Iraq: time for a workers' solidarity campaign

Submitted by AWL on 8 April, 2004 - 9:17

A big international campaign to organise solidarity with Iraq's new trade unions, unemployed movements, and women's organisations is an urgent necessity.
Over the last year, a new labour movement has developed in Iraq. In oilfields, oil refineries, the railways, factories, and elsewhere, workers have organised trade unions and sometimes won victories by removing Ba'thist managers or improving wages.

But the threats and difficulties for that labour movement have grown, too. The US/UK occupation keeps Saddam Hussein's 1987 anti-union law on the books and wants to open the way for the privatisation of everything above ground level in Iraq. Under conditions imposed by the occupation, the labour movement still lacks offices, equipment, telephones, and means of communication.

If "resistance" groups like the followers of the Shia fundamentalist Muqtada Sadr or the various Sunni-sectarian or Ba'thist organisations gain the upper hand - and none of them will do that without first winning a civil war against the others - then they will crush the new labour movement as brutally as the workers' movement and the left were crushed in Islamist Iran or under Iraq's old regime.

The chances of a sovereign, independent, democratic, and secular Iraq depend on the Iraqi labour movement and on how much international support it can get.

Alex Gordon, an activist in the rail union RMT who visited Iraq last year and has spoken about it at many trade-union meetings since, has called on the British labour movement "to make defence of international labour standards in Iraq a central demand on the UK government" and "for practical solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists including direct links between British and Iraqi trade unions and trades councils".

Abdullah Muhsin, British representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, notes:

"On 6 December 2003, US troops raided IFTU's temporary headquarters and arrested eight IFTU leaders who were subsequently released without charge. The offices have been vandalised and closed down by the US troops and remain out of use.

"The IFTU currently has no permanent office premises for meetings or storage and its elected officials are unpaid. Apart from the generous donation of laptop computers by the British trade union movement, we are in dire need of material resources; premises, financial assistance for travel, training and education.

"The critical importance of the IFTU's role in establishing a democratic society in Iraq has been underlined by the slaughter of innocent Iraqis in Baghdad and Karbala".

The IFTU has called on "all labour movement activists to re-double their demands for international standards, and in particular the core Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to be applied immediately in Iraq".

Dashy Jamal, British representation of the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq, states: "More than ever, the workers' movement has an urgent need for solidarity and support. The workers in Iraq need that solidarity to extricate their soicety from war, hunger, and mass unemployment, and to gain recognition of workers' rights and liberties".

According to the UUI, "the 'resistance' of the ethnocentric and Islamist groups is reactionary... 'Occupation' and 'resistance' are two poles of the same reactionary camp... The real basis for struggle against the USA's new world order is the workers, the proletarians, and their programme, liberty and equality".

"No Sweat", which campaigns for workers' rights and against sweatshop conditions worldwide, is busy approaching trade unions and other groups in Britain to build a broad solidarity movement for the Iraqi workers' and women's movement. Read No Sweat's campaign leaflet about Iraq at http://nosweat.org.uk/files/Iraqsol1.pdf, or get in touch at admin@nosweat.org.uk.

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