By Colin Foster
There are some signs of the hard-pressed labour movement in Iraq reviving, especially a strike by textile workers in Baghdad. For the 15 December elections, though, things look bad.
The Communist Party (the leading force in the Iraqi Workers’ Federation) has joined a coalition behind Iyad Allawi, former Ba’thist, former CIA favourite, and prime minister in the 2004-5 Interim Government.
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq and its Iraq Freedom Congress refuse to contest the election because “ethnic and sectarian militias are taking control of the cities”.
Incongruously, the WPI/ IFC are also boosting agitation for “US troops out now”. They have always had that slogan, but they used to link it with a call for UN troops instead.
They still almost always link “troops out” with the call to “defeat the Islamic gangs”, also “now”. Since no-one in the world could defeat Iraq’s various Islamist militias “now”, the link makes it clear that the “now” cannot be read literally. The WPI does not actually believe in a stages theory: first (“now”) get the US out, then tackle the Islamists (“after Al Qaeda, our turn next”?)
When I interviewed Yanar Mohammed of WPI earlier this year (Solidarity 3/77), she explained:
“By ending the occupation we don’t mean military clashes. The beginnings will be political, civil disobedience, scandalising them... [I.e. it’s not a “now” thing]. The objective is not just ending the occupation. It needs to be done by a workers’ movement”.
Another important Iraqi labour organisation whose slogans are used by some leftists to give credit to a pro-”resistance” line is the Basra-based General Union of Oil Employees, which has recently expanded into an Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions.
When Ewa Jasiewicz, who worked with the GUOE in Basra for several months, arrived back in Britain in early 2004, she told us at the first meeting where she spoke that the attitude of Hassan Jumaa, leader of the GUOE, was: “The occupation is like a headache, but Saddam was like death”.
As the brutality, arrogance, corruption, and economic follies of the occupation have progressively antagonised Iraqis, the GUOE/ IFOU’s stance has shifted. It now says “troops out now”.
This too, however, is not quite what it seems. Though the GUOE/ IFOU is not controlled by the official Shia alliance which has the majority in Iraq’s Transitional Government, it is much closer to it than the IWF/ IFTU or FWCUI are. Its last strike, for more oil revenues to go to the south rather than Baghdad, was strongly supported (or, on some accounts, actually initiated by) the provincial governor in Basra.
The IFOU’s position must surely reflect the exasperation of its base, but also be part of the political “division of labour” in the Shia alliance.
While one part of that alliance (prime minister Jaafari) asks the UN to extend the US/UK forces’ “mandate”, another (led by Moqtada al-Sadr) demands “troops out now”. Probably there are real tensions; but both camps can benefit from the divided message.
Al-Sadr can say “troops out now” without fearing that he will be pitched into immediate all-out war with the Sunni-supremacists; Jaafari can can keep the protection of US troops while simultaneously having them prodded away to minimise their pressure on him.
Workers need to oppose both camps.