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“It’s Our Sons and Daughters:” Voices of the New York City Labor Movement In Opposition to the Gulf War

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, President Bush, whose popularity at home was flagging, opted to respond with massive military force even though many Americans, including Congressional leaders, believed economic sanctions would be effective. Bush initiated a massive, deadly air assault on January 15, 1991, and a brief ground assault followed four weeks later. The Gulf War killed thousands of Iraqi civilians and devastated most of the country’s infrastructure, including hospitals and water systems. Many Americans who had previously questioned military action supported the war effort once it began, but many did not. In a break with their stance during previous wars, including World War II and Vietnam, many unions opposed military action in Kuwait. The union members recorded here articulated their reasons for opposing the war at an anti-war protest.

Listen to Audio:

PROTESTER: My name is Edgar de Jesus I’m a manager of the cabinet makers‘ union of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union.

LABOR X: Why is it important for labor to be here?

PROTESTER: I think it’s very important. The war that just started, commenced by the United States, is an unjust war. There’s no reason for this stuff taking place in terms of bringing all the military arsenals, testing all the new U.S. weapons. When it was the United States invading Panama, the United States invading Granada and all of the United Nations condemned the United States, you didn’t see nobody invading the United States to kick it out of Panama or Grenada. But now you have an area that’s rich with oil that supports the economies of the U.S., Europe and all that. And the European, the Middle Eastern countries they want control over their oil. Yes, what Saddam Hussein did was wrong. No one can justify his aggression, or his annexation of Kuwait for historical reasons. There’s a way to resolve problems like this, but it doesn’t warrant the whole bullying tactics that taking place right now and the bodies going to be killed.

PROTESTER: Not only is this war and this military action wrong, it’s absolutely criminal. Who’s having to fight this war? We know so many of our union members, and sons and daughters, family members of people in our union, more often than not, African American, Latino, people who had to go into the military because it was the only option for a job. It was the only hope they had to pay for education. And those are the people that when the fighting happens on the ground are going to die and that’s why we have to end this war.

PROTESTER: War and recession it goes together. The history of America, whenever there’s a recession you have a war following after and it’s not the average working man that’s going to benefit from the war. It is not. It’s going to be Exxon, it’s going to be Mobil, it’s going to be Gulf, it’s going to be even the oil sheiks from the Middle East, they’re going to benefit, but it’s not going to be the working people. But yet it’s our sons and daughters that got to fight it.

PROTESTER: The children of our class the sons and daughters of the working class would be the losers in so many ways—in terms of the economy at home and in terms of the loss of life in the Middle East, not the least of which would be the Kuwaiti lives. It reminds of in Vietnam we killed the village to save it. The lives of the people of Kuwait would be lost around the question of power and oil in the Middle East. As an American Jew, as a labor activist, as an anti-war activist for over 20 years I am very, very pleased that labor is taking this position.

PROTESTER: We have meetings scheduled in every hospital and healthcare facility throughout the state to discuss the effect of the war. And we are participating actively in the mobilizations and demonstrations and actions.

PROTESTER: I think generally people feel that it’s more about oil and about power and hegemony in the Gulf area than about peace and democracy and human rights.

PROTESTER: I spent ten years raising my children in the Vietnam war and watching napalmed children. I commuted to Washington for over ten years, And I now feel as if I am going to relive that horror again. But I think Majors' (Congressman Major Owens) speech and many of the labor leaders was very important. We need a million in Washington to reclaim our government and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Our union is mobilized and we’ve got our International president on board. Our entire — almost our entire local membership, I think people really underestimate how thoughtful the membership is, understand what the economics is of this and the potential devastation and who were fighting for. And they see it in the streets at home, they see only those who profit from oil and the corporations are going to profit from this war as the bodies of our children are brought home in body bags. Not just our children, our fathers and mothers. You know, mothers who had to go into the reserves because they couldn’t afford healthcare. Young men who went into the reserves and so on, or even joined the armed forces because they had no jobs at home. It is an absolute scandal. And we are going to be bringing truth to power.

PROTESTER: We think it’s criminal that they are willing to create another generation of war veterans when they have still not given justice to American Vietnam Veterans. Agent Orange veterans are still suffering. They’re cutting VA (Veteran’s Administration) benefits. We were picketing the VA in Newark last week.

PROTESTER: Money that is being spent for aggression should be spent for AIDS and healthcare, and unemployment and housing and education.

PROTESTER:I wasn’t involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement at the beginning. I was a dumb kid that got drafted and went there and I came back and became against the war. But I can tell you right now, I don’t know if the polls they put out are true in terms of percentages. But I deal with working people on my job as a full time union officer, I talk to a lot of people and we talk about this. I deal with people on the streets. I go to schools and talk to people. I go to colleges. And I tell you who’s against this are working people, black people, Latino people, and working people.

Source: Interviewed by Stephen Brier, 1991
Courtesy of Labor at the Crossroads