Dr Martin Luther King Jr And Dr Benjamin Spock At Un Demonstration Against Vietnam War April
Dr Martin Luther King Jr And Dr Benjamin Spock At Un Demonstration Against Vietnam War April

Decades of spending on wars have decimated the capacity of government and business to address the needs of society

Note: This address was delivered at the Wayne State University Labor Studies Center “Workers In Solidarity & Education (WISE)” Conference held at the Westin Southfield Hotel during March 28-30, 2019. Azikiwe spoke on a panel entitled “Building Bridges: Advancing Social Justice Unionism Through Labor History and Civil Rights Education—People, Places and Social Movements” on the last day of the event.
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This conference is designed for the purpose of worker education. It is established to provide labor activists with resources for reflection along with the acquisition of skills which can enhance their ability to effectively organize in places of employment.

These are important and noble objectives in light of the overall reduction in the proportion of organized workers in the larger labor market. As of last year only 10.7 percent of workers were members of organized labor unions. This figure represents a decline of 50 percent since 1983.

Today the public sector has a far higher percentage of organized workers than private industry. Approximately 33 percent are unionized in the public sector while only 6.4 are in private corporations. This poses an important challenge to labor unions across the United States when the broadening gap between rich and poor is taken into consideration.

How can the workers and the impoverished, the majority within society, gain greater access to the wealth that is produced by them? What are some of the factors involved in the ongoing class struggle and its implications for the contemporary period and the future?

Another aspect of the decline in real wages and living standards in the U.S. is the growing annual defense budgets. At present the defense expenditures include a $576 billion base budget which is compounded by other projects such as the overseas Department of Defense contingency programs to fight the so-called “Islamic State” accounting for $174 billion, funding is also provided for Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security, Nuclear weapons development, among other programs.

Under the current administration of President Donald Trump the annual defense budget, if approved by Congress, will approach $1 trillion. This is taking place at a time when there are numerous threats of military intervention by the U.S. against the governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the People’s Republic of China, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), despite the ongoing talks between the administration and the government in Pyongyang.

One website which tracks military spending points out that: “Ironically, the DoD base budget does not include the cost of wars. That falls under Overseas Contingency Operations. It’s budgeted at $174 billion for DoD and $26.1 billion for other departments Since 2001, the OCO budget has spent $2 trillion to pay for the War on Terror.” (https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenges-growth-3306320)

This same report goes on to emphasize: “Congress won’t allow DoD to close bases. The Bi-Partisan Budget Act of 2013 blocked future military base closings. Few elected officials are willing to risk losing local jobs caused by base closures in their states. Instead, the Pentagon will need to reduce the number of soldiers so it can afford the benefits of bases….At the same time, U.S. military spending is greater than those of the next 10 largest government expenditures combined. It’s four times more than China’s military budget of $228 billion. It’s almost 10 times bigger than Russia’s budget of just $69.4 billion. It’s difficult to reduce the budget deficit and the $22 trillion debt without cutting defense spending.”

This military spending only benefits the defense industry and Wall Street. There are enormous profits garnered from the government subsidization of weapons production and deployments. The banks benefit from the facilitation of financing of weapons production and the sale of armaments to foreign nations. Moreover, the existence of U.S. military bases and other covert operations abroad serve as the security wing of the American economic system which seeks dominance over other geo-political regions throughout the world claiming purported rights to mineral resources, oil, natural gas, shipping lanes and even agricultural commodities.

From Vietnam to Venezuela: Why They Send Us to Fight

Looking back five decades to the War in Vietnam which proved to be a colossal military and political defeat for the U.S., the country has never been the same. Over 58,000 American troops were killed, while hundreds of thousands more were wounded and injured both physically and psychologically.

Approximately three million Vietnamese were killed during the period of U.S. intervention and occupation. There were also large-scale deaths of people in neighboring Laos and Cambodia.

People in the U.S. were told by the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon that the war in Southeast Asia was designed to prevent the spread of communism, the so-called “domino effect.” By the mid-to-late 1960s there was widespread opposition to the Vietnam War both domestically and internationally. The episode damaged the image and prestige of the U.S. enormously.

