In a very impassioned address to the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO Executive Board, the head of the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council said the organization’s vital mission is actually very basic: improving the lives of veterans and working people, who are one and the same.
Will Fischer, the council’s executive director, spoke Feb. 19 in San Diego. Anyone expecting an ordinary speech based on Fischer’s unimposing physical appearance got a pleasant jolt as the U.S. Marine Corps veteran fired up the crowd and drew several standing ovations.
Fischer, a member of MTD-affiliated IUPAT, began by asking all military veterans in the audience of 200 or so to stand, then requested a show of hands from everyone whose family included a veteran. The point immediately became clear: Nearly everyone at the meeting either had worn the uniform or had a family member who served.
“The working class and the veteran class are one,” Fischer stated. “When you’re talking to an audience of people who work, you’re talking to an audience of people who served. When you see folks fighting for and defending our rights on the job here at home, very often those same folks already tasted battle and fought to defend our rights overseas.”
With that in mind, the Union Veterans Council aims “to show that the issues facing veterans and those facing the working class aren’t independent of each other,” Fischer continued. “Our mission is to mobilize so that when someone takes off their uniform that they have access to a good job; to advocate so that when someone takes off their uniform that they are able to access the health care we earned – health care delivered through a strong, fully funded and staffed VA.”
Not to be overlooked is the council’s additional goal of organizing “so that when someone takes off their uniform and goes to work that they’re carrying with them basic dignity and respect and the ability to collectively bargain for a fair reward for the job they do,” Fischer stated.
While those aims all seem plainly unobjectionable, Fischer said political support for veterans often amounts to nothing more than lip service. Drawing in the audience even further with a quick series of questions, he asserted that it’s anything but “pro-veteran” to undermine the Jones Act, support bad trade deals that kill American jobs, and take credit for hiring veterans but then pay them substandard wages.
“And yet these are the actions that are taken by some of those who claim so loudly to be pro-veteran,” Fischer said. “The same folks who sent me and many of you to every corner of the world to protect and fight for our nation’s future, and now that they’re finished with us they do whatever they can to prevent us from having a future of our own. They’re the same stock who build fortunes from the sweat of another’s body and the same flag-wrapped parasites who are more than willing to fight wars until the last drop of someone else’s blood is spilled.”
He then delved into the council’s ongoing efforts to help ensure smooth proceedings at the Veterans Administration.
Fischer also reminded everyone about the importance of grassroots political action.
“We have a unique opportunity to shape the way we – and others – talk about the trade union movement, our legislative battles, and politics,” he declared. “When you go on a congressional visit, if you’re talking to a politician, if you’re organizing a new worker…. After this conference, when you go back home, let folks know about the Union Veterans Council and encourage them to sign up to push our movement forward.
“The movement that’s successful is the movement that hasn’t forgotten its mission,” he continued. “To the veterans: We’re veterans because we answered the call and fought to protect our nation’s future. But now we must organize to expel those who prey upon us from office. We must organize and meet our enemies in the streets here just as we once met our enemies abroad – meet them and yank from their blood-stained hands what is rightfully ours. We must organize to fight a new war – a war for our voice and for our dignity and for our future.”
He concluded, “Together, sisters and brothers, we can toss off the chains of economic slavery just as we once tossed off our flak jackets following an evening patrol. But we must organize. And if we do this, then not only will we fight together, we’ll win together.”
The MTD is a charter affiliate of the Union veterans Council. To join the council and for more information, visit http://unionveterans.org/