Iraq: the workers' movement and the resistance

Submitted by AWL on 26 July, 2004 - 12:01

There is a growing workers movement in Iraq, and the "armed resistance" is its mortal enemy.
There are 3 union groups in Iraq - the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) - including the Unemployed Union of Iraq (UUI); the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) and the General Federation of Unions in Iraq (GFUI).

The General Federation is the reconstructed Ba'athist state union body, anti-working class, and a fake "yellow union".

The FWCUI is led by the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq. It does not recognise the Interim Governing Council (IGC). It has organised many demonstrations of unemployed workers, and other campaigns, and has quite a developed set of demands and policies, including a draft Labor law.

The IFTU is led by, but includes currents other than, the Communist Party of Iraq. It recognises the IGC, and in turn is recognised by the IGC.

Relations between the IFTU and the FWCUI are poor, with considerable antagonism on the part of the WCPI, on the basis of the CPI connection and the CPI's membership of the IGC.

There is an urgent need for a unifying set of demands for the interests of workers in both union federations, including around ending the occupation, and a sincere effort by the leaders of the FWCUI to make common cause with the ranks of the IFTU.

Mobilising solidarity with Iraqi workers is complicated by this split. The main discussions and attempts at resolution have been on the part of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, at meetings in Jordan late in 2003, early 2004. The unfortunate presence of the Iraqi General Federation of Trade Unions complicated matters. The GFTU is not a genuine union body, but its presence was required by the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions, especially the Syrian union body, which is itself state run. The FWCUI sees the IGC recognition of the IFTU in the same light, as state endorsement, making it not being a real union.

However left union delegates from Britain, the Fire Brigades Union and the RMT, have toured Iraq, and visited IFTU affiliated factories and workplaces, and have been convinced that these are independent unions. Further, the large and significant Southern Oil Company union considered affiliation to both Federations and chose the IFTU.

US Labor Against the War is conducting an energetic solidarity campaign in the USA and deals with this split between the Iraqi unions by sharing its fund-raising results 50:50 between the 2 federations.

The picture is not entirely clear, but in the face of the 2 main forces in Iraq, the US Occupation and the Islamist/Ba'athist reactionary armed resistance, a third way is desperately needed for the people of Iraq, and by the workers in particular. Tariq Ali said in [the Socialist Alliance magazine] Seeing Red, there are no signs of hope in any movements developing in the Middle East. Reaction abounds he says, and a secular movement is needed.

In Nasariyah workers in aluminuim and sanitary supply factories recently defended their factories from being commandeered by the Islamist militia, as well as preventing occupying forces from remaining in residential areas. The role of the Mahdi army and al-Sadr have been explained in detail by WCPI authors (A week of war of terrorists -…;)...
Iraqi independence after the US occupation could see the replacement of one murderous dictatorship - Ba'athist, by another - Islamist. Socialists around the world have a responsibility to do all we can to strengthen working class forces and supporters of secularism and freedom in Iraq. Or else they could end up jailed, tortured and murdered. Such a tragedy happened in Iran after the fall of the US backed Shah, when the Islamists took power.

It is inexcusable for working class internationalists to say that these things do not matter, with reasoning such as "sorting out the political ideologies among those in the struggle (against the occupation) has to be decided by the people. This is after all what it means to support the right of nations to self-determination."(Pip Hinman, in Seeing Red, March 2004, p. 15)

Self-determination means that the people of a country should be free to choose their own government without coercion or intervention from other governments, armies or states. It is very surprising that a socialist could claim that support for working class interests in internal struggles in other countries represents a violation of the rights of national self-determination.

There are other arguments for ignoring the reactionary nature of the "armed resistance" and consequently neglecting to provide real solidarity to the Iraqi workers' movement.

The main argument is that the USA is so much greater an evil that all mobilisation must be directed against the USA and its allies. The USA may be a greater evil in the sense that it has such vast military power and potential to intervene almost anywhere on the planet, supporting any kind of hideous dictators that will accommodate their interests. But the Islamists are a greater evil in a different sense. For workers, socialists and any oppositionists, every moment of public life is potentially dangerous if they do not submit. For women every moment of public and private life is potentially dangerous with the added power of men in the family backed by Sharia law. It is not only pointless, it is not moral to rate the evil that we will choose as greater or lesser amongst these two. To choose the "armed resistance" as the lesser evil, is to say that if the people of Iraq must suffer the risk of Islamist rule, then that is the price they pay for thwarting US imperialism in Iraq to the benefit of anyone else threatened by the USA.

Another argument is that to condemn the Islamists is to logically have to support the occupation. This is again the logic of "lesser evilism" and "two camps". If we recognise that the Iraqi working class and other secular forces are struggling to assert themselves in Iraq, then there is a third way, that is neither the "armed resistance" nor the US occupation.

The beginnings of working class organisation in Iraq are fragile because of the dangerous opponents they face, but the WCPI is hundreds of times bigger and more influential in the Iraqi working class, than the SA is in Australia, in a roughly similar size population. The secular movement which is needed in order to develop the basis for a socialist future is struggling to assert itself, and it needs international working class solidarity.

It does matter who ends the occupation. If the Islamists end it, they will triumph over the people of Iraq.

If the workers movement can play a strong role in ending the occupation and can struggle for their demands in the creation of a new Iraqi government, then they can at least win rights and freedoms that will allow them to maintain their organisations and develop their struggles. They could be a beacon and an inspiration to the masses of the Middle East that there is a way out of the reactionary mess.

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