territory from northeastern Syria across northern Iraq, including the city of Mosul, the most important city of northern Iraq and an important oil center. It has even penetrated within a few kilometers of Baghdad itself. The Islamic Republic of Iran, whose government is led by Shi’i clerics and whose population is about 94% Shi’i Muslim, justifiably considers ISIS to be a threat to its security. Iran has allied itself with the Syrian government as has Russia, which is carrying out air strikes against forces opposing the Assad government. The United States has accused the Russians of attacking forces other than ISIS, the so-called “moderate opposition.”

It is time for the United States to take the next step and put a complete stop to its intervention in the region. Complete means complete. It means no troops, no bombing, no air support, no drones, no weapons, no money, no delay, and no conditions. This is what the labor movement and its community allies must demand.

U.S. policy has contributed mightily to the continuation of civil war in Syria, which has led to a terrible civilian death toll and destruction of Syrian cities and social infrastructure. Syrian civilians have been fleeing by the thousands to wherever they can escape the violence—to Turkey, to Greece, to Hungary, to Austria, to Germany. It has been a humanitarian disaster, without question. To date, the United States government, which bears a lot of responsibility for the disaster, has done precious little to help the refugees. Presidential contender Donald Trump has even promised, “If I’m elected, they’re going back,” even though a much smaller number of refugees has thus far come to the U.S. than to Middle Eastern or European countries. One expects hatefulness like that from the lips of the Donald; one might expect better from Obama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but thus far we have heard nothing from the President but empty words. If the Obama administration can waste $500 million on a project to arm and train a nonexistent “moderate opposition,” surely it can put up some serious money for humanitarian aid—food, housing, medical care, and safe transportation for families who just want to get their children out of harm’s way. The labor movement needs to demand exactly the opposite of what the billionaire Trump is proposing: open the gates to the refugees and provide for the needs of the families seeking safety from violence—no delay, and no conditions. Already groups around the country are taking to the streets to demand just that.

The people of the Middle East, from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf, have suffered for over a century because of the ham-handed intervention and exploitation at the hands of the so-called “Great Powers” of Europe and North America. All working people, both in the exploited countries and the exploiter countries, have a direct interest in putting a stop to it. Peace, security, and fair payment for their labor and natural resources are all that the people of the region wish. It’s simple justice.

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