Support for resettling Syrian refugees from the Canadian Labour Congress and the wider labour movement is to be commended. The Labour movement has stood strongly against the Islamophobia and racism that reactionary forces inject into the issue.
But the calls to welcome refugees and fight racism aren’t enough. The labour movement must take a principled position against Canada’s war in Iraq and Syria and take the lead in rebuilding the anti-war movement.
The Liberals promised to end the bombing mission against ISIS, but have waffled on the timeline. They stated they would cease the bombing before the end of March, but the mission is set to expire regardless in April. In the meantime Canada’s CF-18 Hornets continue to mete out death from above in Iraq and Syria. Just last week Canada’s fighter jets killed 10 to 13 workers at a dairy factory in Mosul, Iraq.
Calls to continue or escalate the bombing of ISIS in Syria and Iraq are growing louder in the media. To appease the growing calls to ratchet up the war, Trudeau recently committed to increasing our troop presence on the ground. Anti-war views, which have often been ignored in the media, are getting even less space now compared to previous debates over Iraq and Afghanistan. The brutality of ISIS has made it easier for hawkish politicians to make the case for military action.
War diverts attention away from the faltering economy and the many issues facing workers and their families. Politicians love to whip up a war frenzy so they can avoid dealing with issues that matter at home – stagnant wages, crumbling schools, inadequate and disappearing pensions, and the list goes on. We need massive new investment – but not in a war machine – rather in our infrastructure, public services, and the many parts of the social wage that have been eroded in the last thirty years.
The labour movement needs to revive the old slogan “fight the bosses, not their wars.” Rejecting the traditional Global War on Terrorism narrative is a high priority. Air strikes against ISIS will not work. A protracted air war will ultimately lead to more civilian deaths, prolong the violence in the region that has been raging since the US invasion of Iraq, and assist ISIS in its attempts to recruit more members in war torn areas.
After over a decade of non-stop bombings carried out by Western countries and their allies like Saudi Arabia, terrorism has only spread. Any hope of peace and stability requires the West to stop the war on terror. The recent “grand alliance” between Russia and NATO aligned countries in bombing ISIS has created more tension and confusion in the region after Turkey shot a Russian fighter jet. It is unclear what the fate of this “grand alliance” will be, but what is certain is that more bombing will only lead to more conflict. And that’s where the anti-war movement comes in.
The labour movement has the resources and the constituency to reinvigorate the anti-war movement. If it does not do so, building a viable anti-war movement becomes that much harder. Here, labour needs to illustrate the links between war, racism, Islamophobia, and how neoliberal restructuring destabilizes societies. A failure to make this link will hold back the broader struggle for economic and social justice at home and across borders.
It’s imperative for union members to bring up anti-war issues at meetings and to call for greater support for refugees in their community. Unions in North America particularly have been hesitant to push forcefully on foreign policy in many areas, and in fact, have often supported reactionary policies. In the 1960s, this was the case of the AFL-CIO’s leadership endorsement of the Vietnam War. We need to learn that this old strategy is not only immoral but a dead end in mobilizing for real social change.
The labour movement needs to energize its internationalist principles of solidarity across borders and between peoples. Labour’s internationalism needs to be more than just attending international union conferences. The labour movement needs an internationalism that builds solidarity with those in conflict zones and facing authoritarian governments.
The labour movements in Egypt and Tunisia played a major role in toppling their dictators. And the Tunisian labour movement also played a major role in consolidating democratic institutions in the chaotic aftermath of President Zine Ben Ali’s overthrow. Canadian workers and their unions need to offer fellow workers abroad support and resources, and can learn from them just how to mobilize their membership and broader society for democratic change.
The anti-war movement once managed to mobilize public pressure that played the defining role in making sure then Prime Minister Jean Chretien kept Canada out of the Iraq War. The movement can do this again if it is rebuilt.
If the labour movement can’t mobilize public opinion against military action, how can it ever build the power to challenge vested interests to create a more equitable and democratic society?