Surge of solidarity needed

LFIQ Director Gary Kent argues in Progress that with or without foreign troops, a surge of solidarity with the unions and others in Iraq is needed.
No time to crow
We should all be reaching out to Iraqi trade unionists and democrats
31 August 2007
Why is sympathy for and solidarity with Iraqi democrats so muted? Al Qaeda followers in Iraq recently carried out their second worst atrocity after 9/11 by blowing hundreds of ordinary Yazidi Kurds to smithereens. Where were the vigils and the round-robin letters that would have been organised over, for example, the loss of hundreds of innocent people in, say, a US air attack.
Why can’t more progressives start seeing who are its real enemies and friends in Iraq? Instead, some seem stuck in a time-warp circa February 2003 when millions marched to prevent the invasion of Iraq. The war easily toppled Saddam which most Iraqis welcomed but the American military proceeded to start losing the peace with great stupidity.
One of the most important gains has been the renaissance of a new civil society after decades of fascist-type rule. Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) concentrates its efforts on supporting the Iraqi trade union movement.
The labour movement was all but extinguished by Saddam who put Ali Hassan al-Majid – ‘Chemical Ali’ – in charge of his regime-friendly yellow unions. It is reckoned that the combined strength of the clandestine and exiled movement was in its hundreds in 2003. It is now in its hundreds of thousands. The General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) brings together three union centres and its founding congress is shortly being held in Baghdad: itself a defiant response to extremists. The movement is deliberately non-sectarian, seeks to increase the participation of women in its ranks and to contribute to building ademocratic and federal Iraq.
Oil is the biggest issue in a country which derives 97% of its revenue from one resource. The oil industry is clapped out after years of under-investment and external expertise and investment are needed. But the unions insist that oil is a national resource and want to be part of the debate about a new national oil law.
The Iraqi labour movement faces grave dangers. Its leaders have been ruthlessly targeted by the insurgency and many of its leaders have been martyred. Its offices have on several times been raided by US troops who, on one occasion, trashed anti-terror posters. It also faces the hostility of parts of the central Iraqi Government ,which has not only maintained Saddam’s ban on public sector trade unions but has also frozen the movement’s funds.
The movement suffers, as much as the rest of Iraqi society, from decades of repression of independent political activity and its leaders are keen to catch up on discussions and technologies so long denied to them.
They enjoy the support of the TUC (which is running an appeal formobile phones for union organisers) as well as the Fire Brigades Union (which recently donated and drove two fire engines all the way to Iraq), Teachers Union NASUWT (which assists with training) and Unison. An LFIQ delegation last year visited Iraqi Kurdistan where we saw a Unison-sponsored training session in Erbil which only differed in language from such events here.
The delegation held a five-hour discussion with a score of union leaders from around Iraq. Their message was simple: help us to stand on our own two feet and contribute to defending social justice. International solidarity is often a minority pastime but there is something different about attitudes towards Iraq solidarity.
It’s perfectly understandable that those who opposed the invasion maintain the integrity of their arguments. It’s quite another to effectively adopt an “I told you so” stance and sit on one’s hands at the expense of the workers’ movement, women’s organisations and elected Iraqi parliamentarians and parties.
It’s obscene for a minority to back insurgents who murder union leaders and would destroy civil society. With or without foreign troops, a surge of solidarity with the unions and others is needed. It’s the very least one would expect from progressive internationalism.