By June Vass, Red Phoenix correspondent, California.
Last week at Los Angeles City Hall, anti-capitalist workers gathered to demand an end to U.S. involvement in the proxy war in Ukraine and a complete dissolution of NATO in the name of proletarian internationalism. The March 17 event marked one year since the first demonstration organized by Roofers Union Local 36 in opposition to the inter-imperialist conflict. Participants held signs, banners, and flags, while union manager Cliff Smith delivered a speech over a soundtrack of supportive car horns from the busy streets of downtown’s Friday afternoon traffic. Smith’s speech is reproduced below.
Local 36 held the first public action against the war, demanding the end of the war in Ukraine now. The Russian attack should stop now, NATO should be dissolved now, and a substantial dialogue must be held.
NO TO THE IMPERIALIST WAR! NO U.S. INVOLVEMENT!
No US soldiers outside the country’s borders. Close all foreign US-NATO military bases.
Workers must and will intensify the struggle for disengagement from NATO and US imperialist alliances. As workers our interest is with all workers of all nations. We support workers everywhere and will never support the owners, the capitalists of one country, against the workers of another country. We will never promote workers fighting other workers. Russia is capitalist. Ukraine is capitalist. EU, NATO, US — all capitalist. The conflicts between these countries are capitalist conflicts, for resources, for position, for markets, for strategic position. None of this is in the interest of the working class.
We demand peace. And as workers in America, we focus our demand on the American government, the American military. In the last year the U.S. has sent $46 billion of U.S. public money to Ukraine in military assistance. What has been accomplished? Not only is extending the war and escalating it destroying Ukraine, but it is disrupting the world economy. Energy costs and food costs have exploded due to shortages from the war. These price increases in gasoline, heating oil, basic food — eggs, meat, grain — undermine workers’ living standards across Europe, the U.S. and worldwide.
Now the U.S. government is trying to bring down prices by raising interest rates to slow the economy. This also is a direct attack on workers’ standards. A mortgage or credit card loan is now more expensive. Slowing the economy will kill jobs and create unemployment, and bring down wages, hurting workers. Another result of rising interest rates is that banks who are invested in government bonds now have less value as bond prices fall. Two of these banks just collapsed last week and were taken over by the government. Workers will pay for these bailouts and guaranteed deposits. These are the largest bank failures since the Great Recession of 2008 and the financial panic is just beginning. But the oil companies and others made record profits while they raised prices.
Why is the strategy to weaken Labor? Why does the government not limit corporate profits? Why not tax the rich and these companies’ profits? If the U.S. has $46 billion extra why is there still not clean drinking water in Jackson, MS, or Flint, MI? Why are trains going off rails spilling toxic chemicals in Ohio? Why are teachers and service workers in Los Angeles threatening to go on strike? How come Roofers have to fight to get a raise doing the most dangerous work around? The U.S. government does not care about Ukrainian workers any more than it cares about American workers.
Congressman Conor Lamb last year told the NABTU Legislative Conference that “we are in a race in real time to make sure that Vladimir Putin is not supplying Europe with coal and oil and natural gas, but to make sure that it’s us instead.” This is the motive: to protect U.S. corporate profits. Not Ukrainian people or American people. When the railroad unions voted to strike last year for paid sick days, president Biden and the Democrats and Republicans voted to make the strike illegal. The government interfered in the negotiations and imposed a contract on them that benefited the companies against the workers. Then Marty Walsh quit as Labor Secretary and took a million dollar position with the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
The AFL-CIO is collaborating with the government to cheerlead this war for the capitalists. When congressman Lamb admitted it was for oil companies, Liz Shuler was in the front row giving a standing ovation. This is why Shuler and the AFL-CIO tell Local 36 we can’t affiliate to the World Federation of Trade Unions, which stands with workers internationally, against capitalism and imperialism. They told us we can only affiliate to the ITUC, which split from the WFTU in the Cold War and has the government stamp of approval. But Luca Visentini of the ITUC was arrested and forced to resign for corruption, money laundering, and bribery. He admits to taking $50,000 in payoffs. The money came from Qatar so the AFL-CIO affiliated ITUC would stay quiet, look the other way while immigrant workers died building the World Cup. The WFTU defended the workers and attacked the corrupt Labor leaders.
The demonstration tomorrow includes the demand “U.S. hands off Haiti.” The Peace in Ukraine Coalition includes The People’s Forum and ANSWER Coalition. Last year these groups held a People’s Summit at Trade Tech to protest the Summit of the Americas. Local 36 was invited to be a sponsor and approved for a Vendor’s literature table, for which we paid the fee. We had a flyer in solidarity with garment workers in Haiti, attacking Levi’s exploitation, and U.S. government interference, demanding U.S. hands off Haiti. The People’s Forum and ANSWER Coalition folks attacked Local 36 for supporting Haitian workers. They forcibly expelled us from the People’s Summit after we were invited to sponsor, were approved for the vendor’s table, and paid the fee. The People’s Forum and ANSWER Coalition have refused to explain this attack on a labor union for solidarity with international workers. We support the Coalition for Peace in Ukraine but they must explain this unprincipled, anti-worker attack.
Liberals and Social Democrats are conditional allies against fascism. But we see AOC promoting military recruiting in Bronx high schools and we know that when push comes to shove, the working class can only rely on itself and working class militancy to lead the fight against capitalism and imperialism. Social democracy, liberal radicals, and professional activists will always flip and side with opportunism, no matter what slogans they chant.