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June 20, 2005
Why solidarity with the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions is the right course for the left: a reply to Lee Sustar and Sami Ramadani
Alan Johnson, Labour Friends of Iraq
The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) has grown to over 200,000 members since the fall of Saddam in Spring 2003. It is the largest union federation in Iraq and is a vital to the prospects of democracy in Iraq. Representatives from the IFTU are currently in the USA as guests of US Labour Against the War (USLAW). This is an important moment. It is an opportunity for Iraqi and US labour to make common cause. To read an AFL-CIO report on the tour’s progress go here. To listen to a recording of speeches made in the US by two IFTU delegates, Abed Sekhi and Adnan A. Rashed, go here.
Yet this is the moment Lee Sustar has chosen to write a denunciation of the IFTU as a collaborationist union that should be boycotted by US workers - Does Iraq’s main union support the U.S. occupation?
First, I ask who is Lee Sustar (and his authority Sami Ramadani) and assess their arguments. Second, I ask who are the IFTU and assess the union’s origins and record. Third, I answer the six charges Sustar makes against the IFTU. Fourth I attach some appendices: (i) a transcript of the speech given by Abdullah Muhsin, the International Representative of the IFTU to the Labour Party conference in 2004 (ii) the statement issued by the British trade union UNISON after the extreme ‘left’s’ verbal and physical assault on IFTU general secretary Subhi Al Mashadani and two Iraqi women members of the IFTU at the European Social Forum in 2004. (iii) a speech by Abdullah Muhsin to the South West Trades Union Congress, 22-3 April 2005 (iv) a short note about, and some endorsements of, Labour Friends of Iraq, whom Sustar traduces in the course of his article, and whom I defend.
Part 1: Who is Lee Sustar?
Lee Sustar is a leading member of the Trotskyist ‘International Socialist Organisation’ (ISO) and his article first appeared in their newspaper, Socialist Worker. The ISO has a shameful position on Iraq: it offers ‘unconditional support’ to the military victory of the Iraqi ‘resistance’. Bluntly put, the ISO stands with the fascistic ‘resistance’ against the democrats in Iraq. The ISO sees the Saddamist-violent Islamic Fundamentalist bombers as progressive ‘anti-imperialists’ and sees the democrats, including the IFTU, as reactionary ‘collaborators’. Turning the world upside down, the ISO stands with those who blew up the polling stations and the voters in Iraq on January 31 and not with those who voted and danced with joy, purple fingers held aloft.
ISO leader Sharon Smith has written, ‘The antiwar movement must not lose sight of the fact that its main enemy is at home--any resistance to that enemy deserves our unconditional support…If we are waiting for the “ideologically pure” movement … we could be waiting forever.’ (Sharon Smith, Socialist Worker, US, January 25 2005). Her words are chosen carefully: ‘any resistance’ and ‘unconditional support’. Our response to the ISO should be as careful.
The ISO has previously (April 15 2005) urged ‘unions in the West’ to ‘reject collaboration with the IFTU’ and to boycott the IFTU as ‘collaborators with imperialism’. Sustar now urges these nursery-school slogans on the US labour movement.
The ISO represents not ‘the left’ but a small segment of the left, an extreme fragment, but one that has made a lot of the running on this issue and must be challenged. Most decent left-wingers do not support Sustar and have backed the IFTU. Nothing in this article is intended to imply otherwise. It is, rather, an appeal to that decent left to stand up and speak out about the treatment of the IFTU by this tiny vocal minority, and disassociate themselves from it.
Who is Sami Ramadani?
Lee Sustar’s article leans heavily on the ideas of Sami Ramadani, whom Sustar commends to US labour as a trade unionist, a ‘political exile from Saddam’s Iraq’ and the authentic voice of Iraqi workers. It is necessary to correct the impression given by Sustar.
In fact Sami Ramadani is an academic living in London. Sustar can correct us if this information is wrong but we think Ramadani left Iraq in 1967, 38 years ago, and before the Ba’ath, let alone Saddam, came to power.
Ramadani, a political man, has long backed the ‘resistance’ in Iraq and called for a boycott of the IFTU. He was characterised by Alex Gordon, a British trade unionist - an RMT member with a record second to none of building solidarity with the Iraq unions - as a "useful mouthpiece to cheerlead 'the popular resistance' from the safe distance of London".
In other words, Ramadani talks big, uses inflammatory rhetoric, stirs up hatred against Iraqi democrats, and then ducks away from the ugly consequences.
For instance, Ramadani argued that the US Army and Government carried out the mass murder of Shia Pilgrims in March 2003 and he attacked the IFTU for … misleading the Iraqi people by blaming terrorists for this crime! ‘Those particular bombings were widely described by Iraqis at the time as the work of occupation forces. Obviously, for those who know the reality of IFTU, it is not surprising that the [IFTU] statement does not even mention the occupation’ he wrote. This kind of conspiracy-talk and desperate blaming of the IFTU for anything and everything is Ramadani’s modus operandi.
At the European Social Forum held in London in 2004 Ramadani urged participants to boycott the IFTU by walking out when the IFTU General Secretary Subhi Al Mashadani tried to speak (Subhi is a very brave man who was tortured in Saddam’s jails where he dwelt for ten long years, and is now rebuilding the unions in Iraq). Ramadani wrote this of Subhi, ‘No prominent supporter of the Vichy regime would have been allowed to set foot in Britain let alone get near a trade union platform or a rally supporting the French people’s struggle against the Vichy regime and its occupation masters. For the Iraqi people…the US tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy bombs are no different from the Hitler’s forces in France’.
What did Ramadani mean? From the safety of his office in London Metropolitan University he dropped a hint about how this survivor of Saddam’s torture rooms and jails should be viewed. He warned ominously, ‘Iraqi collaborators can be as treacherous and deceitful as any of the collaborators in Europe under the Nazi jackboot’. Well, we all know what to do with Nazi collaborators, don’t we?
But when the IFTU leaders were physically attacked at the European Social Forum Ramadani took cover (‘it was wrong and undemocratic to disrupt the European Social Forum plenary’).
And when so-called ‘resistance’ fighters horribly tortured and murdered Hadi Saleh, a leader of the IFTU, (see) what was Ramadani’s reaction? Did he cheer and compare the act to that of a French Resistance fighter gunning down a Nazi at a road side café in 1944 as one might have expected? No, that’s not the Ramadani-style. Again Ramadani took cover. In a letter to the Independent newspaper on January 7 2005 he wrote to condemn the murder but added ‘it is highly relevant to inform your readers that Mr Salih was a leading cadre in the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP)’.
Worse, Sustar’s close comrade, Alex Callinicos, the theoretical guru of the British SWP, sneered at the international labour movement outcry at Hadi Salih’s torture and murder as a hullabaloo’ about a man who ‘supports the occupation’
Hadi Salih was seized at the age of 21 by Saddam’s secret police and sentenced to summary execution for forming a trade union at his work place. He spent five years of his life in the filth of one of Saddam’s prisons, tortured and beaten but still alive, he had his sentence by some miracle commuted to permanent exile. He opposed the war, and continued his work to unite the people of his country. Refusing to give up his fight against Ba’athism he organised the IFTU. For that he was murdered. For Mr Alex Callinicos of the Socialist Workers Party all this is just a “hullabaloo” about a collaborator.
The international labour movement responded magnificently to the individual human tragedy of Hadi Saleh with an outpouring of anger and solidarity. But this same movement all too often cedes its political voice to the likes of Callinicos. Its time to push his kind aside and reclaim the left for decent political principles. Enough franchising-out of the big politics to the likes of Callinicos.
Lee Sustar - whose organisation has close political ties to the British Socialist Workers Party and Respect – offers only a more polite version of this incoherent ‘anti-imperialism’. He rejects the serious social justice and pro-labour politics of the IFTU in favour of infantile sloganising: ‘troops out now, victory to the resistance!’. He camouflages this lunatic politics as a piece of investigative journalism.
