Guns or Butter

Guns or Butter

“Our job is to make sure that the labor movement talks about how the militarization of US foreign policy hurts workers at home.”


Thirty-one antiwar trade union leaders met in Chicago on April 26 to consider the future of US Labor Against the War (USLAW), founded in January to oppose an invasion of Iraq. Together they plotted out an ambitious new “guns or butter” campaign. “American working families face a domestic crisis,” reads the group’s new mission statement. “This crisis has been intensified by the Bush administration’s foreign and domestic policies of military intervention abroad and neglect at home that benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working families. We cannot solve these economic and social problems without addressing U.S. foreign policy and its consequences.”

During the 1960s, participants pointed out, you could argue that military spending created good jobs for some parts of organized labor. Today that is no longer the case, as military contractors send jobs overseas. Then, “guns and butter” seemed an easy mix; today, these labor activists argued, you can’t have both.

USLAW decided to throw its energies behind the AFL-CIO’s plan to do what it takes to effect “regime change” in Washington. But the diverse group–representing national unions of the CWA, the APWU, UE and UNITE; major central labor councils in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington, DC; the California Federation of Teachers; and locals from SEIU, UAW, the Teamsters and the AFT; as well as allied organizations including Pride at Work, Jobs With Justice and Military Families Speak Out–plans to do far more. It will create a Labor Veterans Committee to coordinate with other veterans’ groups in opposing cuts to vets’ healthcare and benefits. It will begin a massive education campaign within the labor movement on how Bush’s pre-emptive war policy and his permanent war economy will make working families less, not more, secure, in terms of both personal safety and economic survival. And it will argue for a different US foreign policy approach, one that “strengthens international peacekeeping and human rights institutions and that solves disputes by diplomacy rather than war–a foreign policy that promotes global economic and social justice rather than the race-to-the-bottom job-destroying practices favored by multinational corporations.”

Participants said their union members generally saw the war on Iraq as a victory in the military sense, but, even in retrospect, few saw the invasion as right–or believed that Bush had ever successfully made the case for war. But along with many other Americans who opposed the war, they lacked a sense of direction about what to do next. “Our job,” said a representative from the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, “is to make sure that the labor movement talks about the militarization of US foreign policy and how it hurts us here at home.”

In this context, USLAW’s new campaign could have a galvanizing effect not only on the labor movement but on the peace movement as a whole and on the electoral season ahead. Plans will progress at a national Labor Assembly for Security, Peace and Prosperity in Chicago on October 24. Details are available at

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