Notes on the Skyjackings

It’s the Oil, Isn’t It?

by Charles Walker

Make no mistake—the major link in the chain of events that culminated in the September 11 skyjackings was the imperial lust for oil that has cursed the peoples and cultures of the Middle East for nearly a hundred years. The biological and geological processes that eons ago deposited more than half of the world’s known oil reserves beneath the Middle East, also blindly set the stage for the colonial oppression of the peoples who stood in the way of the rapacious looting of nature’s bounty primarily by British, French, and American corporations and governments. British Petroleum, Compagnie Française de Petroles, the Arabian-American Oil Co., Shell, Exxon and Standard Oil—and their respective governments—supplemented their drilling rigs, pipelines, and refineries with bribery, extortion, and extermination to secure their seizure of the region’s “black gold.”

It should surprise no one that a century of domination, deprivation. and defeat would breed contempt for the colonial oppressors and widespread popular support for the declared enemies of the imperial powers, no matter how fanatical their delusions and despicable their methods.

Bush’s international coalition likely means the end of Osama bin Laden, along with the lives of many noncombatants. But it certainly does not mean that the peoples of the Middle East will halt their decades-long struggles. For the end of bin Laden will not end the despair and resentment of the masses of Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, who have yet to enjoy much nineteenth century progress, let alone the scientific and cultural advances since then.

It’s predictable that the wanton “collateral carnage” that Bush and his imperial cohorts willingly embrace as they chase after bin Laden will surely fuel an ever-greater hatred by the exploited for the world’s sole “superpower,” its accomplices and its cheerleaders, including Israel. Bush and Co. should not think that the world’s masses would view the end of bin Laden as a prelude to a better day. The world’s dispossessed cheered and took inspiration from the Cuban revolution’s ouster of the U.S. henchman, Col. Fulgencio Batista, but shrugged off the U.S. removal of Panama’s military despot and rumored one-time CIA operative, Gen. Manuel Noriega. Doesn’t that suggest that the world’s downtrodden know a real victory when they see it?

There’s an international outpouring of genuine sympathy for the many innocents who perished September 11, and that’s as it should be. But that sympathy would do future generations much more good if it were matched by an outcry of solidarity with the wretched of the Middle East—and a condemnation of their domestic and foreign oppressors and the oppressors’ lust for oil profits.

American Labor Tops Speak Out

Many central leaders of America’s unions have issued press releases since September 11’s tragic loss of life. All the statements deplored the loss of life and some urged their members to donate to union funds created to help victims and survivors. In general the press releases indicated, at least by implication, that the union officials would line up behind the bipartisan support for Bush’s declaration of war.

Statements from the International Association of Machinists (IAM) (Sept.12) and the United Electrical Workers (UE) (Sept.14) stand out from the rest, but for very different reasons. The Machinists’ president, R. Thomas Buffenbarger, took a most aggressive and belligerent position. After noting that his members “were forced to endure the unimaginable nightmare” and that it “was our members who were among the murdered,” Buffenbarger said, “Today, IAM members return to work. They will be prepping the planes that can just as easily carry troops to the farthest reaches of the earth … For it is not simply justice we seek. It is vengeance, pure and complete.”

The UE statement didn’t directly take issue with Bush’s warmongering, but still was sharply at odds with the Machinists. “As we mourn and we rage, we also declare our resistance to efforts to use this tragedy to curtail our civil liberties or to engage in military adventures that can only lead to more carnage and senseless loss of life.” A New York SEIU affiliate with 220,000 members, Local 1199, took a somewhat stronger position than UE, saying (Sept. 21) that the union opposes “launching a war against any nation because of the actions of a few…”

AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeny phoned Bush to “express the AFL-CIO’s full support for him in this time of crisis …” Sweeney said that the “AFL-CIO will fully support the appropriate American response.” The phone call shouldn’t have surprised Bush, since the nation’s labor federation has never distanced itself from a ruling class “military adventure,” be it the Bay of Pigs or the Vietnam holocaust. Two days later, Sweeney announced that the AFL-CIO would not participate in the Washington, D.C., anti-globalization demonstrations scheduled for the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund at the end of September. Those meetings were canceled, said the agencies.

Sept. 22, 2001