Remembering Najim

Abdullah Muhsin (International Representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers), Dave Anderson MP (Joint President Labour Friends of Iraq) and Sue Rogers (Chair TUC Iraq Solidarity Committee and Treasurer NASUWT), remember a fallen comrade.
The Iraqi labour movement has lost another courageous trade union leader – a patriot who wanted to see Iraq free, to see his family live in a decent and prosperous environment and to see the steady growth of free, independent and democratic unions.
Veteran leader, Najim Abd-Jasem, the General Secretary of the Mechanic Workers’ Union, was abducted by criminal militias in Baghdad and found three days later on 30 March 2007. There were signs of torture all over his body.
We all met Najim almost exactly one year ago on a Labour Friends of Iraq delegation that held a summit in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with twenty two leading figures from Baghdad, Basra and Babel.
We spent five hours in their company and agreed a strategy of moral and material assistance to the fledgling Iraqi labour movement, which has since been taken up by the TUC.
Assembled in that room were men, and some women, who had taken great risks in standing up for freedom against Saddam’s fascist-type regime and who were trying to build a movement that brings together workers regardless of religion.
They asked us to provide aid so that they could stand on their own two feet and contribute to social justice in their war-ravaged country.
Each had a distinguished record of bravery in confronting Saddam and then the sectarian militias.
Najim was one of the key leading trade unionists who help to establish what has now become the General Federation of Iraqi Workers after the fall of Saddam’s dictatorship and was elected as the General Secretary of the Mechanics Workers Union in late 2003.
Under the former dictatorship of Saddam, Najim worked for the Health Ministry as a mechanic before he was dismissed because of his opposition to Saddam’s yellow unions.
He joined the underground trade union movement (WDTUM) and fought against the former dictatorial regime.
Najim was one of a generation of trade union activists who each knew the risk they were running. There have been many attacks on union activists and they all knew Hadi Saleh, an exiled printer who had returned home to revive free unions in 2003.
In January 2005, he was tortured at his home and murdered by remnants of Saddam’s secret police. A world-wide chorus of condemnation greeted his tragic fate. But it is clear that the murder of Hadi (who had impressed people with his cheerful disposition in meetings at the Commons and elsewhere) and now Najim are part of a concerted campaign to eliminate the leadership of the newly formed independent and democratic unions that strongly oppose sectarianism.
Najim leaves a wife and four children. He also leaves a movement that needs urgent assistance for they are facing attacks from all sides. The barbaric murder of Najim and Hadi illustrate the lengths to which sectarian militias and former Baa’thist security men will go.
But, sadly, the unions are also being frozen out by the current central government in Baghdad. Saddam’s ban on public sector organisation remains in place. A decree freezing other unions’ assets was issued in 2005 and needs to be rescinded. After decades of totalitarian government, ministers remain suspicious of independent unions. They should come to recognise that such unions are the best friends a decent civil society and democracy can have.
And to cap it all, the movement faces occasional and inexplicable hostility from US and Iraqi military forces. The headquarters of the GFIW has been raided on two occasions in the last few weeks.
Yet the new Iraqi trade union movement is a success story. It unites all sectors of Iraq society. It does not see itself as Shia or Sunni, Kurd or Arab, Assyrian or Turkoman but as workers, citizens and above all Iraqis though they celebrate their differences.
It has gone from nearly nil in 2003 to many hundreds of thousands of members across Iraq. Its leaders were mostly opposed to the invasion of Iraq, preferring to rely on internal means to overthrow of Saddam’s fascist-type dictatorship, but they are enthusiasts for the political process of building a democratic, federal and pluralist society.
Najim was murdered for advancing the cause of social justice, equality and human rights. He wanted a free Iraq with lasting and genuine democracy and independent trade unions at its heart.
He was brave and outspoken person. He firmly opposed all forms of sectarianism. He championed workers’ and women’s rights. He lived in a very poor and ordinary working class area of Baghdad and spared no efforts to advance the fundamental rights of workers, as enshrined in International Labour Organisation conventions.
His killers have silenced him, as they silenced Hadi before. Their martyrdom is a heavy tragedy for their families and comrades. But we are sure that if either Hadi or Najim were with us now, they would be saying that the loss of a comrade should not be in vain.
The loss of Najim must spur people here to increase their solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement. They are on the same side as ourselves. Let’s stop ignoring them or sitting on our hands.