UE General Executive Board
Statement on the Kosovo Crisis:

End Ethnic Cleansing, Stop the Bombing

The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) condemns the atrocities being committed by the armies and police of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic against the civilian population of the province of Kosovo. The ethnic cleansing — with its forced evacuation, murder, rape and destruction of homes, workplaces and personal effects — must end immediately. Further, UE declares its support for the United States military personnel on duty in the Balkans, whose lives have been placed on the line by the Clinton Administration.

However, this union has serious reservations about the NATO operation. We have concluded that the air strikes on Yugoslavia should be abandoned in favor of real negotiations, conducted by the United Nations, without which there can be no hope of any meaningful settlement or lasting peace in the region.

The oppression of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo is reprehensible. Unfortunately it is not new — it began with the murder and torture of trade unionists, community activists and human rights workers more than a decade ago. (This unfolding tragedy might have been prevented if the NATO powers had not encouraged the breakup of the old Yugoslavia.)

However, we are deeply concerned that U.S./NATO policy will worsen the situation and undermine the possibilities for peace in the long term. Indeed, the present bombing campaign is clearly counter-productive. The stated goal of the air strikes was to halt the ethnic cleansing; instead, ethnic cleansing has accelerated. (As of this writing [April 30] a third of the 2 million Albanians in Kosovo have been forced from their homes.)

Further, the NATO campaign has strengthened the Milosevic regime, as Serbians of all political persuasions rally around their government. Most Americans would do the same if our country was under attack by foreign powers. The warfare plays into the hands of Milosevic, who has consistently used nationalism to gain and consolidate power.

Like all wars, this one has the danger of being difficult to contain. Precisely because the recent air strikes have been unsuccessful, there are already voices calling for "less than surgical" bombing, for "turning out the lights" in Belgrade. If NATO intensifies its bombing campaign with a broadened range of targets, casualties among innocent Serbian citizens will grow dramatically, as will the potential for loss of life among U.S. and other NATO troops.

In fact, NATO has begun bombing civilian targets. Industrial sites such as two Yugo factories and a pharmaceutical plant have been hit, with the loss of lives and tens of thousands of jobs. With NATO intensifying its campaign by picking out economic and infrastructure targets, casualties among Yugoslav workers and civilians will increase, destroying hopes for the future and increasing the possibilities of a ground war that will mean greater risks for U.S. and other NATO troops.

This union is disturbed that the Clinton Administration has involved our nation once again in a war without the assent of Congress as required by the U.S. Constitution.

We challenge the right of NATO to make war on a sovereign nation in violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. And we question the appropriateness of NATO involvement in this issue. Leaving the fate of Kosovo in the hands of a military alliance made military action virtually inevitable. NATO was chartered as a "defensive" coalition, not a vehicle for waging an offensive war. The Alliance is a Cold-War creation with no relevance in the present era except as a potential enforcer for NAFTA, GATT, the EU and MAI — for transnational corporations and banks. We are also told that the war is necessary to "redefine" NATO and to give NATO new "credibility." Reinventing a role for NATO is not worth a single life, American, Serbian or Albanian.

Western powers currently engaged in the military campaign against Yugoslavia contributed to the 1980s break-up of the former federal republic and unleashing of militant nationalism by imposing a series of economic reforms designed to turn the Balkan nation into a safe haven for runaway shops. These "reforms" included wage freezes, privatization and the destruction of Yugoslavia’s welfare safety net. An austerity program required by the International Monetary Fund led the central government to suspend payments to the republics and autonomous provinces (including Kosovo), fueling sectional differences. The regions were forced to compete for fewer scraps on the federal table. Milosevic, who promoted "market-oriented reforms," worked to divide working-class unity by promoting Serb nationalism. Sponsored by Western powers, Yugoslav republics unilaterally seceded. The scene was set for bloody war in Bosnia, and the repression of Albanians in Kosovo. In recent years, the Milosevic regime has been opposed by mass demonstrations of workers, farmers and students — who now dodge NATO bombs.

UE believes that the United Nations properly should have been given the opportunity to lead the international community’s search for a solution — and that the UN remains the best vehicle to bring a just peace to Kosovo. A UN-led effort could involve Serbia’s traditional ally, Russia, as well as other Balkan nations, all necessary to a genuinely negotiated settlement. Russian participation in a UN peacekeeping force would be a powerful deterrent to Serbian hostilities.

We are opposed to any offensive use of U.S. ground forces in this conflict. We are also concerned by the use of the Kosovo Liberation Army as a proxy in a full-scale war on the ground, and the implications this would have for widening the conflict. A "Greater Albania" is no more an answer to the region’s search for stability than a "Greater Serbia."

We agree with our brothers and sisters in the CGT, France’s largest trade union federation, who declared on March 26, "NATO strikes are not a way out of the crisis." We agree with our brothers and sisters in the Canadian Auto Workers National Executive Board, who declared on March 31 that "finding a real and lasting solution won’t be achieved through air strikes and bombs." Using violence in the name of diplomacy and stability accomplishes neither.

On behalf of the 40,000 UE members and their families from coast-to-coast, the General Executive Board of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) calls on President Clinton to:

  1. Immediately declare a cease-fire and halt U.S. bombing missions;

  2. Call on the United Nations to launch a major diplomatic effort to obtain an end to assaults on the Albanian population of Kosovo and seek multi-lateral regional negotiations;

  3. Commit U.S. troops to participation with troops from UN–member nations in a peacekeeping force led by the United Nations;

  4. Increase the U.S. commitment to humanitarian aid to Kosovo refugees.

(This statement was issued by the UE General Executive Board on April 30, 1999.)