UAW President Bob King Joins SOA Watch Protestors

11/18/10 Lisa Marzilli
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This weekend tens of thousands of people from around the hemisphere will make their way to the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia with the single common goal of shutting down the School of the Americas or WHINSEC as it’s now known.

This will be the 20th year that opponents of torture and murder will join forces to call attention to US complicity in the atrocities the school’s graduates continue to commit against educators, union organizers, the religious and other innocents in Central and South America.

One of speakers at this year's SOA Watch vigil is the newly elected president of the United Auto Workers, Bob King. The 64-year-old lawyer, army veteran and life-long member of the NAACP has spent his life fighting for social and economic justice for workers, not only in the US but in Latin America. He was elected president of the UAW on June 16.

We began our conversation with King by asking him what students learn at the School of the Americas and what they do with that knowledge once they graduate.

"Unfortunately it's been a real bad history of graduates of the School of Americas being involved in some of the worst human rights abuses in Central America including the assassination of Archbishop Romero, including the assassination of the Jesuits at the Jesuit University in San Salvador. Six Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter were all assassinated and tied back into the graduates from the School of the Americas.

"There were, fifteen years under the Freedom of Information Act there were actual training manuals that were gotten a hold of that spelled out that community activists, labor activists, religious activists, should be disappeared so that anybody fighting for the rights of the common people were targeted by the military and the police and a lot of them had been trained at the School of the Americas."

You led a delegation to El Salvador in 1990, a place that was notorious for the torture and murder of trade unionists, religious workers and that same paramilitary violence has been unleashed in Columbia. SOA Watch says it's the most dangerous place for union organizing in the world. What are your thoughts on that and why it gets so little media coverage here in the US, especially given the fact that so much of the violence is being perpetrated by people schooled in the US at Ft. Benning?

"Well, you know, no stories about social justice, about worker's rights, about human rights, get played up in our press. Our press is very much owned by the Rupert Murdochs of the world who really don't have any conscience on these kind of issues, I don't think, and so they control the media and so your not going to get stories about human rights abuses in the mainstream media."

This is the 20th year people will be gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning. In your opinion, are we any closer to seeing the SOA closed? Two years into the Obama administration, and I mean, if not in this administration than what administration do we have hopes for closing that school?

"Well, you know, it's a sad story. With the best intentions people are focused on a lot of different issues. We let the Republicans really through the Senate filibuster have a rule of the minority, really an abuse of the majority rights in the Senate, and so we got very minimal positive legislation passed. And this got put on the back burner, I think people thought like they could get to it once they hit the higher priorities of health care and financial reform and labor law reform, but we didn't even get to labor law reform. It's a pretty sad and discouraging development, what's happened over the last two years."

So, do you know where this stands? I spoke with Father Roy Bourgeois earlier this year and he said a letter had been sent and there was some talk in the House of Representatives which now, unfortunately is Republican controlled, but that there was some legislation trying to get through?

"Yeah, we tried to defund the School as a way to close it. We probably would have had the votes if we could have gotten it there, but then it would have been blocked in the Senate. So, I don't know what the plan is now, being really straightforward about it. But, like all things in life, you keep fighting for the right thing. Look at Nelson Mandela, 27 years in prison. I'm sure that 26 years, or 26 1/2 years of those years it didn't look like there was much hope, and then there was a breakthrough."

If you had to tell people who maybe can't make it to this weekend's vigil, the one thing that they might be doing to help trying to expedite the school's closing, what would that be?

"Pray for a change of heart of people who are opposing us, at this point. One of the things Archbishop Romero said was that Christian revenge is conversion. It isn't to demean or lesson the person your in conflict with it's to convert them to see the moral, spiritual side of an issue."

And, I guess the last question, Bob King, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about the union, the UAW, and what your thoughts are about its strength in going forward on your presidency, congratulations by the way, what are your plans to strengthen the UAW?

"Well, you have to organize. The only way to end poverty in America, the only way to close the tremendous disparity between the rich and everybody else is to build power, and the way you build power is to get more workers in unions. You've got more of a voice at the bargaining table to win justice for workers so our major focus is going to be on organizing workers into the UAW."

Previous WMNF coverage of SOA Watch

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