The Canadian Labour Congress’s statement on Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is clear and unequivocal; it calls for the troops to be brought home now. The statement marks a significant step forward for the labour movement concerning the development of policy with respect to the use the Canadian military.
Not only does the CLC demand the “safe and immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan,” it also challenges many of the arguments used by those who would have our troops die and kill to support the American war in the Middle East.
The CLC states, “We do not support the argument that Canadian presence is intended to bring democracy to the people of Afghanistan. Nor do we accept the premise that our presence is intended to put Afghanistan on the road to sustainable development or improve women’s equality in that country. We reject the argument that our presence in Afghanistan will indirectly protect our safety here at home.”
For me, the issue of peace and war has always been a defining issue within the labour movement. In 1984, faced with NATO’s aggressive nuclear build-up and the development of a mass-based peace movement in Canada, the CLC passed a position paper entitled “Peace, Security and Dis-armament: A Canadian Labour Response,” in which the CLC and its affiliates rejected the use of force to resolve political and economic problems.
It has usually been easy for Canadians to be critical of the United States when it has intervened militarily in the affaires of others. But when Canada deploys troops, the debate has always been much more difficult and emotional. Torn between support for the troops and opposition to war, the labour movement has usually been unable to provide any coherent leadership. At the 1999 CLC convention, there was a long and inconclusive debate on labour’s position concerning Canada’s participation in the NATO attack on Yugoslavia. At that time the convention was evenly split, half demanding an end to the bombing and half supporting the bombing as a means to protect the innocent people of Kosovo. In 2001, response to the involvement of the Canadian military in the invasion of Afghanistan was initially very muted, with a few exceptions. While the Canadian Labour Congress condemned the violent terrorist actions and the outbreak of racism in Canada and other countries, it initially declined to comment about Canadian participation in the war, using the excuse that it had not consulted with the affiliates. While the CLC remained silent, a few unions did take positions against the war. The Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers both joined peace groups, churches, students and the Council of Canadians to launch The September Eleventh Peace Coalition, in order to oppose military retaliation for the terrorist attacks in the United States.
Now, in 2006, the CLC and the labour movement have taken a strong position against the deployment of Canadian troops in a foreign country. It has done so at a time when none of the major political parties and not one MP (prior to the May 17 parliamentary vote on extension of Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan) had been prepared to call for the withdrawal of our troops. Sometimes it takes guts to do the right thing, and the CLC and the affiliate leadership should be commended for their stand.
This article appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Canadian Dimension (Oil Sucks!).