THE "MOBES" AGAINST THE VIETNAM WAR 1966-1970
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Labor activists had to overcome the leadership of the AFL-CIO that had developed close relations to the CIA and supported the Cold War since the 1950's. By 1967, however, the tide began to turn. A key point came when Victor Reuther, head of international affairs for the United Auto Workers, attacked the AFL-CIO leadership, denounced its ties with the CIA, and supported the rank-and-file sentiment in his union against the war. Trade unionists associated with SANE called for a national labor leadership conference against the war, which no longer excluded the left unions. As one commentator noted, "It seemed a long step toward ending two decades of redbaiting in the labor movement." By 1969 organized labor had assumed a major role in the New Mobilization to the extent that when the New Mobe split into two factions, it was a trio of trade union leaders who were asked to heal the split.
The key to massive involvement of Afro-Americans in the movement was the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Black organizers of the Civil Rights Movement had long been active against the war, but they did not have the mass following that King commanded. King had emerged from the Civil Rights Movement of the Fifties as America's spiritual and moral leader but he had held back from denouncing the war under pressure from some of his liberal supporters. On April 4, 1967, King made a major speech in New York "to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart." He linked the anti-imperialist struggle of the Vietnamese people to the civil rights struggle of Afro-Americans including trade union organizing drives he was working with in the South. King committed himself to the peace movement, becoming co-chair of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. From then on, Afro-Americans began to take part in the peace movement in larger numbers, including Black soldiers who returned from Vietnam and joined the militant Black Panther Party.
Several presidential campaigns grew out of the antiwar movement. The campaign of Robert Kennedy for the Democratic nomination in 1968 was based on opposition to the war. It ended tragically with his assassination, less than two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Eugene McCarthy continued the anti-war campaign, but lost at the convention in Chicago where police attacked anti-war demonstrators in the view of television cameras. Four years later, the campaign of George McGovern gained its strength from anti-war liberals, but failed to engage the labor movement and was soundly defeated in the general election. The history of the McGovern campaign written by campaign manager Gary Hart makes hardly any mention of organized labor.
The movement against the war in Vietnam was the most successful peace movement in American history. Although it was not able to elect a President, it was able to succeed in its most important task which was stopping the American escalation of the war. Lyndon Johnson was profoundly affected by the movement which limited his military options and "contributed directly to the fatigue anxiety and frustration" that led eventually to his withdrawal from the 1968 Presidential race. And the anti-war movement "made it politically impossible" for President Nixon to proceed with a planned escalation of the war which included the possible use of nuclear weapons.
The movement against the war in Vietnam was world-wide. The socialist nations, the non-aligned nations, and large numbers of people within the NATO nations supported the Vietnamese. Demonstrations in Europe were so large and militant that France even seemed on the brink of revolution. When the World Peace Council organized a Vietnam peace meeting in Versailles, France, in 1972, there were over 1200 delegates from 84 countries, including representatives from Vietnam and from virtually every major organization in the American peace movement. Despite vigorous red-baiting by the U.S. government, American peace activists made no secret of their meetings with the Vietnamese "enemies." Practically every major leader of the "Mobes" had an opportunity for such meetings at one time or another.
Faced with the determination of the Vietnamese people and their support from a world-wide peace movement, there was only one way the U.S. could have "won" the war in Vietnam. That was by destroying it completely with nuclear weapons. The fact that such an alternative was seriously considered by Nixon and the Pentagon foreshadowed the revival of the Cold War and the threat of a first-strike nuclear war that stimulated the Nuclear Freeze Movement.