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Historic Call to Remove Defense Secretary from AFL-CIO

The labor federation is taking the unprecedented step after the military was used to control DC protestors

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 10, 2020

The AFL-CIO is expected to take up and pass a resolution on Tuesday that would call on Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to resign over their participation in the tear-gassing of peaceful protestors in Layfette Square last week. A similar statement was put out last week by the Union Veterans Council.

In the statement, the AFL-CIO said:

The AFL-CIO joins the Union Veterans Council in calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley for their participation in President Trump’s gross misuse of American military last Monday in Washington, D.C. Peaceful protesters should always be guaranteed their constitutional right to assemble. Instead, America’s soldiers and police officers were ordered to tear gas their fellow citizens so the president could walk to the historic St. John’s Church in Lafayette Square, just steps from the AFL-CIO, and have a photo-op. Secretary Esper and Gen. Milley not only participated in this shameful stunt, but they also were complicit in helping to plan it. The two high-ranking American officials endangered their fellow Americans and failed to uphold their sacred oaths. They should step down immediately.

This is a significant move by the AFL-CIO and the 55 unions that make up the federation. We can’t ever remember a time when a unified statement like this was put out calling on military officials to resign by the AFL-CIO. During a different time, like the Lane Kirkland years, the AFL-CIO would have sat by and squandered an opportunity to lead.

1.3 million veterans carry union cards and countless other ones rely on union members for services at the VA and the Department of Defense. While corporations like to trot out veterans in commercials, highlighting their company policies to hire veterans and then pay them slightly above the minimum wage, or the NFL likes to use them as props during games, unions are the people who are fighting to ensure that they are paid a living wage, have benefits that meet their sometimes unique healthcare needs, and that they have a voice in their workplace.

Actions like using the military on American’s protesting at the White House is a threat to our country and a threat to the values that the AFL-CIO holds dear. What would the AFL-CIO and their member unions be if they couldn’t protest? Actions like this show that the AFL-CIO recognizes that Trump and his cohorts are a real threat to our country and that it is no longer enough to just go after Trump. His advisors need to realize there are political consequences for being complicit or advising Trump on these actions. Labor has gone after his Labor Secretaries for four years, including preventing his first one Andrew Pudzer from being confirmed and teachers unions have been at war with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos since she was appointed, so it only makes sense that they would target Esper and Milley.

This message has a special place for union members. Our movement has faced the wrath of the military trying to keep us down. Since the beginning of the labor movement, bosses have called in the military like during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 when 10 people were killed by the National Guard, the Sugar Workers strike of 1887 where 20 black workers were killed, the Morewood Massacre which killed nine workers, or the infamous Ludlow Massacre where the National Guard fired on striking coal miners and their families killing 20 including 12 children. Even after WWI jobless veterans were removed from a "Hooverville" in Washington DC by the same Army they had served in. All because they wanted the pay and benefits that the American Government had promised them. The story of the founding of the AFL-CIO and the modern labor movement was built on fighting this show of force to keep the American people quiet while bosses got richer.

The promise of America is that it is the shining beacon of hope where people from all over the world are welcomed, regardless of political ideology, religion, race, or creed. Firing on peaceful protestors is what happens in the third world nations they left, it is not supposed to happen in the United State anymore. That is why it is more important than ever that the AFL-CIO denounce this behavior and let Trump know we will not stand for the military being used to silence workers anymore.

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