Peace Rally Speech - August 25, 2007 - Kennebunkport, Maine

by Peter Kellman, President Southern Maine Labor Council, AFL-CIO

Sisters and Brothers,

We are a people historically governed by a wealthy elite. Governed by the people who had these fine houses built in Kennebunkport with profits from chattel and now wage slavery.

Today we are told that if we want to be secure in our homes we must fight in Iraq. In 1917 workers were told by the elite that they had to fight in World War I if they wanted to live in an industrial democracy. But 90 years ago when Congress declared war, it effectively abolished free speech by enacting the Espionage Act, which made it a crime to say anything that would "discourage" enlistment in the armed forces. The American Federation of Labor supported World War I. Today the AFL-CIO opposes the War in Iraq.

Members of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W. or "Wobblies") expressed opposition to World War 1. They were harassed and jailed, and as a result, their union was decimated.

One of the jailed Wobblies was Ralph Chaplin, who wrote the lyrics to Labor’s anthem "Solidarity Forever." While in jail, Chaplin wrote a book of poems called "Bars and Shadows." In the introduction, economist Scott Nearing explained why the Wobblies were singled out for persecution:

Long before the war, the I.W.W. had made itself known and feared for its conduct of strikes; its free speech fights, and its ability to put the sore spots of American industrial life on the front pages of the daily press…It was in the domain of industry that the I.W.W. was functioning, and it was among the business interests that the determination had been reached to rid the country of the organization at all costs.1

The best-known of the many jailed for violating the Espionage Act was labor leader Eugene V. Debs, who helped organize the American Railway Union, the Socialist Party and the I.W.W. He had been jailed earlier by the U.S. Government for leading the Pullman strike of 1894.

Debs was sentenced to ten years in federal prison under the Espionage Act for making anti-war speeches. Debs a Socialist, knew that there was a direct connection between the American capitalist system and the wars waged by the United States.

Sisters and Brothers if we are to end this senseless, never ending series of wars - pursued by the ruling class, we must end the economic system that denies us fundamental rights. A system that promotes competition and greed at the expense of cooperation and love.

A labor leader once described war as a situation where workers are on opposite sides - of the same gun.

It is time for the Workers of the World to stop building guns and start building bridges, bridges of steel and bridges of cooperation.

My opposition to the Viet Nam War started in 1964. I remember some of the activists of that day saying we would not be able to stop the war in Viet Nam, but if we kept at it we might be able to prevent the 7th Viet Nam.

The activist of that day played an important role in stopping the Viet Nam War - it took 11 years - and maybe we stopped the elite from pursuing a certain kind of war for awhile, but the seventh war after Viet Nam has come and gone.

By my reckoning this is at least the 10th.

Sister and brothers we need to END this War.

We need to Impeach Bush and Cheney.

And we need to make our voices heard across the land that the American system based on competition and greed needs to be replaced with a system based on cooperation and love, otherwise when this war ends there will be another, and another and another.

Sisters and Brothers, the System needs to be impeached and the ruling elite sent packing by the common people.

The swords must be melted down into photovoltaic cells.

Cooperation must replace competition.

Love must replace greed.

Word count - 683

Copyright by Peter Kellman 2007