The Politics of organising amid occupation and terror
It is important to refute Ramadani and Sustar’s ‘charges’, and I do, below, at length. But it is important to grasp that their case against the IFTU is really about politics.
The IFTU has decided to spurn violence, and to work for a swift withdrawal of troops as part of the UN-backed political process. This, and this alone, condemns the IFTU in the eyes of some extremists. For Ramadani-Sustar anyone who supports the UN-backed political process and timetable (elections to a constituent assembly in January 2005, a constitutional referendum in October and further elections in December 2005) is a collaborator and a quisling. For Sustar anyone who stops this process with bombs is an ‘anti-imperialist’ to be supported unconditionally. Every act of critical engagement in the political process, every act of wary participation in its timetable and institutions by the IFTU, every effort to use the political process on behalf of its members, is an act of ‘treachery’ and ‘collaboration’ with the ‘imperialists’.
But ask yourself, are Sustar-Ramadani right? Think about the situation in Iraq. Is the IFTU policy really treachery? Put yourself in their shoes. You are building a union while crawling from the wreckage of three decades of totalitarian repression, your country is occupied by US-UK troops who deny sovereignty but hold back a fascistic Saddamist-violent Islamic Fundamentalist attempt to block democracy and re-impose tyranny. Of course you will seek to critically support the UN-backed political process, codified in UN Security Council Resolution 1546! After all, this political process is backed not only by the United Nations and the international community but also by the Kurds (who see it as the road to a federal Iraq), the Shia and by many Sunni. It is backed by the democratic Iraqi political parties. And, yes, it is also backed by the Iraqi Communist Party, and the democratic left. It provides for elections, a constitution and a feasible way to get your country back from both the US and the Saddamists.
And ask yourself, can all these forces – the great majority of Iraqis - really be mistaken? Can they all be ‘quislings’? Wouldn’t that mean that Iraq is some kind of ‘quisling nation’ that has to be brought back to the ‘anti-imperialist’ straight and narrow by foreign jihadi suicide bombers and ex-Saddamist thugs? This is the logic of the Ramadani-Sustar-Callinicos view.
The great majority of Iraqis back the political process – critically, while organising themselves, preparing actively for a sovereign future - because it offers the only feasible way to create a unified, federal Iraq, democratic and at peace. The January elections to the transitional assembly – in which, though far from perfect, eight and a half million Iraqis voted, held their purple fingers aloft and danced with joy - prepared the ground for a national constitutional referendum in October 2005. Fresh elections will be held under the terms of the new constitution in December 2005. A sovereign elected Iraqi government and assembly will then tell the multinational force to stay or go. The prospects of the US and UK troops staying in Iraq in defiance of an elected Iraqi government’s expressed wishes are zero. Such a policy would be opposed by the entire Iraqi nation and the entire international community. It is never, ever, going to happen.
But none of these real-world political calculations mean anything in the world of Sustar-Ramadani where striking ‘radical’ postures is all. The latter wrote, ‘It is time to call a spade a spade: the leaders of the IFTU and the ICP are part of a left-wing sounding, trade-union ‘friendly’ campaign to oppose the immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq under the pretext of keeping them to prevent civil war and to hold elections in January’. But note that you will search high and low in these kind of articles for any arguments that support Ramadani’s assertions, any factoring in of the real world.
On what grounds do Ramadani-Sustar think the immediate withdrawal of troops would not lead to civil war in Iraq? Silence.
What political character do Sustar-Ramadani think the resistance has? Silence.
Why have the IFTU - who live in Iraq - taken the view that immediate withdrawal might produce civil war in Iraq? Silence.
Does Ramadani-Sustar really think over eight million Iraqis would have voted in January without any coalition presence? Silence.
What are Ramadani-Sustar’s detailed counter-arguments to the IFTU’s thought-through political position regarding 1546? Silence.
Ramadani hints darkly that the IFTU don’t really think immediate withdrawal would lead to civil war. This is just ‘a pretext’, we are told. Evidence? None. What does Ramadani think are the IFTU’s real reasons? Ramadani doesn’t say but he does mention the ‘CIA’. It is desperate stuff.
Sustar has studied the Ramadani technique closely and employs it throughout his scandal-sheet. Dark hints are dropped about the ‘cold-war’ unionism of the ICFTU, and the plots of the CIA; sinister (and non-existent) links are hinted at to the neo-conservatives; questions are left hanging about where the IFTU gets its money from; and the right of Iraqi workers to get back the assets of the old Saddam yellow unions, paid for by their dues, is presented as some kind of theft.
Sustar also uses the old Stalinist amalgam technique against the IFTU. That dirty little ploy used to work like this: Trotsky opposes Stalin, Hitler opposes Stalin, therefore Trotsky is a Hitlerite. Applied to the IFTU by Sustar it takes this form: IFTU Mosul Leader Saady Edan opposes immediate withdrawal, President Bush opposes immediate withdrawal, therefore Edan and the IFTU have, according to Sustar, ‘essentially the official position of the Bush administration’. It’s shameful stuff.
The Iraqi democrats have decided that the best hope for peace and democracy in Iraq lies in building up the strength of the forces of democracy, human rights, women’s rights, trade unions, while extending critical support to the UN-backed transition process. They fight within the process to oppose privatisation and torture, and propose a decent labour code, a democratic constitution, human rights and the rule of law. In this policy the IFTU – along with the Kurds, the Shia, the Communists and the great majority of Iraqis – are surely correct. And at any rate, it’s a legitimate response by a legitimate trade union to the awful terrain it has to fight on. And that’s all it is. Nobody, but nobody, has come up with a grown-up alternative. Just slogans and name-calling.
The entire hullabaloo on the extreme left about the IFTU comes down to this: an inability to think politically. The invasion has produced mixed consequences that have to be reckoned with. Iraqi civilian deaths, torture at Abu Ghraib, and the continuing high levels of violence have to be opposed but in a context and on a terrain also marked by the removal and trial of Saddam, the end of his apparatus of terror (but its reorganisation as a ‘resistance’ in alliance with Al Qaeda), the return of the refugees, the joy of the Kurds, the religious freedoms now enjoyed by the Shia, the creation of a UN-backed political process, the 8 million voters in the January elections, a fantastic display of ‘purple power’, a new democratic assembly, one in three members of which are women, the rebirth of trade unionism and the labour movement, the rise of new democratic political parties, a relatively free press, the reflooding of the Marshlands, the return of the Marsh Arabs, the opening up of the mass graves, the beginning of a truth and justice process and the spread throughout the region of a new confidence in demanding freedom and democracy.
On this real-world terrain a series of questions arise. How can the opportunities to make a transition to democracy be exploited politically by labour? How can the United Nations be persuaded to become more involved? How should labour relate to the fledgling institutions of the new Iraqi democracy? How can the fight for the end of the occupation be balanced by the need to avoid civil war and balkanisation of the country? What to make of the contradictory role being played by the US? These questions preoccupy Iraqi democrats. They do not even occur to some others.
This flat refusal to think politically ends up in sloganising about ‘unconditional support’ to ‘any resistance’ to the USA while attacking the beleaguered democrats of the IFTU as ‘quislings’.
Part 2. Who are the IFTU?
If we were to push Sustar aside (and Callinicos and Galloway and the rest of this tiny extreme fragment of the left), if we were to push their crude and reactionary ideas out of our heads, we could see that a quite remarkable thing is happening in Iraq. It is something the left should be celebrating and supporting. A free trade union movement – the basic hope for social justice in Iraq or anywhere else - is emerging in Iraq from the nightmare of Saddam’s totalitarian regime. It is fighting, in conditions we can barely imagine, for workers rights, social justice, peace and democracy. It is weak. But it exists, and it fights! It’s the best thing to have happened in the region in decades. That we have allowed a small vocal minority to distract us from this fact is terrible enough. That we have allowed them to calumny the infant Iraqi labour movement is a crime. Enough of that. Stand up, speak out!
