Dead Men Left

Monday, October 11, 2004

"International solidarity" ho ho ho

Excellent post at Fisherblog on the Iraqi trade union movement. It covers the speech at the Labour Party conference of a representative from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unionists (IFTU). Jack Dromey, Blairite bureaucrat par excellence and number two at the TGWU, later commented on this emotional moment:

“We listened to the voice of the Iraqi trade union movement, 200,000 strong and rapidly growing. Ultimately we stayed true to our policy, which is that we want British disengagement from Iraq. In terms of how we disengage, we listen to the voice of working people in Iraq. If our brothers and sisters at the sharp end [who] are trying to do their best in desperately difficult circumstances say to us, 'let us decide', it is absolutely wrong for us here in Brighton to determine the future for trade unionists in the frontline in Baghdad.”

I can almost see the tear being wiped from his misty eyes; for this tame Iraqi was arguing against a motion calling for the withdrawal of British troops. His appearance allowed a motley selection of bureacrats the opportunity to ignore their union's policy, vote against a motion calling for an early date on British withdrawal. Two weeks previously, the Trades Union Congress had passed an almost identical motion by a large majority.

Fisherblog rightly notes:

The Iraqi trade unionist at the conference who spoke to some delegates at a fringe meeting was Abdullah Muhsin, a London based leader of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The IFTU is not the only body in Iraq claiming to represent workers across a range of unions. There is also the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). There may be others.

Whereas the IFTU has sought to advance the cause of trade unions primarily by seeking close and broadly cooperative links with the provisional authority, and established trade union federations and states in the West and elsewhere, the FWCUI has focused on organising and supporting militant action by Iraqi workers themselves in their workplaces and communities. For example, in March the FWCUI threatened a strike of bank employees in order to obtain the release of 17 female cashiers who had been, in their view, unjustly arrested and detained by the state police. All the cashiers were subsequently released without charge.

The IFTU wants a phased withdrawal of troops over an as yet indeterminate timescale, the FWCUI wants independent class mobilisation to force immediate withdrawal.

At this early stage in the emergence of the post-Sadam Iraqi labour movement neither body can plausibly claim to really represent the views of all 200,000 trade unionists in Iraq – for the simple reason that internal democratic selection and representation processes are still developing and taking shape. At present, we simply do not know the extent to which the pronouncements of the leaders of the IFTU are truly representative of the broad labour movement there.

IFTU is dominated by the Iraqi Communist Party, the majority fraction of which now participates in the Interim Government. Abdullah Muhsen has written in favour of Ayad Allawi's puppet government:

The invitation to the interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi to address the Labour party conference is a opportunity for those who honourably opposed the war to extend support to Iraqi democrats who are trying, in the most difficult circumstances, to construct a vibrant civil society.

("Difficult circumstances" I particularly like.) The Worker-Communist Party of Iraq is suitably sarcastic about all this, pointing out that

While people were “honourably” opposing the war, Allawi and other current members of the Interim government were having meetings and agreements with the USA to attack Iraq and create a bloodbath for Iraqi civilians. This is a shameless insult to all those who fought against this war and its countless victims.

They also describe Allawi as a "Ba'athist thug", where Muhsen prefers to claim that "[m]any decent people joined the Ba'ath party" and ignore Allawi's dealings with the CIA. Muhsen performs a very useful role for the Labour leadership, tugging on long-forgotten heart-strings of "solidarity" to bring an arrant Labour conference rapidly into line. Never mind Nick Cohen: as a "left-wing" apologist for the occupation, Muhsen is supreme.