A Time for Justice, Not Vengeance

An Open Letter to the Labor Movement

The stunning events of September 11 struck especially close to home for those of us in the labor movement. Hundreds of union members—and thousands of other working people—have been killed in the assaults. Food service workers, secretaries, window washers, janitors, maintenance workers, flight attendants, communications workers, public employees, firefighters and police officers are among the brothers and sisters we have lost. They reflected the vast diversity of today’s labor movement: women and men, people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds, gay and straight, and recent immigrants.

Along with the rest of America, we condemn the attacks of September 11, mourn the losses and feel anger at the injustice of innocent victims, and empathize with the devastated families who must now go on. But much of the substance and tone of the US government’s response to these events has also troubled us. We fear that blind anger and violent retaliation will only result in further loss of innocent lives, both American and foreign, and perpetuate a destructive cycle of violence that has already gone on too long. We also do not believe that such violence will result in the justice that most Americans are truly seeking. As a result, we call upon all those who work for social and economic justice, especially our sisters and brothers in the labor movement, to incorporate into their response to the crisis six basic principles:

1.Promote Solidarity. We cannot let the acts of a few extremists be used to justify hostility towards other Muslims, Arab-Americans, immigrants in general, or any other targeted group. We must be willing to speak out publicly against any acts of discrimination or intimidation based on race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, national origin, or immigration status. We must stand in solidarity with all working people.

2.Support Working People. We must insist on a relief package for displaced workers and compensation for the injured and families of the lost, paying particular attention to the needs of undocumented workers and those not protected by union representation. We must also be vigilant for attacks on organized labor, ranging from employers exploiting the situation to undermine organizing and bargaining, to legislators passing anti-labor legislation in the name of the "war effort."

3.Protect Civil Liberties. Domestic security is necessary to protect our freedoms and way of life. But we cannot let the quest for such security actually undermine those very freedoms and liberties. Especially in this time of crisis, civil liberties must be maintained.

4.Stop the Cycle of Violence. Nothing excuses the attacks. We must take seriously the threat of terrorism and develop an effective response. To do so, we must recognize that the violence did not begin on September 11. Instead, those terrible events were merely the latest in a long-standing cycle of violence. To perpetuate that cycle with a lengthy series of overt and covert military operations will merely result in the loss of more innocent lives and will pave the way for more retaliations and assaults on innocent Americans in the future.

5.Address the Sources of Violence. Instead of more violence, we must be willing to seriously examine the conditions and policies that have provided the soil within which terrorism germinates. We must reexamine US foreign policy, the stationing of massive numbers of US troops abroad, and US support for undemocratic regimes. We must be willing to hear the cries for justice and freedom that come from the world’s poor, and act to support efforts that promote justice.

6.Seek Justice, not Vengeance. We should reject the crude calls for frontier "justice" of "dead or alive." Instead, we should affirm the importance of international law and seek civilized justice through the international courts and multi-national mediating bodies. Justice is a global issue that requires the cooperation of many nations. It cannot be imposed on the world by a single "super-power." True justice will punish those responsible for injustice while providing insurance against future violence. We call on all people to incorporate these principles into their work and actions. We call especially on those in the labor movement to join us as we continue to do what the labor movement should always do: work for fairness and justice in our society and across the globe.

--- Labor Committee for Peace and Justice

510 signatures as of November 1, 2001 (some signatures gathered electronically and subject to verification)