Where did this movement come from?
Sustar hints darkly that the IFTU is perhaps a creation of Allawi or the (‘cold war’) ICFTU. Or maybe the ‘intense efforts’ of the AFL-CIO explain the rise of the IFTU?
There are five letters missing from the Sustar-Ramadani account of the IFTU and once we bring those five letters back in the story changes entirely. Here they are: WDTUM.
These five letters stand for Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement. This was the underground free trade union network sustained at tremendous cost during the nightmare years of Saddam when free unions were abolished and free trade unionists hounded and tortured.
Formed inside Iraq in 1980 the Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement (WDTUM) existed throughout the 24 years of rule of Saddam’s Ba’ath party. The WDTUM was composed of trade unionists, intellectuals, and liberals, communists, and women’s, youth and students advocates.
Abroad the WDTUM played a significant role in exposing Saddam’s atrocities and genocide against Iraqis. Inside Iraq its members worked to collect information - at great risk- about summary executions, torture and impressments and send them to trade union centres around the world.
In Britain, in 1982, as a result of information passed on by the WDTUM to tobacco workers union leader Dougie Grieve, the TUC conference passed a motion condemning the atrocities against workers in Iraq. The WDTUM helped to organize a strike of four thousand tobacco workers in Iraqi Kurdistan (Sulaymanyah) in open defiance of Saddam’s regime. Saddam’s security apparatus crushed the strike and four workers were executed.
In Spring 2003 it was the hardened militants of the WDTUM that created the IFTU. The WDTUM helped organize an open meeting on 16 May 2003 attended by 350 Iraqi trade unionists (liberals, communists, and nationalists, both Arab and Kurds). It was at this meeting that the IFTU was formed. Some of these founding organisers had been in exile. Some had been imprisoned. Some had been working underground. They came together on 16 May to form the backbone of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.
Sustar ignores these facts. But they establish the continuity of the IFTU with the heroic Saddam-era underground free trade unionists. Is Sustar trying to hide (perhaps from himself) the shameful fact that he, a socialist, is asking US workers to boycott those men and women who risked their lives to keep the flame of free trade unionism alight during the long night of Saddam?
The IFTU has achieved some great things against the odds. In just over one year, 12 national unions in key sectors of the Iraq’s economy were established. The IFTU now includes the following unions: The Oil and Gas Union, the Railway Union, The Transport and Communication Union, the Mechanics, Printing and Metal Union. The Textile and Leather products Union, the Construction and Wood Workers' Union, the Electricians' Union, the Service Industry Union and the Agriculture and Food Staff Workers' Union. These unions organise in Baghdad and across Iraq’s 15 provinces such as Basra, Kirkuk, Mosul, Kurbala, al Najif, Babel and Mesan.
In June 2004 six of the IFTU’s constituent unions held their first open and free workers’ conferences in Baghdad and each had elected a leading committee of 15 members. These unions were: The Service Union, the Agriculture and Food Staff Workers Union and Transport and Communication Union, the Mechanic, Printing and Metal Workers Union, the Construction and Wood Workers Union and the Leather Products and Textile Workers Union.
The IFTU has welcomed a series of fact-finding missions from the international trade union movement. The reports of these missions can be consulted at the IFTU website. For the latest report, from April 2005, go here.
The ICFTU visited Iraq on a fact-finding mission in February of 2004. The mission was led by P Kamalam, Middle East officer of the ICFTU, and consisted of representatives of the TUC, the AFL-CIO, the UGTT of Tunisia (with the support of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions ICATU), and two global union confederations the ITF (transport) and the EI (education). The TUC representative, Owen Tudor (Head of the TUC European Union and International Relations Department) wrote a report on Iraq and the IFTU that can be read here.
Current Work of the IFTU
The work of the IFTU can be examined in detail by spending a few hours here.
Despite the terrible security situation IFTU affiliates are organizing on the industrial and legislative fronts. They have organised strikes, marches and negotiated with both public and private enterprises in defence of workers rights to just wages and better working conditions. They are campaigning for a labour code that adheres to the ILO conventions.
In Baghdad, the Mechanic, Printing and Metal Union organized industrial action in a bicycle factory near Baghdad. The president of the union committee Najim Al Daham called for a 24-hour strike and won pay increases from 17,000 to 60,000 Iraqi Dinner. The IFTU was able to bring solidarity delegations from seven Baghdad work places representing several unions, to demonstrate outside the main gate of the bicycle factory in support of the strikers’ demands.
In 2004 Abdullah Muhsin reported on the IFTUs work with a range of unions in Iraq:
The Metalworkers, Mechanics & Printers’ Union has elected a new 15 member Baghdad Regional Committee and is planning its first national conference.
There have been excellent developments in the last year. The Railworkers’ Union has been created with an office at the Baghdad Central Railway Station. But we still have a lot of work to do. The Iraqi railway industry is still only partially operational. Railworkers have had to work in conditions of extreme danger (including armed attacks on train drivers) just to keep traffic moving. Passenger traffic was suspended 3 months ago because passengers were being robbed on trains.
The IFTU has established a national minimum wage rate across IRR (Railways of the Iraqi Republic) from Mosul in the north to Basra in the South and forced it up from IrD 75,000 to IrD 125,000 per month due to the inflationary pressures in the past year. We have won the same rate of pay for men and women. Women comprise between 10-15% of the workforce in IRR working with computers and office administration as well as cleaners and also some engineers. Traditionally train drivers of passenger and goods trains received a bonus based on the mileage over which they worked and we have achieved a compensatory package paid to them due to the suspension of so much of the traffic.
Finally, we are very proud to have achieved a scheme in Baghdad and elsewhere for the IRR to provide safe transport from residential areas to their place of work for railworkers. This last was very difficult to achieve but absolutely crucial because of the terrible security situation in Iraq. We had to threaten strike action in order to force the company to concede.
What steps is the IFTU taking to organise dockers? Historically railway and dockworkers were crucial in building the trade unions in Iraq. Due to the fascist labour laws introduced by Saddam Hussein in 1987 we had to really rebuild the organisation of dockworkers. The former Port Director of Umm Qasr installed by the US firm Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) was a Ba’athist who was opposed to trade unions. He has now been removed. The delegation from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) which visited the port in February 2004 was confronted by a mass demonstration of dockworkers demanding union recognition.
Soon after the ICFTU visit the IFTU met with the new Port Director who was appointed by the Ministry of Transport, who says he is not opposed to trade unions. However, we still do not have recognition. Nevertheless, on the docks there are Workers’ Committees set up in defiance of the 1987 labour law. They operate openly and use the newsletter of the Basra Region of the IFTU. There are 6 such docks committees in the Iraqi ports. The minimum wage for dockworkers is currently only IrD 75,000 rising to IrD 100,000 after a year’s employment.
The Civil Defence Corps fire fighters are still controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and are not allowed to join a recognised trade union. However, in the oil industry fire fighters have formed independent workers’ committees within the Oil & Gas Workers’ Union. Of course the recent solidarity visit to Basra by Brian Joyce of the UK Fire Brigades Union was very important and raised the morale of the Iraqi fire fighters. What is necessary now is to separate the civil defence fire fighters from the police force. Oil refinery fire fighters get much better paid (10-15% more) than the civil defence fire fighters”.
And there is no narrow workerism about the IFTU. When violent fundamentalists attacked a student picnic as un-Islamic, killing one male and blinding a female as they beat the students with sticks who do you think organised a solidarity march through Basra? That’s right, the IFTU.
