Dead Men Left

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Trade unions: basic principles

(With apologies to Bad Matthew.)

Some appear to jump up and down and declare the anti-war movement to have abandoned all principles, collapsed into amorality, and forgotten basic solidarity on the basis of a solitary Iraqi union member speaking at the Labour Party conference.

This shouldn't be so difficult. When trade unionists on the London docks struck in support of Enoch Powell's racism in 1968, they didn't deserve our support. When some Iraqi trade unionists support the occupation of their country, they don't deserve our support.

The point is this: someone may be a member of a trade union. It doesn't stop them talking nonsense. If IFTU wish to support the occupation of Iraq, they are wrong to do so; what's worse, they are being cynically manipulated by the British government to divide the union movement. Many Iraqi trade unionists do not support the occupation. Most Iraqis, it seems, do not. There is a clear political divide, and it is up to us as socialists and radicals to decide who is most correct - not blindly follow a union badge.


When London dockers' struck in defence of their imprisoned comrades in 1972, defying Tory anti-trade union laws, they deserved our support: even those who, a few years previously, had marched for Powell. When Iraqi trade unionists stage illegal strikes in defiance of the occupation authorities, they deserve our support: even those who claim to support the occupation. Each case rests on its political merits, not on an appeal to "solidarity" above all else: especially not the specious "international solidarity" of the B52 liberals. In Iraq's case, the occupation completely determines political life: how organisations relate to and deal with that occupation is their most important characteristic.

In other news, I notice that a particularly pompous scion of the pro-war "left" has been rather swiftly dismembered by Lenin at the Tomb.