Unions oppose war

CFMEU, teachers oppose war on Iraq

By Mick Bull (Green Left Weekly, January 22, 2003)

Victorian state secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Martin Kingham, has urged all trade unions to participate in an afternoon rally on the day that the US launches its war against Iraq.

The emergency action has been called by the Victorian Peace Network. Opponents of the US-led war, and Australian participation in it, will rally at 5pm at the State Library on that day.

This is not the first time that the CFMEU has voiced its opposition to a war on Iraq. At its branch meeting in December, the union's construction and general division passed the following motion unanimously:

If a war on Iraq breaks out before or after the shut-down period, this branch meeting calls on the state executive to consider a brief lunchtime action in the CBD.

We support a war on poverty, low pay and unemployment; not Australian tax dollars being spent supporting a war on the Iraqi people for the benefit of US imperialism and US oil companies.

The motion was moved by shop steward and Socialist Party activist Steve Jolly.

The union subsequently decided to unite with the rest of the peace movement and take part in the broader rally.

Meanwhile in Adelaide, the Australian Education Union's national conference on January 17 endorsed amotion calling for Australian troops to be immediately withdrawn from the Persian Gulf. The AEU represents 155,000 teachers.

Any attack on Iraq would cost the lives of thousands of innocent children, AEU federal president Denis Fitzgerald said after the vote. No child's life should be lost to such a pointless war, be that child Australian or Iraqi. On the evidence so far, there's no justification for it.

Fitzgerald pointed out that attacking Iraq to achieve regime change is not only illegal but is a threat to international stability. Not only will it fuel insecurity and poverty and threaten wider conflict in the Middle East and beyond, it will also strengthen the resolve of the repressive Iraqi government.

While the AEU recognises that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime has a shocking record of human rights abuses including the execution of trade unionists and political opponents, Fitzgerald noted that no link has even been alleged between the September 11 attacks and Iraq.

We suspect that the United State's aggression is more to do with geopolitical ambitions, notably Iraq's oil reserves. We're seeing the West's self-interest being put ahead of UN conventions, human lives and peace, the AEU president said. Australian [military] vessels and personnel enforcing the blockade on Iraq should be immediately withdrawn from the region to avoid any implication of involvement in a preemptive strike.

Fitzgerald accused Australian Prime Minister John Howard of exploiting the fear of terrorist attacks to promote militarism and xenophobia. The AEU firmly believes that Australia's security interests are best achieved by building strong regional alliances through mutual development programs and independent security programs not tied to the aggressive US.

We urge the Howard government to see reason and look to the United Nations for a peaceful resolution [in Iraq]. A comprehensive multilateral disarmament plan under the UN is required the removal of weapons of mass destruction cannot be achieved on the basis of rich countries having them and poor countries not, Fitzgerald said.

The AEU is committed to the building of the widest coalition of anti-war forces ever seen in Australia, Fitzgerald declared. We'll encourage citizens to overwhelmingly reject Howard's rush to war in Iraq.

AEU Federal Conference on war on Iraq

The following nine points were adopted unanimously on January 17, 2003 by the AEU Federal Conference meeting in Adelaide. A media release was also posted on the AEU website www.aeufederal.org.au.

No War

The AEU Resolves:

1 That as an attack on Iraq will cause widespread death and destruction, increase insecurity and poverty in the world and threaten a wider conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, including the South-East Asian region, the AEU is opposed to war against Iraq. Attacking Iraq to achieve "regime-change" is not only illegal but is likely to be counter-productive and lead to the strengthening of the repressive apparatus of Iraqi government. Joining an attack simply because the US wants Australian support is inadequate justification and has led to tragedy in the past.

2 Recourse to war is never justified before all non-violent solutions have been pursued. History is replete with examples of politicians committing other people's children to certain death, trauma and injury in war. The process of UN inspections and deliberations should not be pressured by US bullying of Security Council members into premature decisions. Neither should an Australian decision be pre-empted by a manipulated crisis created by the presence of huge US and British forces in the Gulf.

3 In view of US, British and Australian attempts to pre-empt UN processes, the Australian vessels currently enforcing the blockade on Iraq should be withdrawn immediately so as avoid any implication that Australian forces are in any way involved in a manipulated pre-emptive strike. A similar position should apply to Australian elements serving in US and British units. The blockade continues to inflict misery on innocent people in Iraq, and so should be lifted immediately. Further the bombing within the "no-fly" zones must cease.

4 The Australian parliament must have the opportunity to consult and debate the question of any military commitment prior to any decision. At that time those opposed to a military commitment by Australia will have the opportunity to assess any facts which the government or any other parties bring forward and to put their views before the community and the parliament.

5 That Education International be advised of the views of the AEU on the threat of war in the Middle East and be asked for its support in a campaign to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

6 The AEU commends those Australian political parties and individuals who have unequivocally opposed an attack on Iraq including the Greens and Democrats and many ALP figures including Carmen Lawrence and Laurie Brereton.

7 The AEU endorses the call of the ACTU for the rights of all to work and live in an environment free of harassment and discrimination on the basis of race, religion or culture and to work to increase the understanding of the international situation amongst its members.