Please take a look at the pictures of the IFTU demo. Now, when you see those photographs, and see the way the IFTU can organise men and women to march shoulder to shoulder in defence of the democratic rights of Iraqi students against the violent Islamic Fundamentalists are you not angry at Sustar? Here are the fighters for social justice and human rights in Iraq and Sustar calls for them to be boycotted!
1st Charge: The IFTU ‘supports the occupation’
Ramadani says the IFTU ‘shelter behind another UN resolution  to accept the occupation’ and are ‘now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation of Iraq’. Sustar makes the same claim: the IFTU ‘support the occupation’ he says.
AS we have seen the IFTU does not ‘support the occupation’. The IFTU supports the UN-backed political process to end the occupation and its staging posts of elections in January 05, constitutional referendum in October 05, and further elections in December 05. The inchoate violence of the Saddamist-violent Islamic Fundamentalist ‘resistance’ will produce neither the end of the occupation nor the self-determination of the Iraqi people and the IFTU know it. They know that this violence will only prolong the occupation. They have calculated that fighting within a political process endorsed by the UN, the Shia, the Kurds, and all Iraqi democrats, is the best course for Iraqi labour. It is the only available route to restore sovereignty to Iraq while securing peace and democracy, avoid civil war and the balkanisation of Iraq: ie. secure the best conditions for the struggle of Iraqi labour for social justice and workers interests.
The same basic political judgement has been made by every Iraqi political party bar the Saddamists and the beheaders. And, of course, a tiny vocal minority on the extreme left.
Why do Ramadani-Sustar only call the IFTU ‘collaborators’ and not also the entire Kurdish nation, or the Shia, or the Sunni who voted and participated in the political process? They don’t do that only because if they did it would soon become clear what a nonsensical position they have taken.
Sistani said it would be a sin not to vote in the January elections. Do Ramadani-Sustar think Sistani and the Shia (maybe 60% of Iraqis) are also ‘now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation of Iraq’?
The Kurds (20% of Iraqis) support the UN-backed political process and are developing ideas for the new constitution. Are the Kurds also ‘now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation of Iraq’?
The democratic political parties of Iraq support the political process and are planning their December campaigns. Are they all ‘now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation of Iraq’?
Ramadani-Sustar remind one of Brecht’s poem about the Stalinist central committee that, upon finding the people had voted the wrong way, issued a call for ‘another people’. Ramadani-Sustar ignore the expressed wishes of the vast majority of Iraqis, dismisses this majority as pro-imperialist quislings and, in effect. call for another Iraqi people.
2nd Charge: The IFTU leadership is ‘unelected’ and there have been no elections at lower levels either
First just stop and think about the fact that the IFTU – which is organising in a war-zone, with few resources, its leaders being assassinated by death squads - is being criticised for not holding enough elections. But the charge is in any case untrue. Even with the bullets flying the IFTU began its life with elections! An organising council of 39 was elected in May 2003, from which a 12-member executive was elected, and a President was elected from the executive. For a union barely alive and without resources it showed a strong commitment to democratic unionism! As circumstances have allowed further elections have followed. Abdullah Mushin reported, for instance, that “during June 2004 six of the IFTU’s constituent unions held their first open and free workers’ conferences in Baghdad and each had elected a leading committee of 15 members. These unions are: The Service Union, the Agriculture and Food Staff Workers Union and Transport and Communication Union, the Mechanic, Printing and Metal Workers Union, the Construction and Wood Workers Union and the Leather Products and Textile Workers Union”.
3rd Charge: The IFTU is dominated by the Iraqi Communist Party
There are some leading figures in the ICP that are involved in the leadership of the IFTU. So what? 30 years of totalitarianism left few outside the religious groups and the CP with viable networks and a cadre. Thank goodness the ICP were able to help launch the IFTU. Throughout the history of the international labour movement the left has played a similar role, as early organisers and pioneers of the mass unions. Sustar is not bothered that there are ICP’ers in the IFTU. He is bothered about the decision of the ICP to support the UN-backed political process rather than the ‘resistance’. Again it comes back to politics. In fact the IFTU is independent of the ICP, the ICP have only a minority on the leading committee, and the ICP demonstrably seek a strong democratic union as part of a vibrant Iraqi civil society, and not a party ‘front’.
Again this is all about politics. Another critic of the IFTU, Ewa Jasiewicz, is more candid than Sustar. She has argued that while the IFTU unions and representatives are ‘nothing but genuine’ (note that) the IFTU should nonetheless be attacked ‘angrily and uncompromisingly’. Huh? How come a trade union federation that is ‘nothing but genuine’ should be attacked? Because the IFTU has the wrong politics. It does not support the resistance. It does not support the this-morning immediate withdrawal of coalition forces. It backs the political process. It is not ‘insurrectionary’. Therefore down with the IFTU.
She wrote in these terms about the no-platforming of the IFTU at the ESF: ‘The anger witnessed from those protesting against the General Secretary of the IFTU can be explained by the fact that Iraqi working class people are, for the first time in 35 years, in a position to form radical unions, new unions, unions which are capable of [being] insurrectionary’.
Note well: the IFTU is ‘nothing but genuine’, the workers need solidarity, but the politics of the IFTU wont do. The IFTU is not ‘insurrectionary’, you see.
Ewa Jasiewicz argues that ‘Many Iraqis feel no new constitution; government or election can have any credibility, let alone represent any ‘radical’ [the word was Abdullah’s] potential when created under occupation’.
But what if the political judgement of the 200,000 strong IFTU in Iraq is better than the political judgement of Ewa Jasiewicz? What about that? What if the best hope to gain sovereignty and democracy without civil war and balkanization of Iraq turns out to be to back the political process critically, while building up one’s own forces? What if the judgement of Iraqis who live in Iraq is more reliable than activists, however brave and selfless, who visit Iraq?
The fact is most Iraqis want to give the political process a go, to try and make it work. They want to give trade unions a go. The IFTU has organized 200,000 of them. The Shia wants to give the political process a go. The Kurds want to give the political process a go. Many Sunni want to give the political process a go.
Ewa Jasiewicz is explicit that her objection to the IFTU is political. She writes (this, note, to a British trade union movement that created and still sustains the Labour Party) the following: ‘The issue at stake is not whether workers in Iraq need solidarity and support, nor whether they are genuine or not if members of an IFTU union (emphasis added). The issue at stake is the political allegiances and agenda of their leadership’. I think Ewa Jasiewicz says what Lee Sustar thinks. It is to her credit that she cuts to the chase: the IFTU have the wrong politics. It is to her credit that she does not try and present the IFTU as anything but a genuine trade union. But we are under no obligation to follow her judgement (‘ultra-left’ it used to be called) that only ‘insurrectionary’ trade unions deserve solidarity.
4th Charge: The IFTU is dominated by the Iraqi National Accord, the party led by Allawi
Untrue (and at odds with charge three, but leave that aside). What Sustar is really outraged at is that the IFTU sat on some governing committees. They were absolutely right to do so. There they worked against privatisation, for a decent labour code, for decent pensions, progressive social policy, and for democracy. They represented the interests of their members. Only if you accept Sustar’s premise - that the entire political process is a fake and any involvement in it is pro-imperialist collaboration – does his conclusion – that the IFTU were wrong to sit on those committees - follow. But his premise is mistaken.
The General Secretary of the IFTU explained to The Morning Star newspaper why the decision to sit on governing committees was taken. “Since the Iraqi governing council recognised the IFTU, it has been allowed to sit on government committees dealing with the new labour code, social provision and pensions - both of which were enshrined in the transitional administrative law - as well as those dealing with health and dismissals. Mr Mashadani is keen to emphasise the independence of the IFTU from the state - understandable, given the subservience of Saddam's collaborationist "yellow unions." "Although we sit on some committees, we do so because we want to keep an eye on the situation, to have a stronger say in the welfare of working people," he says.
