TUC Congress 2006 Question and answer session with the Foreign Secretary
Sue Rogers of the NASUWT who was a key member of the LFIQ delegation to Iraq earlier this year raised the independence of the Iraqi labour movement with Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett at the TUC
Mrs Beckett replied in a very helpful manner
She said: I share your regret and concern that at present we are not seeing as free a role in operation for trade unions in Iraq as we would like to. It is an issue that we raise with the now elected Iraqi government, it is an issue we will continue to raise, and we will continue to try and work to see that trades unions can operate as freely in Iraq as they do in the United Kingdom
LFIQ welcomes this and will pursue the issue with its supporters in Parliament and elsewhere
This is the text of the Q and A with Mrs Beckett
Jimmy Kelly (Transport and General Workers’ Union): Thank you, Brendan. Yes, the question is Iraq and indeed the context for the question is the slaughter of so many thousands of innocent Iraqi people. We do not even know the full extent of that slaughter on those innocent people in Iraq. The other context for the question, of course, is the growth in the anti-war movement and indeed the role of our own trade union movement in the anti-war movement. The specific question, therefore, is: is there anything that your Government now regrets over the Government’s decision to invade Iraq and, if so, what?
Brendan Barber: Thank you, Jimmy. Sue Rogers, NASUWT?
Sue Rogers (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers): Foreign Secretary, the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq shows the immediate revival of the trade union movement as a free and independent movement. These unions in fact bring together Iraqi workers across the religious and sectarian divide and are therefore a very cohesive force for uniting and stabilising Iraq, but these unions are struggling against legal constraints. At the moment Saddam’s Decree 150, which actually forbad unions to be formed in the public sector, is still on the statute books. In addition, in August 2005 Decree 8750 was passed by the government which sequestrated trade union funds and therefore limited the effectiveness and the ability of trade unions to organise and to develop. Their life is difficult enough as my friend from the General Federation of Iraq Workers (who are here with us now) would testify.
So, I have to ask: what is the Foreign Office doing to try to get the Iraqi government to remove these decrees and to support the growth of the trade union movement in Iraq?
Margaret Beckett: First of all, Jimmy, you said was there anything at all that the Government now regrets. Of course, any military action is bound to lead to deaths on both sides and it is bound to be the case that there is regret for those deaths. It would be extraordinary if it were otherwise. So, of course, there are things that I regret. I certainly regret the fact that the tenor of debate about Iraq in this country has become of a kind that no longer recognises almost, in some cases, that there was anything wrong with the regime of Saddam Hussein. I think there is a balance here. Of course there are things that give us concern, of course there have been episodes of misbehaviour, of things being done that should never have been done, as well as, tragically, the inevitable casualties that come with conflict, but there are many things that I do not regret.
I do not regret the fact that when I talk to the Foreign Minister of Iraq about the decisions that have to be taken at the United Nations in the near future, he says: ‘Of course I have to take that to my parliament. I will not be able to agree that without the consent of my parliament.’ I do not regret the fact that we are seeing increasingly now in many parts of Iraq the growth of a peaceful and more secure, and more stable, regime within which there is more freedom for people to express themselves and also we are seeing a repair and restoration, and in many cases improvement, of infrastructure, but there is a huge amount still to do.
One of the things I very much regret is that there are so many people operating in Iraq, whether they are or are not native Iraqis, whose zeal for destruction is such that they almost want to wreck anything that can be achieved, so that we saw infrastructure repairs in the early days being destroyed by people who claimed to speak for those who such repairs were supposed to try and help.
Yes, of course, these are very difficult decisions. They are decisions about which often there is violent disagreement, but I hope in this Congress and in this movement we can all accept that decisions of that gravity and those dimensions are not taken lightly and they are not taken without people trying to consider very hard what they see on balance at that time as the right thing to do, and weighing it very carefully against their conscience.
Then Sue asked specifically about trades unions in Iraq. Yes, I accept one of the things that has been a potential sign for hope is both the re-emergence and the way people are working with the Iraqi trades unions, and I think it is an amazing tribute to the courage and tenacity of those Iraqi trade unionists that they clung to their principles and continue to try and work and organise through the days of real terror in Iraq.
I share your regret and concern that at present we are not seeing as free a role in operation for trade unions in Iraq as we would like to. It is an issue that we raise with the now elected Iraqi government, it is an issue we will continue to raise, and we will continue to try and work to see that trades unions can operate as freely in Iraq as they do in the United Kingdom