8 The AEU will participate in and work to build the widest coalition of anti-war forces ever seen in Australian society such that the rush to war in Iraq by the Coalition Government will be rejected overwhelmingly by the Australian community and will mark the Coalition forever as unfit to govern Australia and lead to its removal at the next Federal election.

9 If the Howard Government commits Australia to an unjustified war, the AEU urges the people of Australia not to support or co-operate with the war effort in any way.

The following 13 points were endorsed by the AEU Federal Executive and provided to delegates at the AEU Federal Conference as background to making the above decision.

The Howard Government Threatens Our Security


1 It is a primary duty of government to create peace and security for citizens in domestic and international relations.

2 The terrorist attacks of October 12 2002 in Bali and September 11 2001 on the US can only be condemned and have profound implications for ordinary citizens to a peaceful existence in all countries. Contrary to the Fukuyama prophesy of unending Western moral and economic dominance following the Cold War, the West faces growing criticism of and resistance to global inequality and exploitation which provides a basis for the growth of military conflict and terrorism, unjustifiable as it may be.

3 Australia's security interests are not best achieved by servile responses to US policies when Australia's relations with our region are the worst they have ever been and face a rising tide of hostility in some large neighbouring nations and severe internal crises in others. Australia's security is best achieved by building strong regional alliances through mutual development programs and independent defence and mutual security arrangements which are not tied to the US military apparatus given its current aggressive posture.

4 Instead of acting to understand and address these issues, the Howard government has used the Bali tragedy to promote militarism and xenophobia rather than social and international security. The Bush, Blair and Howard governments have reacted in a superficial and reckless manner to terrorism by seeking to scapegoat nations like Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba and Iraq and to pursue aggressive US geo-political ambitions, notably the oil reserves of Iraq. In so doing they have created greater insecurity and the potential for increased risks to their own citizens.

5 The means of addressing global conflicts should lie primarily through the agency of the United Nations and there should be an emphasis on achieving peaceful resolution through a range of means including sanctions and the separation of warring parties through peacekeeping forces. These should be applied consistently to all countries where conflict and breaches of conventions exist, not just to those where the West's self interest is involved.

6 International Law and UN Conventions provide a means whereby military action can be taken by states where and a real and present danger exists to their security or where their borders have been violated. No such danger has been demonstrated by any nation in relation to Iraq. The removal of weapons of mass destruction cannot be achieved on the basis of rich countries having them and poor countries not...a comprehensive multilateral disarmament plan is required under the auspices of the UN.

7 The Iraqi government headed by Saddam Hussein is a militarised authoritarian regime which has a shocking record of abuses of human rights including the execution of trade union leaders and political opponents. Despite the profound repugnance of the regime in Iraq to those concerned with human and labour rights, there has been no link even alleged with the terrorist attacks on the West and no proof found of the existence of a threat to other states in the Middle East or anywhere else, despite an intensive UN inspection regime being allowed to search the country.

8 Israel under the Sharon Government is guilty of persistent defiance of UN resolutions, state-sponsored terrorism and the admitted existence of unmonitored weapons of mass destruction. This behaviour has not led to any question of "regime-change" in that country from the Bush, Blair or Howard governments, raising questions as to the real motives of these governments in advocating military action against Iraq. The British Government has even admitted that war against Iraq is required in part to secure its oil and gas requirements.

9 Meetings have been reported between the Bush and Howard governments to have secured commitments about the forces Australia would commit to war on Iraq regardless of UN processes. If this is so, these decisions are illegal in international law and fail any test of democratic process given that adequate time has been available to submit the question to parliament. The timing of war has reportedly been set on the basis of military exigencies and domestic US politics. Such timing would attempt to pre-empt the Australian parliament in order to lock the ALP Opposition into supporting a commitment once announced.

10 Commentators such as the Pentagon Papers' publisher Daniel Ellsberg have suggested on the basis of military leaks that a "Gulf of Tonkin Incident" replica is being prepared whereby it is alleged that US troops are under attack or at risk from Iraqi missiles and WMDs to justify rapid unilateral action without UN mandate. Such a scenario could not be concocted without the military build up currently underway in the Gulf.

11 Any attack on Iraq will cost the lives of thousands of Iraqi citizens including innocent children and will divert scarce resources in both Iraq and the attacking countries from dealing with the true sources of terrorism and war through addressing social security and services such as health and education.

12 Leading military figures and veterans' organisations in Australia have opposed a commitment of Australian forces to Iraq including General Gration who headed the Gulf War contingent, Major-General Stretton, the Returned Services League and Vietnam Veteran's Associations as well as conservative political figures such as Malcolm Fraser.

13 The US and Britain stand condemned for hypocrisy when it is known that they were leading suppliers of weapons to Iraq in the 1980s for use against Iran. US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, a leading Bush Administration hawk, personally met Saddam Hussein in 1983 to negotiate loans for the purchase of US weapons including supplies of anthrax and bubonic plague from US chemical firms, when at that time Rumsfeld was a pharmaceutical company executive.

Rob Durbridge

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