In other words the IFTU did what trade unions do: represent and protect the interests of their members. Sustar is again trying to create a ‘scandal’ when none exists. He is doing this because the basic political choices made by the IFTU have been so obviously sound. To avoid this fact we get all the Michael Moore style rubbish about ‘collaborators’ and ‘quislings’ and ‘Toyota Land Cruisers’.
5th Charge: The IFTU do not support the resistance
Well, this one is true. The IFTU do not support the Saddamist-violent Islamic Fundamentalist ‘resistance’. Sustar-Ramadani think this is shameful because in their eyes the resistance is ‘the Iraqi people’s magnificent struggle against the occupation’ (Ramadani) and ‘any resistance to [the US] deserves our unconditional support’ (Sustar’s ISO).
Lee Sustar is angry that Abdullah Muhsin calls the resistance ‘extremists’. Lee Sustar presents this as a symptom of Abdullah Muhsin’s pro-imperialism. Can you believe that? The facts are these: Sustar’s so-called ‘resistance’ has tortured and murdered Abdullah’s friend, Hadi Saleh, the IFTU leader. Sustar’s so-called ‘resistance’ has launched RPG attacks on IFTU headquarters. Sustar’s so-called ‘resistance’ has mutilated the bodies of IFTU members on the Mosel railway line. Sustar’s so-called ‘resistance’ murdered Ali Hassan Abd, member of the Oil and Gas Workers' Union. He was assassinated on Friday 18th February 2005 while returning with his children to his home close to the Al-Dorah Oil Refinery in Baghdad. Yet Sustar is angry at Abdullah Muhsin for calling the resistance…’extremists’. Un-be-lievable.
Only the most gifted historians of the future will be able to explain why this tiny vocal minority gave their support to a fascistic Iraqi ‘resistance’ and why so many others indulged them while they did. Sustar’s organisation compares the Iraqi bombers to the French Resistance of World War Two. The real parallel is with Heinrich Himmler's Nazi Werewolves guerrilla movement that continued to fight the occupying allies in 1945-6 after the fall of Hitler.
Both aimed to use terror to re-impose a tyrannical 'Reich' defined by violence, irrationality, and a leader cult in the face of an allied occupation and a hopeful weary people.
Both murdered the left.
Both murdered trade unionists.
Both murdered those engaged in elections.
Both blew up infrastructure in the hope of stopping reconstruction.
About the record of the ‘resistance’ little needs to be said: the torture and murder of trade unionists, the murder of election workers, the murder of voters, the murder of construction workers, the murder of Iraqi police, the destruction of polling stations, electricity sub-stations, and pipelines, the bombing of lines of voters, the regular massacre of the Shia, the beheadings, the lynchings and, above-all, their bone-deep fear that an Iraqi democracy might just get off the ground. It is of such people and such enormities that Michael Moore has said “The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win.” It is to such men that Lee Sustar insists we owe ‘unconditional support’. Not in my name.
6th Charge: The IFTU are the sole legal union federation in Iraq and this contradicts ILO policy
Another fake ‘scandal’. The former Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) recognized the IFTU as a legal and legitimate trade union movement in its Decree No 16 on 28 January 2004 (issued by IGC President Adnan Pachachi). The word ‘sole’ does not appear in any document. On 10 July 2004 The Interim Government sent Official memo No 743 to state ministries and agencies stating that it considered the former IGC's Decree No 16 valid and the IFTU a legal and legitimate trade union.
The original decision was intended to end the monopoly power of Saddam’s yellow union.
The IFTU does not consider itself to be the ‘sole’ union federation, demonstrably opposes such a notion, and works actively for the adoption of ILO conventions, including Articles 87 and 98 which declare that establishing labour unions is the right of the workers themselves, and that governments must not intervene in this issue.
The IFTU also point to the relevant clauses of the supreme Transitional Administrative Law. Clause (d) of Article 13 of the TAL protects “The right of free peaceable assembly and the right to join associations freely, as well as the right to form and join unions and political parties freely, in accordance with the law, shall be guaranteed”.
The IFTU stands for the adoption by Iraq of all ILO codes and standards. It has led the way demanding this for the new Iraq. When the IFTU presented its proposals for the new labour code it presented demands for rights for all Iraqi workers not exclusive rights for the IFTU! This proposed labour code had received input from the other federations in Iraq. In other words the IFTU leads the fight for the adoption of a labour code that would guarantee rights to organise for all Iraq’s unions! Gene Bruskin of USLAW met Abdullah Muhsin in London and reported “Abdullah and a representative of the Iraqi government met with representatives of the ILO, on several occasions to discuss the creation of a new labor law. The IFTU has contact with and recognizes the transitional Iraqi government. Abdullah told me that the ILO has reportedly completed a first draft of the labor law that he hopes will assure the right to join unions and give unions the right to bargain, organize and strike, as guaranteed by ILO conventions (emphasis added)”.
Yes, it is vital that ILO standards are applied in the new Iraq and that the practice – ubiquitous throughout the region - of the state deciding on an ‘official’ union federation is rejected in the new Iraq. The point, however, is that the IFTU fights for the adoption of ILO standards. Another non-existent ‘scandal’.
7th Charge: Abdullah Muhsin ‘proposed inviting Allawi to address the Labour party conference’ and ‘intervened’ at Labour Party conference to ‘back the occupation’.
As Mark Twain said, a lie travels half-way round the world while the truth is tying its laces. Here are the facts. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had proposed Iyad Allawi be invited to address the 2004 Labour Party conference. A debate followed in the labour movement and left about this proposal, for and against. Abdullah Muhsin wrote a short letter to the Guardian saying he thought Allawi should be invited and debated with. It was a call for people to engage critically in the political process. Allawi’s party represents a large segment of Iraqi opinion. Do the pro-banners - often the same people who call, correctly, for dialogue with parts of ‘the insurgency’ by the way - seriously think that these people can just be ‘boycotted’?
The ISO used to allege that Abdullah Mushin made a passionate speech “in support of occupation” at the 2004 Labour Party conference. This is wrong. I attach as an appendix the transcript of Abdullah’s speech to an IFTU fringe meeting (please note: it was not a Labour Friends of Iraq fringe meeting, as Sustar claims: we were barely in existence at that point) at the 2004 Labour Party conference so that readers can judge that speech for themselves.
Sustar says that at Labour Party conference Abdullah ‘intervened to head off...the out-now position’. Muhsin attended the conference as a guest of the trade union Unison and was invited by other union leaders to speak privately to meetings of union delegates. Abdullah agreed. He did not speak ‘in support of occupation’. He spoke about the IFTU policy about how to end the occupation without civil war. He spoke about the UN-backed political process in Iraq and explained why the IFTU had decided to critically support that process as the best hope for Iraqi workers. He carefully explained to the union delegations why the IFTU had decided against taking up arms alongside the Ba’athist and Islamist ‘resistance’. He spoke about achieving the speedy removal of the troops as part of that UN-backed timetable, along with building up the Iraqi labour movement and democratic political parties, as the best policy for Iraqi workers. Virtually every trade unionist that heard that message understood and backed it overwhelmingly after democratic deliberation and vote. Almost every serious trade unionist who had the issue clearly set out before her has reached the same conclusion: yes, this is what I would do if I was in your shoes.
This is what Tony Woodley. Leader of the TGWU, one of Britain’s largest unions, and a fierce opponent of the invasion of Iraq, said after the conference, “Our voting decisions were influenced by one factor above all others - the representations made to us by the spokesman for the Iraqi trade unions. I make no apology for listening to the representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Brighton. Our traditions of solidarity and internationalism could not let us do otherwise. And let me make it clear that, as far as the T&G was concerned, it was clear advice from Abdullah Muhsin which tipped the balance. He made a compelling case about the disasters which might follow if troops withdrew before the Iraqi trade union movement felt their country was secure. So I am happy with how the T&G voted, and I am confident that we deserted neither our proud traditions nor our conference policy in so doing”.
