Notes from an Auto Plant - Echos of War

Ron Lare

DETROIT, AUGUST 2 – The night before last, I called A., a worker from my plant within the Ford Rouge complex, UAW Local 600, in Dearborn, near Detroit. A. is from Lebanon. He recently retired. He has been to a US Labor Against War (USLAW) event at a UAW-GM local and to Labor Notes events. I learned that his extended family lives near Bint Jbail. He has lost 12 cousins and other relatives in the Israeli bombing, including a fifty-year-old father of five who died, leaving five children. I’m trying to get the UAW to go in on fundraising for the surviving family.

Last night I checked in on our afternoon-shift shop floor with B., an immigrant with many children. He is a devout Muslim. In our plant, he and others use industrial cardboard as prayer rugs in the locker rooms and wash their feet in the restrooms. I told him that my young friend Matt had just called to tell me of the firefight at the hospital in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. But B. already knew. He’d been to his car on his break to catch up via BBC radio.

B. backs me up in factory restroom arguments with U.S.-born workers, agreeing that the problem is Zionism, not Jewish people. At home he watches Al Jazeera, Al Arabia and an Arabic language channel from Iran. Last night he said that Israel is acting at the behest of Washington. He said Israel had wanted to stop the attacks on Lebanon a week ago but had been prevented by Bush. I don’t know that I’d say that, but especially given his background I appreciate his greater emphasis on U.S. imperialism than on Zionism in the chain of causality.

I told him that my wife and daughter had just called me from the demonstration in Dearborn against the Israeli invasion and bombing. I said Lisa reported hundreds there. B. replied, “They should have them on weekends” when thousands would be there, as has happened a number of times over recent decades in response to Israeli invasions and atrocities.

Later I talked to a fellow tool and die maker with family so far spared in Beirut. (He once ran on a UAW opposition slate with me and others. The election leaflet contained a partial Arabic translation as a gesture of solidarity.)

Dearborn contains the largest concentration of Arab-Americans in the United States.  With the massacres in Lebanon, and with over 3000 civilians per month killed in Iraq, I feel privileged to have co-workers for at least some of whom union, immigrants’, anti war and anti-imperialist struggles combine.

Reflecting on what I’ve learned about politics and activism from fellow local members who are Arab American and Latino/a, and on what U.S. workers including myself still need to learn, I thought, “This country needs more immigration.”