What Do Workers Think About The War?

What Do Workers Think About The War?
[from Barricada, March 2003]

It is hard to know what the working people of the U..S. think about the Iraqi war, or any other political matter. People are carefully trained, by the media, public schools, and the political parties, not to think about such matters. People often feel that politics is a natural event, over which they have no more control than over earthquatkes and other disasters. Therefore they often feel little need to educate themselves about these matters or to formulate opinions, let alone express them. The massive demonstrations against the war showed that people are not so controlled, however, although the government deliberately intends to avoid letting them affect policy. And the so-called opposition party, the Democrats, also tries to make mass activity irrelevant, either by ignoring it or by channeling it into an electoral form--go out and elect someone else to be political FOR you.

So what do people really think, especially the mass of working people? Aside from asking our friends, co-workers, and neighbors, how else can this be find out? Following the results of elections is a pretty poor method of finding out what people think, given the confusing and limited politics of our two parties. I will never forget how Reagon got elected in a landslide on a right-wing program, at the same time that an enormous number of people (presumably many of the same voters) voted in referenda for the Nuclear Freeze disarmament proposal.

There is a stereotype which says that blue-collar working folks are pretty right-wing, filled with super-patriotism and mildless militarism, unlike supposedly thoughtful and enlightened wealthier people. But I am looking at the most recent NY Times/CBS opinion poll (February 10--12, 2003) and get a different impression (reported NY Times 2/23/03). There are, of course, many limitations of polls, which can get opposite reactions by asking slightly different questions. They rarely even attempt to divide out working class people from the rich. But in this poll they report separately on response by those with incomes under $30 thousand and those with incomes above $75 thousand. This is pretty crude but it provides a rough way of distinguishing classes. (Actually this brings them to the upper working class/lower management layers. They do not get to interview the real super-rich who make billions of dollars.) They also distinguish answers from those with no college and college graduates, which is an even rougher method of distinguishing classes. (Of course, that was not their intention.)

Most people are for getting rid of Saddam Hussein by U.S. military action--when the question is asked in that way: 66% vs. 29%. Although that 29% is a pretty big minority for the beginning of a war. The rich (or richer) people are for military action 74% to 34%, while the poorer people are only a little less gung-ho, 61% to 34%. Everyone believes that Iraq's weapons are a danger to the U.S. , having bought the president's Big Lie. The big majority buys the fantasy that Hussein had some connection with Al Queda's attack on the Twin Towers. The difference is only between those who support immediate military action and those who think that inspections can control the situation, at least for now. The majority of the over $ 5 thousands are for war now by 55% to 37% but the under $30 thousands re evenly divided, 45% to 43%.

But the responses separate more when asked whether such a war would be worth it if it cost many U.S. casualties. The $75 thousand plus are still for the war, 51% to 31%. But the under $30 thousands are evenly divided, 44% to 44%. Opposition to the war might be regarded as in their self-interest, since the grunts of any war come from the working class population, including family members and friends. Asked whether they would be for the war if there were substantial civilian Iraqi casualties, the upper layer was still for the war by 54% to 36%, but the under 30 thousands were now against it by 47% to 42%. Could it be that poorer working people are more sensitive to moral issues in a war?

We might add that, on all questions, women were less likely to be for the war and more likely to oppose it than men. There was no reported breakdown by race or ethnic groups.

The U.S. working class is by no means ready to oppose the war as such, not yet. But workers are probably more likely to be against U.S. military action than other sections of society. We of the revolutionary minority can build on that.

-Wayne Price (Open City-NEFAC NY)