A Choice of Comrades
Sustar’s arguments are not new. When they were raised over here, in Britain, the UK trade unions rejected them. When a handful of people (albeit prominent) tried to finger the IFTU as collaborators it got a blistering response from Mick Rix, left-wing ex-General Secretary of Aslef, the train drivers union. He resigned from the Stop the War Coalition leadership, writing in these terms to its Chair, Andrew Murray, on 21 October 2004:
"If you think I am going to sit back and agree with beheadings,
That is the authentic voice of international trade unionism. Solidarity with the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions is the right course.
Appendix 1: IFTU ADDRESSES LABOUR PARTY CONFERENCE FRINGE MEETING, SEPTEMBER 2004
The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) hosted a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on 29 September 2004, chaired by Harry Barnes Labour MP who is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and who opposed the war on Iraq.
The speakers were Abdullah Muhsin IFTU, Bill Rammell MP, Owen Tudor TUC International Secretary, Keith Sonnet Deputy General Secretary UNISON, Brian Joyce NEC (Treasurer) Fire Brigades Union.
Abdullah Muhsin's address to the fringe meeting follows:
"I would like to extend the warm greetings of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions to each of you. Thanks you for coming here tonight. I believe all of us have very important work to do together. I want to say that supporting grassroots Iraq, supporting the Iraqi democrats, is today the most important work there is.
"Comrades, along with many of you the IFTU opposed the war. With many of you IFTU marched through London. And, with many of you IFTU still think it was right to do so. And comrades, like many of you, IFTU fights for democratic elections and a self-governing and fully sovereign Iraq. Nothing less is acceptable.
"This is what I want to talk about tonight. But first let me tell you my own history.
"26 years ago I was forced to flee Iraq. I was an elected officer of the student union that Saddam had banned. My experience as an Iraqi refugee in Europe was of Saddam’s murderous state security apparatus exporting terror wherever we raised a dissident voice against his regime. In Rome in 1978 a group of 5 thugs dressed in black from Saddam’s Mukhabarat attacked me and stabbed my friend while we handed out leaflets in a student canteen.
"Together with other Iraqis both in exile and clandestinely within the country, I worked during the 1980s and 90s to preserve an independent labour and student movement from the state-controlled yellow unions established by Saddam. In 1984 the Workers Democratic Trade Union Movement organised a strike of 4000 tobacco workers in Iraqi Kurdistan. The strikers were brutally suppressed by Saddam's security apparatus.
"In May 2003 we emerged for the underground and created the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). And against all the odds the IFTU has achieved some great things. 12 national unions‚ in key sectors of Iraq economy have been established. The IFTU includes the Oil and Gas Workers’ Union, the Railway Workers’ Union, the Transport and Communication Workers Union, The Mechanics, Printing and Metalworkers’ Union, and the Construction and Woodworkers Union. During June 2004, 6 IFTU constituent unions held their first open and free conferences in Baghdad.
"But we are climbing up a steep mountainside and it is not a climb that we can make without your support. Saddam was truly a catastrophe that crashed down on the heads of the once mighty Iraqi labour movement. In 1959 the unions mobilised over half million working people for the May Day from a population of about 7 millions. Today the IFTU have to raise money to send a travelling theatre bus on tour in Iraq, performing plays that tell Iraqi workers what trade unions are. Why is this necessary? Because Saddam transformed trade unions into brutal agents of the state police and recruiting sergeants for his wars. Under Saddam that’s what trade unions were. All the independent unions were crushed and their leaders killed, imprisoned or exiled. Stooge unions replaced them. So we are starting again. We are rebuilding. And we desperately need your help.
"Together we can rebuild the labour movement in Iraq. A powerful trade union movement could bring Iraqi together regardless of their religious, ethnic or national origins. The IFTU is not Shia, Kurd or Sunni, Assyrian or Christian, but brings all Iraqis together to improve working conditions, pay and social provision and to achieve a democratic and pluralist Iraq of social justice and economic prosperity.
"The IFTU campaigns on many fronts for the needs of ordinary Iraqis.
* IFTU campaigns for workers rights to organise freely, to join or form a union and have the right to strike and enjoy trade union representation.
* IFTU campaigns for workers right to be actively involved in influencing economic and social policies.
* IFTU campaigns for an increase in the role of women at all levels within the unions and in wider civil society.
* IFTU campaigns for special attention to the social and economic needs of disabled people of whom there are many after Saddam’s internal and external wars of genocide and aggression.
* IFTU campaigns for Jobs, more than 50% of our able working people remain unemployed.
* IFTU campaigns for a Labour Law - and I need to say few words here. We want a labour law that incorporates the International Labour Organisation declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work. The IFTU regards the ILO Declaration as a statement of fundamental human rights and freedoms universally applicable. The IFTU is in consultation with the ILO, the Iraqi Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and representatives of Iraqi businesses and professional associations like the teachers’ union, pushing hard for a labour law that will guarantee workers basic rights to employment, health and safety and legal compensation for injury at work.
"Those demands are much the same the world over. But we are not anywhere in the world. We are in Iraq. And that means we also have to deal with the overall political situation.
"We want foreign troops out of our homeland as part of a political process that enables the Iraqi people exercise fully our right to decide our destiny and political future.
"We want free and democratic elections, which are supervised by the UN.
"We want to ensure a real transfer of power to the Iraqi people and regain full sovereignty for Iraq. This was the demand of the Iraqi people after the collapse of Saddam’s regime on 9th April 2004, and their voice and legitimate demand should been heard, rather than imposing an occupation.
"This is also the way to build a unified democratic Iraq, laying the basis for democratic institutions, and preventing, once and for all, the return of dictatorial and authoritarian rule.
"Now, in Iraq, the majority of the Iraqi people, the democrats and trade unionists, battle to end the occupation and build democratic foundations for a free and independent Iraq. In this work, we are hindered by reactionary, anti-social forces and terrorists.
"There are grave security problems in Iraq but those causing them are not as some have wrongly said, ‘the resistance’. They are nothing like the macquis, who bravely resisted the Nazis during the Second World War, but rather a mixture of Saddam’s loyalist and foreign terrorists, who for the first time in Iraq history, have imported the terrible weapon of the suicide bomb.
"Today Iraq is on fire. Those in Britain who fight for universal human rights and freedom have two options.
"One: You can add petrol to the flames and fuel violence, which will certainly lead to bloody civil and the end of Iraq’s territorial integrity (whether those who urge support for this so called Iraqi resistance are conscious of it or not).
"Alternatively, you can offer solidarity and support to Iraqi democrats, socialists and trade unionists. There are civil organisations of women, trade unionists and students in Iraq who present a real political opportunity to end foreign militarisation of Iraq and to isolate the forces promoting sectarian and religious violence.
"To support those fighting for a democratic, sovereign Iraq the UN resolution 1546 must be fully implemented. The transfer of power to an Iraqi interim government was a crucial step forward for Iraqis to regain full sovereignty. But the road to full sovereignty and self-determination is signposted ‘free and democratic Iraq’. Nothing less is acceptable. Nothing less will undercut the appeal of so-called resistance.
"Iraq is potentially a very wealthy country. But we are crippled by debt. It would help a great deal if the debts run by Saddam and his cronies were cancelled or substantially reduced. This money was borrowed not for the development of Iraq but for its destruction. We may be an oil rich country, but Saddam squandered much of that wealth on wars, arms and personal enrichment.
"With the help of international solidarity and yours the IFTU can play an important role in helping a sovereign and democratic Iraq to emerge from the long nightmare of Saddam.