The social impact of the Vietnam War resulted in divisions within U.S. society in part sparking urban rebellions, campus unrest and the disaffection of large segments of the youth population from government and industry. The spending on the war drained resources from efforts to ensure civil rights and the eradication of poverty. In addition, these reckless war expenditures hampered the ability to maintain urban infrastructure including the improvements to public education, municipal services, childcare, senior services and environmental quality, to mention some of the most glaring deficiencies.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the symbolic leader of the Civil Rights Movement which emerged from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, said that the Vietnam War destroyed the fiscal ability and political will of the U.S. to effectively tackle the most pressing issues of the period. At the time that Dr. King came out against the Vietnam War the country was divided over the issue making him a target of the ruling class and the political establishment. Coupling the opposition to the War with the aims of ending institutional racism and mass poverty sealed Dr. King’s fate leading to his assassination on April 4, 1968 in Memphis while he was there supporting a sanitation workers strike.

According to an article published by the King Institute: “King followed with an historical sketch outlining Vietnam’s devastation at the hands of ‘deadly Western arrogance,’ noting, ‘we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor’ (King, ‘Beyond Vietnam,’ 146; 153). To change course, King suggested a five point outline for stopping the war, which included a call for a unilateral ceasefire. To King, however, the Vietnam War was only the most pressing symptom of American colonialism worldwide. King claimed that America made ‘peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments’ (King, ‘Beyond Vietnam,’ 157). King urged instead ‘a radical revolution of values’ emphasizing love and justice rather than economic nationalism (King, ‘Beyond Vietnam,’ 157).”

This report goes on to recall that: “The immediate response to King’s speech was largely negative. Both the Washington Post and New York Times published editorials criticizing the speech, with the Post noting that King’s speech had ‘diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people’ through a simplistic and flawed view of the situation (‘A Tragedy,’ 6 April 1967). Similarly, both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Ralph Bunche accused King of linking two disparate issues, Vietnam and civil rights. Despite public criticism, King continued to attack the Vietnam War on both moral and economic grounds.” (https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/beyond-vietnam)

These same failures, albeit of a different character, have continued up until this time period. Just taking a cursory look at the two wars waged against Iraq (1991 and 2003), were both based upon lies resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions. U.S. troops remain in Iraq today.

The invasion of Afghanistan after the events of September 11, 2001 has not resolved the issue of the so-called “war on terrorism.” Pentagon troops are still in Afghanistan as we speak.

Libya was bombed back into the stone age in 2011 by the Pentagon and NATO transforming the most prosperous nation in Africa into a source for instability, human trafficking, poverty, and enslavement. By backing the rebels in Syria, Washington has severely damaged this otherwise stable nation.

One of the far reaching egregious misuses of U.S. military power is taking place in Yemen, the most impoverished and underdeveloped states in the Middle East, where a U.S.-engineered genocidal war carried out by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates UAE) has killed tens of thousands, creating the worst humanitarian crises in the world, where cholera and other preventable diseases are threatening the lives of millions. Haiti, the first Black Republic, established by enslaved Africans after a revolution against France (from 1791-1803), has been invaded and occupied by the U.S. on several occasions arresting its development, leaving the island-nation as being the most impoverished in the Western Hemisphere.

Today in the news we hear constant reports about the situation in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, a socialist-oriented state in South America with a large African, indigenous and mixed-race population. Trump is threatening military intervention in Venezuela designed to topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and labor organizer.

Venezuela is reported to have the largest known reserves of petroleum in the world. The economic and political trajectory of the country over the last two decades has represented a direct challenge to the imperatives of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. A war against Venezuela would be calamitous and could further damage the national economy along with that of the Bolivarian Republic and other nations.

What Can We Do?

These exorbitant military expenditures and interventions have not and will not help working people in the U.S. or around the world. This is why social unionism is important and should not only encompass the demands for greater organization of the workforce in the U.S. Our objective should be to look at the broader issues which rob workers of their social wages through runaway defense spending, costly foreign bases and failed wars of occupation and expropriation.

We must look at workers outside the U.S. as comrades in the struggle against exploitation and oppression. For in reality it is the corporations backed up by imperialist regimes which are real culprits in the destruction of the livelihoods of our people globally.

The acquisition of a just peace is inextricably linked with genuine and sustainable economic growth and development. Workers should demand an end to imperialist wars and the redirection of these resources towards the improvement of the social conditions for all of labor.

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Saturday March 30, 2019

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