February 12, 2003




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Life During Wartime

Nobody is safe

The San Francisco Police Department's Airport Bureau is considering a new directive from the federal Transportation Security Administration requiring officers to perform random stops and searches of cars entering San Francisco International Airport, the Bay Guardian has learned.

Although the SFPD has not formally approved the plan, Sgt. Larry Ratti confirmed that random searches could be under way in a matter of days.

That would mean anyone traveling to SFO – even to pick up or drop off a friend – could be subject to a search at any time.

Civil liberties activists are already expressing concern. Ishmael Tarikh, director of Bay Area PoliceWatch, said he's worried about who will get stopped. "We are sure the color of your skin, the type of your car, if you've got a family or not, will come to play in the discriminatory nature of this directive," he told us. (Corbett Miller)

Organized resistance

It's lunchtime at the Port of Oakland, and workers gather to check in with their union rep. This is a regular ritual for members of the Service Employees International Union Local 790, but these days the tone of the talk is different: war is in the air.

Lately, when he meets with his membership, Local 790 field rep Karega Hart tells us, "the question has been raised that money is being spent on war that could be spent on public services." For the city workers Hart represents in Oakland, Richmond, and Emeryville, increased government spending on war abroad could mean lost jobs at home.

It's an ugly time to be a worker in America: the Bush administration's attacks on labor rights have not slowed. Whole classes of workers, including the entire Department of Homeland Security, have had their rights severely curtailed, and in the wake of last fall's lockout of West Coast International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers, Republicans on Capitol Hill are salivating at the opportunity to expand such prohibitions.

Meanwhile, economic insecurity prevails, with jobs in every sector on the chopping block while the safety net for the unemployed is severed. Yet President George W. Bush still ratchets up plans to spend billions to incinerate Iraq.

But these days – with the twin evils of a bad economy and threats to labor rights hovering – workers just aren't feeling Bush's war.

Hatred of Bush's policies is so widespread it may spell an end to the historic antagonism between organized labor and some peace activists, a political conflict particularly since the Vietnam War era. At that time, under the leadership of AFL-CIO president George Meany, U.S. labor remained at odds with the largely white middle-class base of the peace movement.

Over time the tensions have lessened. Labor and environmentalists (many of whom are opposed to Bush's war plans) have found common ground in challenging the World Trade Organization's policies over the past several years. Now those relationships appear to be growing even stronger, with Bush's war as the new unifier. And just last month AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, though stopping short of outright opposing military solutions in Iraq, wrote to Bush asking that he "take every possible step to achieve the legitimate ends of disarming Iraq without resort to war."

Maya Morris, a 29-year-old hospital worker and SEIU Local 250 shop steward, says last month an internal poll of the union's 85,000 northern California health care workers showed the rank and file was skittish about taking a position against military action in Iraq. Just barely a month later, following union-sponsored workshops highlighting the links between U.S. foreign policy and the domestic economy, Morris says the mood at Local 250, which represents 85,000 northern California health care professionals, is changing.

"We don't feel a war will make our country safer. The big one is that $200 billion price tag – at a time when we're looking at vital services being cut," she says. Instead of getting behind the move to detain Middle Eastern men and spy on political dissidents, Morris says, "members are worried about funding for public hospitals, where there's already a funding crisis. [We] feel like homeland security is about jobs, education, and health."

Even outside the liberal bubble of the Bay Area, an antiwar fervor has taken root in the labor movement. So far, organizations representing nearly 4.5 million union members nationwide have joined the nascent US Labor Against the War, a group founded in January at a Chicago meeting that drew labor activists from across the country. Central to USLAW's philosophy – in addition to opposing Bush's attacks on civil liberties at home and fearing the threat to ordinary working-class Iraqis' survival – is an understanding that "the billions of dollars spent to stage and execute this war are being taken away from our schools, hospitals, housing, and Social Security."

Internationally, labor's boosters are taking strong stands as well. Just last week unions representing 75,000 Australian workers announced plans for immediate strikes and rallies if the bombs begin to drop. (Rachel Brahinsky)