"In all these tasks the IFTU is appealing urgently for your solidarity.
Appendix 2: UNISON demands end to harrassment of Iraqi trade unionists October 22, 2004
(21/10/04) A campaign of vilification against representatives of IFTU, the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, must stop, says the UK's biggest union UNISON.
The IFTU in Iraq has expressed deep shock and upset at the situation. The international representative of the IFTU, Abdullah Muhsin, had his speech at the recent Labour Party conference disrupted by protestors, unhappy at his warning that premature withdrawal by coalition forces would "lead at best to the Balkanisation of Iraq and or even worse a bitter civil war".
This incident was followed by accusations in print that the IFTU is collaborating with the UK government – which the group rejects as a "false and dangerous allegation".
And at last week's important European Social Forum, the harassment continued.
The hostility shown towards them was such that they had to be escorted away by Alexandra Palace security staff.
The second incident, that evening, was even uglier, according to delegates. The plenary meeting on ending the occupation of Iraq, attended by around 1,000 people, and at which Mashadani – who spent more than 10 years in one of Saddam Hussein's prisons – had been invited to speak, was hijacked by the same group of extremists who kept up a constant barrage of noise designed to prevent the meeting from taking place.
A participant at the conference was Keith Sonnet, UNISON's deputy general secretary, who witnessed what happened.
"Unfortunately they succeeded. The co-chairs attempted to get order, even taking a vote to determine support for the meeting. The will of almost all those present that the meeting should proceed, was ignored by the disrupters and their behaviour made it impossible for it to take place."
UNISON says the attacks are unfair and must stop, repeating its support for the IFTU.
"We believe the voice of Iraqi trade unions should be heard at all levels. UNISON is a broad organisation that believes in the principle of free speech.
"The people who harassed the IFTU general secretary and prevented the meeting from taking place have no interest in genuine debate or the peaceful, democratic future of the people of Iraq."
The IFTU has released a statement saying, "As we understand it, unions make their own decisions based on their own policies.
"Contrary to the allegations against the IFTU, we must state emphatically we have never voted or campaigned for the current interim Iraqi government.
"The IFTU will continue to work for organisational, political and social progress of Iraqis and will continue to work with all sections of the international labour movement that support our aims."
The IFTU was invited to address the British TUC's South West regional conference held in Croyde Bay, Devon on 22-23 April 2005.
The IFTU representative, Abdullah Muhsin, joined a number of speakers including Jon Gray, Chair of the South West TUC, Andrew May, Director Equality South West and Frances O'Grady, the TUC Deputy General Secretary.
"Most of you will, like me and my comrades in the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), have opposed the war. I don't regret doing so and I would do so again.
"I believed that the Iraqi people had other ways to overthrow Saddam Hussein's despicable fascist-type dictatorship.
"But things have changed for us Iraqis. Our new priorities are to keep Iraq intact (the risks of Iraq descending into civil war are still real), to build a strong independent and democratic trade union movement and to create a federal democratic and fully sovereign Iraq.
"The election at the end of January represented an historic breakthrough. 60 per cent of Iraq's population – 8.5 million people – went to the polls to elect a 275-member Transitional Assembly.
"Without intimidation, elections irregularities and incompetence, we would have seen an even higher turnout. But the bland expression 'went to the polls' hardly captures what happened on January 30 2005.
"Even as lines of voters were being blown up by homicidal bombers from the so-called 'resistance' they cast their ballot. One family saw their son blown up, did their duty to his body in the morning, and then insisted they vote in the afternoon in honour of his memory. These are the martyrs of the new Iraqi democracy.
"January 30 2005 was a triumph of democracy and the human sprit and humanity. Of course, the shadow of Saddam's brutal dictatorship is long. Iraq will not be transformed overnight. And now, after decades of repression, sanctions and war, we are now facing a terrorist network that actually targets trade unionists.
"A railway worker has been beheaded, his head placed on his stomach and prominently displayed. My friend and colleague, Hadi Saleh, the IFTU's International Secretary, was tortured and murdered, horribly, by remnants of Saddam's secret police. Rocket-propelled grenades have been fired at trade union headquarters.
"The international labour movement has risen as one to condemn the killing of Hadi and to extend the hand of solidarity to the IFTU. If Hadi had survived he would have been vindicated by the tremendous turnout at the elections.
"A new police force and army that are culturally different from Saddam's repressive apparatus are being trained and will be ready soon. They played a crucial role in providing security during the 30th January elections and should be commended. But the process of building new Iraqi security forces is slow. They are insufficiently trained and remain small in size. As yet they are incapable of taking full responsibility for securing Iraq’s large borders and protecting civilians and maintaining law and order. It is vital that efforts are redoubled until Iraq has security forces able to defend the country and the civilians. These forces must be beholden to no political party or individual but loyal only to the Iraqi constitution and its people.
"The political key to defeating sectarian violence is to develop a secular constitution that accommodates the aspirations of all Iraqis, including the Iraqi Kurds, for autonomy within a federal structure.
"Will Islam be the main source for the new constitution? Compromise must be reached here. Iraq has many other religious communities and discrimination against non-Muslims would be unjust.
"The success of Iraqi nation building also lies with the growth of civil society. Genuine democracy cannot be imposed from above but must be built from below, through a strong social movement composed of free political parties, non-governmental organisations, environmental agencies and free unions.
"An emergency reconstruction of Iraq – a Plan for the people of Iraq – can kick start the economy, improve the quality of life of the people and dry-up the recruitment pool for extremists who feed on poverty. Such a Plan for Iraq would help cement the UN political structure put in place after the fall of Saddam with the aim of building a new, secure and democratic Iraq.
"Many Iraqi workers remain suspicious of the very term 'union', because of the repression they endured at the hands of Saddam's 'yellow unions' – part of the state machine of terror. To remedy this, the IFTU will commence a cultural project. A bus will function as a travelling theatre visiting workplaces and communities to promote the basic tenets of trade unionism and dismantle the culture of fear.
"Right now, the new unions have little or nothing. Some have buildings, but they are in severe disrepair after the war and subsequent looting. We need computers and fax machines.
"The TUC has launched an appeal for Iraqi unions and recently held a conference to boost solidarity and help us train our members and officers.
"The IFTU is an integral part of the international trade union movement and has received support from international federations as well as many British unions.
"Free trade unionism is growing in this more fertile political climate. The IFTU now represents 12 individual unions and has a membership of at least 200,000. The new and independent teachers' union has 75,000 members in Baghdad alone and 16 branches throughout Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers Syndicate Union has about 100,000 members. We all work together for a federal, democratic and secular Iraq.
"Perhaps most significantly to left-wing critics of the war, we are mobilising to persuade the incoming Assembly to enact a progressive labour code that will allow workers to challenge the economic occupation of our country.
"The IFTU recently led a successful strike of Hotel Workers in Baghdad. In Basra the IFTU led a solidarity march with students, male and female, who have been beaten by the Islamic hardliners for holding a picnic.
"Iraq is being reborn. The lengthy negotiations between the various parties eventually delivered a deal sharing out the key positions of the state. Hopes are high that a broadly based national government can be formed. This development would further attract those political groups, which initially boycotted the political process and the elections but are now looking to join in.
"Please do not be fooled by the news. There is still too much intimidation and violence – and not only against the IFTU - but the so-called "resistance" is increasingly withering and the majority of areas in Iraq are now secure.
"A strong labour movement is vital to our goal of rebuilding Iraq on the basis of social justice and unity. We desperately need the support of progressives around the world if basic social democratic and labour values are to take root in Iraq. Progressives desperately need an example of social democracy in the region. We need each other."
