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Union war

Posted: May 1, 2012 - 12:01am

By virtue of my state job, I am a member of the AFSME union, a part of the AFL-CIO. My union was the first to endorse Barack Obama for the presidency in the 2008 election. We endorsed him again in December. The news release reads in part:

“President Obama is the only choice for the 99 percent. We must put people back to work, make the 1 percent pay their fair share, and protect Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. President Obama will stand up for working families,” said AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee.

Nowhere in the release was any mention of the Afghanistan war. When Obama ordered the troop surge in 2009, he made the Afghanistan War his war.

Although soldiers are largely from the working families the union claims to represent, when our individual membership was massed into a single political body, the 99 percent become the 1 percent. We’re only in it for our own economic well-being.

This is nothing new for my union. Dick Meister, former labor editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, reminded us that the AFL-CIO was a major supporter of the Vietnam War. In his Feb. 2 blog, Meister recalled that at its 1969 convention, the AFL-CIO unconditionally supported the Vietnam War and the Vietnam policies of then-President Nixon. The measure was opposed by only six of the 700 delegates — including Art Carter, who offered a substitute resolution that urged the AFL-CIO to “to exercise all possible influence and persuasion on the national administration to effect an immediate major reduction of American military involvement in Vietnam and to bring the Vietnam War to a speedy end. “ He was booed off the stage as a “young punk” by the union faithful. 

The Republican presidential candidates — except Ron Paul — all call for even more military and war. But the Republican candidate was not our only other choice. My union could have endorsed a third-party candidate, or nobody at all. At minimum, the endorsement of Obama could have come with resolutions to end the war and take care of our returning veterans. 

According to NPR’s Tom Ashbrook, Congress recently passed legislation to qualify soldiers with diagnosed PTSD to a medical retirement. Soon after, President Obama’s military ordered reexamination of the 76,000 soldiers they’d already diagnosed with PTSD. They re-diagnosed 40 percent of those soldiers with other ailments that could take away the military retirement. Some were even sent back to war. Not surprisingly, this was after a federal ombudsman said that each PTSD case could cost $1.5 million in treatment over the lifetime of that soldier. Our government spends billions on cruise missiles and fighter jets. Yet we quibble about the costs of treatment for our soldiers. 

All presidential candidates talk about spending. But while they debate tax fairness, they talk little about how taxes are spent. We now spend 39 cents of every income tax dollar on the wars, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Obama has had the highest military budget in our nation’s history. 

Although Sen. Mark Begich indicated in February he believes Obama will withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014 or sooner, former Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eichenbery painted a very different picture on the World Affairs Council radio show just last week on KTOO. He repeatedly stressed that the U.S. is not withdrawing from Afghanistan, we are “transitioning”. He made it clear that we may not leave there in 2014 if Afghanistan is not ready. With the increased violence there — much of it due to our presence — withdrawal may be a long, long way off.

A third of Juneau’s homeless are veterans. Many here and across the country cannot advocate for themselves due to their condition. My union does not advocate, as a political group, for taking care of our returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets or ending the war. 

Will we allow our union’s carte blanche endorsement of Obama and his foreign policy to speak for us, or will we call upon our union leaders, our congressional delegation, and our president to care of our vets, remove our troops from Afghanistan, and end funding of war with our grandchildren’s taxes? 

• Stopha is a Douglas resident.

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