Reverend Jesse Jackson speaks

Bangkok Post, Outlook - Thursday, November 06, 2003

The American civil rights activist talks to 'Outlook' about the need for international labour rights standards and the potential of Iraq to become another Vietnam for the US
In many corners of the world, war is raging. Right here in Bangkok, however, prominent people are gathering to talk about peace. A speech in Bangkok today by Reverend Jesse Jackson inaugurates a series of events termed 'Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace' hosted by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation.

Reverend Jackson is president and founder of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, a multiracial, multicultural organisation seeking justice in America and peace in the world. Formerly an assistant to Martin Luther King Jr, Reverend Jackson ran for president twice; in 1984 and 1988. The Rainbow/Push Coalition fought against apartheid in South Africa and advocated the struggle for democracy in Haiti, among other nations.

Here, Reverend Jesse Jackson answer's Outlook's questions.

Why do you think Thailand is a suitable place for the world peace conference?

Because Thailand is right in the centre of the Asia-Pacific. As Asia becomes one of the world's economic engines, all these issues _ be they worker rights, child labour laws, women's rights or environmental protection _ are critical to the growing Asia and the growing world.

We need a standard rule for workers _ an international law. It is like airplanes: They have to fly by the same flight law. That is why you can have so many planes in the air at the same time.

We plan a long-term campaign in this region because this region is in many ways influencing the American and European economies. The people there are getting good products. The Asians must get something too. They can't only be suppliers to the West. Children of Vietnam, for example, have a right to dream, and that dream should not be compromised.

Do you think the special alliance between Thailand and the US is beneficial?

A: It is good to have a close tie, but we want to have mutual respect, recognition and support too. The US has a high standard for workers. Those same standards must be applied to all our trading partners so that all can benefit.

It is not enough to have a job, but [workers must also] have dignity.

In your opinion, what are the strategies to achieve upward harmonisation _ to raise these standards?

We fought hard to end apartheid in South Africa. We struggled to end the war in Vietnam.

We now seek to end the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. We were misled [into] the war. We were told there was an imminent threat, that there were weapons of mass destruction and Al Queda connection. None of that has been proven to be true.

They use American and British weapons of mass destruction to destroy a country and transform Iraq to a centre of pain and hatred.

For many reasons, [George W.] Bush is obsessed with the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And now our worst nightmare has come upon us. America is caught in a quagmire that is Vietnam-like. You can't leave. You can't stay.

We must do something quickly to restore order and peace and justice in that society.

What do we need to do to accomplish this?

The US went in unilaterally. It must come out with a coalition. That coalition must include France and Germany and China under the umbrella of the UN.

Do you see a united anti-war movement like the protest against the Vietnam War during the 1970s?

Yes. The largest demonstration in the world in one day was an appeal to Bush and Blair not to go to war in Iraq.

Once the war started, some of the actions slowed down because of sensitivity. But now, the soldiers in battle are demoralised. So many were killed. Some committed suicide.

The anti-war movement is revived again. There was a huge demonstration in Washington last Saturday.

In days to come, those cries will only get louder. We have spouses and relatives of military service people saying, 'Bring our relatives home.'

The movement is confounded by internal economic crisis and failed foreign policy. The number of jobs is going down while college tuition is going up. As many as 2.2 million Americans are in jail. We have this profound economic and social crisis at home and war is becoming more expensive, more bloody and deadly every day.

What do you plan to achieve with the 'Bridges' dialogue?

We meet with allies here in the Pacific Rim. We must have a global effort for fair global distribution. The emphasis is to build a bridge between the top one-sixth who have surplus and the five-sixths at the bottom who have real needs.

Some people argue that, other things being equal, Thailand and other developing countries may have the same standards of human rights or labour rights as the United States. But in poor countries, applying such standards could end up hurting the children or labourers themselves as they have to work in order to earn money to survive.

In America, it started that America could not survive without slavery. Unless you had cheap labour, the American economy would not survive.

This is not a good idea. In time, we learn that for children, public education is preferable to work.

We have gone through some of those phases. The future of the nation lies not in the labour of children but education of children.

The real-term capital is intellectual capital. Workers need to have enough wages to reinvest in the economy.

No nation should try to trade cheap labour and undercut human rights. There is no future there.

On a more personal note, do you plan to run for political office again?

I do not. I find that the work I have done with the Rainbow/Push Coalition creates a climate for human rights and international peace. I find fulfilment in this course.

- Reverend Jesse Jackson will give a keynote speech entitled 'Can the United States Become a Force for Peace? _ The US After the War in Iraq' at Thammasat University (Main Auditorium) today at 2pm. The talk is open to the public free of charge. For more information, call 02-986-8555 ext 115 or 01-618-4422. Alternately, email