Appendix 4: A short note about Labour Friends of Iraq
Lee Sustar uses the Stalinist amalgam technique to associate Labour Friends of Iraq, who have been staunch supporters of the IFTU, with the neo-conservative Weekly Standard. This is how he does it: LFIQ has invited Christopher Hitchens to debate George Galloway, Christopher Hitchens has written an article in the Weekly Standard, a neoconservative publication, therefore, hints Sustar, Labour Friends of Iraq IS neoconservative. What silly stuff!
LFIQ is a British Labour Party group set up to build direct links of solidarity between the emerging Iraqi labour movement and progressive organisations and the British labour movement. LFIQ has sharply criticised the Bush administration. Here are some articles I have written on the LFIQ website. Spot the neo-conservative title if you can.
December 16, 2004 Bush Does Not Get It; December 31, 2004 Bush Does Not Get It (Part 2): The Assault on the Geneva Convention undermines the War on Terror; January 06, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (Part 3): ‘One does not reach democracy, or freedom, through torture’; January 10, 2005 Bush Does Not Get it (4): Discharge Tracy Perkins!; January 13, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (5): Lessons from the agony of Falluja; January 17, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (6) Torture: the case for absolute prohibition; April 20, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (7): The Geneva Convention and Civilian Deaths; April 20, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (8): The Human Rights Deficit in Iraq’s Prisons; April 21, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (9) The Agony of Falluja; May 06, 2005 Bush Does Not Get It (10) Stop Bolton!’
The basic approach of Labour Friends of Iraq is captured in these statements, all taken from our website: “We've already got a doctrine and it isn't neoconservative. It is the doctrine of the international community pursuing global democratisation and development.
“We have argued that purely coercive ‘solutions’ in Iraq are a chimera. We need ‘political warfare’: capacity-building the organisations of democratic grassroots Iraq, economic reconstruction on a scale and urgency that would deserve the name ‘Marshall Plan’, a step-change in international community involvement in security, and a fierce commitment to human rights and the rule of law, all to underpin the UN-backed political process which – by the speedy achievement of full Iraqi sovereignty and withdrawal of coalition forces - remains Iraq’s only hope”.
“Send Charles Graner to jail but also sack Donald Rumsfeld. We should jail Lindy but also close Guantanamo Bay”.
Sustar calls LFIQ a ‘pro-occupation’ group. This is false. We are actually a pro-Iraqi labour, pro-Iraqi democrats and pro-Iraqi women group. We launched Labour Friends of Iraq in October 2004 to make urgent practical solidarity with the Iraqi democrats by, firstly, uniting the labour movement and the left here in Britain around support of the fledgling labour movement in Iraq. Our record:
- LFIQ members helped organise a fringe meeting of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions on 'Solidarity with Grassroots Iraq' at the 2004 Labour Party conference
- LFIQ (with kind help from the trade union USDAW) has produced a 'Toolkit for Solidarity with Grassroots Iraq'.
LFIQ has organised global solidarity campaigns with Iraqi democrats such as an to save the life of Iraqi trade unionist Nozad Ismail and a petitionfor the defence of journalists in Iraq
LFIQ has circulated model resolutions to Constituency Labour Parties on topics such as US Military Action in Fallujah which we opposed and the Defence of Iraqi Trade Unionists.
We have addressed local Labour Parties (read speech) regional conferences, and helped to bring together UK trade unionists and Iraqi trade unionists. LFIQ supporters were instrumental in organising a tour of the Birmingham trade unions, for instance, for Abdullah Muhsin, the IFTU rep in London. We have publicised vigils in support of Iraqi women's and students' rights, under vicious attack by Fundamentalists. We have promoted the work of the Jubilee Iraq Network.
- LFIQ has publicised strikes in Iraq such as the successful Baghdad Hotel Workers Strike in February 2005, and helped to network support for the strikers.
- LFIQ has pressed Government Ministers and the Prime Minister in the House of Commons for commitments on the defence of trade union rights in the new Iraq, on the treatment of detainees, and on democracy.
There are many LFIQ-supporting MPs and the number is growing. They have tabled questions and Early Day Motions (resolutions) to give the House an opportunity to show its support for grassroots Iraq. We have organised meetings for visiting Iraqi democrats in the House of Commons.
- The LFIQ web site has many hundreds of visitors each day, and growing, from the UK, Europe, America, Australia, Asia, Iraq and the Middle East. It acts as a platform for the voices of Iraqi Democrats to be heard. We post news, interviews with the political parties, speeches and policy statements and comment pieces about Iraq. It also acts as a forum for the democratic left in Britain to discuss Iraq.
Endorsements for Labour Friends of Iraq
"Labour Friends of Iraq is providing genuine solidarity to the people of Iraq. In the midst of military occupation and terror, they have provided clear political and practical support to those seeking to establish a genuine democracy and build the organs necessary for an active civil society. They deserve our support."
Harry Barnes MP and Gary Kent were amongst the first to back the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions after the fall of Saddam. More recently they have been active in Labour Friends of Iraq who are highly valued friends of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. Please support their solidarity initiatives.
Good luck to Labour Friends of Iraq! We value the work they do for the democrats in Iraq. We hope their influence will spread. They help publicise democratic voices from Iraq and with better funding there will be able to expand this important work. Please consider giving generously. In almost a year and a half writing on my blog on the Internet and working to promote democracy in Iraq I was offered help from many organizations. Most were American and only two were from outside America. Labor Friends of Iraq was one of those two.
While sections of the left have abandoned the principles of universal human rights and international solidarity, Labour Friends of Iraq is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Iraqi trade unionists, democrats and socialists in their battle to secure democracy, human rights, equality and social justice. LFIQ's concrete, practical solidarity with the left and progressive movements inside Iraq deserves our admiration and support.
Labour Friends of Iraq offer a way for Labour Party members to make a real difference. They have been stalwart defenders of the rights of trade unionists, women and democrats in the new Iraq. –
In contrast to the opportunistic 'anti-imperialists' who support the former Ba'athists and religious reactionaries 'resisting' the establishment of the institutions of democracy and civil society in Iraq, which include strong and independent trade unions, Labour Friends of Iraq are proof that there is still a left which maintains the tradition of anti-fascism, and moreover, a left which still understands the meaning of the words "international working class solidarity". They are worthy of the support of all who call themselves international socialists.
"Labour Friends of Iraq is doing invaluable work building practical solidarity with democrats and trade unionists in Iraq. It has challenged some of the unhealthy impulses of parts of the western left. I urge support for LFIQ's work."
The left too often defines itself by negative anti-Americanism and so ends up backing the most reactionary forces. Labour Friends of Iraq have shown that it is possible to avoid that trap while holding up the left traditions of internationalism, solidarity and human rights
The Left used to say that "internationalism is in our blood". To take a stand with the Iraqi and Kurdish forces who are remaking their country is to reaffirm this elementary principle of solidarity. It is also to stand against those who wantonly spill blood for chauvinism and for clericalism, as well as against the cowards and hirelings who make excuses for them.
Labour Friends of Iraq are an example of the kind of international solidarity so many parts of the left seem to have forgotten about. What I like about LFIQ above all is that they believe in giving concrete and political support to people involved in a vital struggle - for the establishment of a vibrant labour movement in a new, democratic Iraq. This is exactly the kind of solidarity that left-internationalist bloggers have been calling for - not lecturing, not taking sides on the basis of our own domestic concerns or 'adopting causes' for other reasons but solidarity in the real sense of the world - political, moral and material support and assistance. They deserve the support of all progressives.
Labour Friends of Iraq supports the labour movement and democracy in Iraq. It is as vital for the Left in Britain as it is for the people of Iraq. It shows that there is more to politics than taking sides between America and 'the resistance'. It shows that there is more to the left than the so-called 'anti-imperialism' of those who attack trade unionists. This group belongs to the best traditions of international solidarity. I urge you to support it.