The past couple of months have seen a rise both of strikes and workers’ organisation in Iraq, and of attacks by the ultra-Islamist or neo-Ba’thist militias on trade unionists.
Yet the British labour movement and the left is still dawdling and fumbling on the issue of solidarity with the new Iraqi labour movement.
There have been lots of scattered initiatives, meetings, and activities. There is no concerted campaign. There is no political coherence.
The biggest initiative is the TUC Iraq Appeal, launched following a motion by the lecturers’ union NATFHE to the TUC Congress in September 2004. The TUC’s Iraqi workers’ solidarity campaign committee held its first meeting on 22 December. But the committee was set up on the basis of invites to union general secretaries, which mostly were not discussed even on the unions’ National Executives, let alone by the membership.
That the top union officials are doing something is good; but it is not enough. They are doing it in their own way, slowly, sluggishly, seeking cooperation with the Blair government rather than promoting independent working-class initiative. An effective, united, rank-and-file activist campaign is necessary, if only to provide the spur without which the TUC campaign will do very little.
On what political basis? Solidarity with the new labour and women’s movements in Iraq against all their enemies, Islamist, neo-Ba’thist, US/UK, or UN-backed Iraqi Interim Government. Activity to raise funds for the labour and women’s movements, publicise their activities, encourage direct links, and promote trade-union and workers’ delegations from Britain to Iraq and from Iraq to Britain.
Despite much less favourable conditions as regards general labour movement sentiment and policy, the Iraq Labor Solidarity Fund in the USA and Solidarité Irak in France have achieved much more than has been done in Britain. The British labour movement and left lag behind, not because of unavoidable circumstances, but because of factionalism, narrow-mindedness, and division.
The support groups for the miners’ strike twenty years ago united activists of many shades — from middle-of-the-road or right-wing Labour through to anarchist or syndicalist — asking only that they were willing to work together to support the miners.
In building an effective Iraqi workers’ solidarity campaign we should take that model as our guide.
It should be open both to those who believe that support for the new Iraqi labour movement can be combined with some sort of support for the resistance militias and to those who think that opposition to the Islamists and neo-Ba’thists justifies some sort of “critical support” for the US/UK occupation.
However contradictory or confused their ideas, however atypical they are of the “pro-resistance” people, who as a species support those who kill Iraqi trade unionists, young “anti-imperialists” who sympathise with the Iraqi labour movement can both make a valuable practical contribution and learn a lot in doing so. We ask only that they are willing to work together to build workers’ solidarity.
The campaign as such cannot be tied to either a pro-Blair or a pro-resistance stand. It must ask all who take part that they do not conduct themselves as propagandists for their pro-“resistance”, or “hail Blair and Bush”, ideas in a way that disrupts the common task of building solidarity with the Iraqi labour movement.
The issues should be debated, openly and vigorously; but we need a solidarity campaign, not a scattering of sectarian grouplets, and not a debating society.
Time may be short. The US academic Juan Cole, a regular expert commentator on Iraq, puts it sharply: “the situation [in Iraq] has deteriorated every single month for the past nearly two years.” It is very unlikely that the 30 January elections will halt that deterioration.
Iraq is being torn apart by rival anti-worker forces: the Shia Islamists who look likely to do best in the 30 January elections; the Sunni Islamists and neo-Ba’thists who are trying (with some success) to wreck those elections; the Kurdish warlord parties; and increasingly demoralised and brutalised US/UK forces of occupation.
There is another pole, the new workers’ movement. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime gave it a chance to grow. But immediately it came under pressure from its various enemies. The movement has grown, but so has the pressure. All its enemies enjoy vast resources in support from outside Iraq. To defeat them the Iraqi workers’ movement needs international support, too.
We cannot know how long even the small measure of freedom that the new Iraqi labour movement has today will continue. We have let nearly two years pass without coming together to build an effective, united solidarity campaign. Will we let that delay continue until it is too late?
Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty appeal to all activists and groups who support the new Iraqi labour movement to agree to meet to discuss forming a broad united campaign.