[Marxism] Bring the War Home!

acpollack2 at juno.com acpollack2 at juno.com
Thu Dec 9 20:52:33 MST 2004

Bring the War Home!
Andrew Pollack

The latest journal of the International Association of Machinists has an article entitled “From Maytag to Baghdad” (http://www.goiam.org/publications/2004fall/baghdad.htm) profiling Machinist and Staff Sergeant Jim McGovern, who is patrolling Baghdad as a member of the US occupation forces, along with his fellow National Guardsmen from Illinois.  McGovern, says the journal, is “a 15-year employee at Maytag… [who] arrived in Iraq a veteran of another battle: one to save the livelihoods of more than 1,600 co-workers at the legendary appliance maker.  Despite record sales and millions in taxpayer incentives, Maytag announced in October 2002 it would close the Galesburg facility and move to Mexico where its workers would be paid as little as $4.50 per day.”

“’I understand what’s happening,’ said McGovern of companies like Maytag that leave the U.S. in search of low-cost locations. ‘But I think it’s unpatriotic and it’s absolutely devastating for a small town like Galesburg.’”  

“’These are men and women whose service and sacrifice frequently doesn’t get the recognition it deserves,’ said IAM President Tom Buffenbarger. ‘Now they’re half a world away fighting to rebuild a foreign country while their home towns are being reduced to economic rubble by companies like Maytag. It’s time we recognized there’s a war going on right here at home.’”

McGovern’s wife, a nurse at Maytag, also lost her job.  “She adds, ‘for all those families still in Galesburg, the situation is just as serious. I wonder why no one’s coming to our rescue?’”

Leaving aside for a moment his illusions about the purpose of the war in Iraq, Buffenbarger’s questioning of the contradiction between fighting wars abroad to “rebuild a foreign country” while jobs at home are being destroyed seems a partial step forward from the rabid, war-mongering statement he gave to the press right after 9/11.  If you think these adjectives are an exaggeration you didn’t see his facial expression and tone of voice in the video of his statement.  But the words alone were chilling enough.  IAM members, he said, “will be building the F-15, F-16, F-18, and F-22s that will impose a new reality on those who have dared attack us. For it is not simply justice we seek. It is vengeance, pure and complete.” (emphasis added)

Yet within weeks of 9/11 Buffenbarger and other labor officials “hit the ceiling” when Congressional Republican leader Tom DeLay wrote a fundraising letter for the National Right to Work (sic) Foundation, and Buffenbarger called for DeLay's immediate resignation.  Politicians were screaming for the heads of public sector workers, longshoremen and others who dared to strike in the middle of the “national emergency.”  Buffenbarger’s defense of his union was to say that the "Machinists are a red, white and blue collar union.  We build and maintain the weapon systems this country relies on.  U.S. union members deserve the wages and benefits won through collective bargaining ... if you equate the exercise of a First Amendment right with treason, then your judgment is too impaired to function as a representative of the American people." (http://www.districtone.com/right-to-work.htm)  But with even union officials calling for the wholesale, indiscriminate murder of Arabs abroad, how could they not expect that the bosses would take advantage of this newfound national “unity” to demand labor silence and concessions to employers? 

Naturally the plea of Buffenbarger to respect the patriotism of his members cut no mustard with the Machinists’ bosses, and soon aircraft manufacturers and airlines were using post-9/11 profit losses as an excuse to lay off tens of thousands of his members and cut their wages and benefits. 

Buffenbarger seems to see the hypocrisy in calling on his members to fight a war abroad while having to fight a war in defense of their own jobs at home.  He probably doesn’t yet see – and may never – the connection between the two: that is, that this unjust imperialist war abroad is part and parcel of the same capitalist system which sets the terms of the class war at home.  And to win the war at home labor must refuse to fight the bosses’ war abroad.  For after all, the bosses and their government are in Iraq to secure the same “freedom” – freedom for investments and profits, that is – that allows them to invest in Mexico without regard for the rights of either US or Mexican workers.

Fortunately labor bodies representing millions of unionists have endorsed US Labor Against War, which understands where the real war needs to be fought, and thousands of unionists are acting regularly on this knowledge.

The wider their ranks spread, the sooner Jim McGovern and his comrades can come home and fight the just class war at home on their own behalf – and begin to make common cause with workers fighting their own just class wars abroad.

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