The officers of the Stop The War Coalition have issued a statement denouncing the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (pictured), which was printed in the Morning Star of 11 October 2004. Here are the statement and a reply.
Stop The War Coalition officers' statement
Since the bloody and illegal invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq by US and British armies, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) has consistently called for the withdrawal of foreign troops and the ending of the occupation. This position commands the support of the great majority of the British people, and was recently reaffirmed as the unanimous position of the TUC. It also commands the support of the majority of the Iraqi people, as evidenced by opinion polling carried out by the occupation forces themselves.
At the same time StWC has always refrained from taking any position on the internal development of Iraq, since this is solely the preserve of the Iraqi people themselves. Affiliates of the Coalition have, of course, developed their own links with Iraqi organisations, according to their particular policies or spheres of interest.
However, the recent activity of the representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) in Britain compels the StWC to make its position clear. In recent weeks the IFTU representative has:
* Urged that the Labour Party conference welcome the puppet Iraqi premier Allawi, at a time when the entire anti-war movement was demanding that the invitation be withdrawn, which it subsequently was.
* Shared a platform with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the UK government's "human rights envoy" to Iraq Ann Clwyd, respectively a leading architect of and an indefatigable apologist for the war and the occupation.
* Most shamefully of all, energetically lobbied the trade union affiliates of the Labour Party to oppose a motion, reflecting the union's own agreed policies, calling on Blair to set an early date for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
In this last undertaking the IFTU representative worked as the direct instrument of the government and the Labour Party apparatus, which prepared and distributed his statements to delegates and ensured him access to union delegations. Indeed, the statement by the IFTU representative issued by the Party was not merely supportive of the continued military occupation of his country, but could also be read as supportive of the original invasion of Iraq.
There is little doubt that this intervention played a significant part in persuading some major trade unions (and perhaps constituency delegates too) to abandon their agreed policy on the occupation (affirmed at the TUC just two weeks earlier).
It is understandable that British trade unions should wish to express their support to the working class of Iraq in its extremely difficult struggles, and the StWC has always encouraged such support insofar as it falls within our political remit. The IFTU is one of a number of trade union and workers' organisations in Iraq, distinguished from others by its support for the Allawi government and, it is now apparent, for the foreign occupation on which that government depends for its existence.
The IFTU has, however, attempted to divide the anti-war movement from the trade unions by taking advantage of the goodwill towards it shown by a number of unions for honourable reasons of solidarity, the lack of understanding of the actual nature of different organisations in Iraq, and the climate of pre-election pressure from the government on trade union delegations.
As a result, several affiliated trade unions at the Labour Party conference voted for a policy of effectively open-ended licence for the occupation and against the early withdrawal of British troops.
The StWC hopes that the leading unions will restate their previous policy of an end to the occupation. The coming weeks and months are likely to see still bloodier battles within Iraq, with a growing number of deaths both of Iraqis and of British and US soldiers. It remains most likely that the war and the occupation will remain the dominant political issues in the months leading up to the next British general election. The trade union movement must find a voice on these developments and cannot remain within the confines of the statement agreed at the Labour Party conference.
With regard to the IFTU, the StWC condemns its political collaboration with the British government, exemplified at the Labour Party conference and its view that genuinely independent trade unionism in Iraq can develop under a regime of military occupation (including the daily bombardment of major Iraqi cities) by the USA and Britain.
The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends.
The Stop The War Coalition officers claim that they have "always refrained from taking any position on the internal development of Iraq, since this is solely the preserve of the Iraqi people themselves." So, they make no comment about suicide bombs killing children; or hostage-taking and beheading (of Iraqis as well as foreigners); or attempts to impose sharia law; or the Mahdi Army's destruction of an entire township of 10,000 people populated mainly by gypsies; or the political assassination by Islamists of left-wing activists like Muhammad Abdul Rahim, in Kut; or their killing of large numbers of women for practising professions or working as interpreters or with foreign companies; or their imposition of veiling on women, and bans on alcohol, wherever they dominate.
The one thing that forces the STWC leaders to break their claimed silence is some manoeuvring at Labour Party conference.
The inescapable logic of what the STWC leaders are saying here is that the IFTU's actions are worse than killing innocent people, and that union bureaucrats (what the IFTU representative did was, basically, act like a union bureaucrat) are worse than Islamist or sectarian militias.
We disagree with what the IFTU did at the conference. Yes, the anti-Blair motion had deficiencies in wording. Yes, some of the speeches proposing it seemed foolishly to suggest that everything would be just fine if only Iraq were handed over to the Islamist militias.
But to get the conference to vote for a Blairite "NEC statement" allowed Blair to come out of the conference with an effective "mandate" to continue backing Bush in Iraq. Bush is collaborating with some Islamist militias while he fights others with brutal and arrogant methods, indifferent to civilian casualties, whose political effect is only to boost groups like the Mahdi Army. (It was a small group before the USA decided to try to "take it out").
The occupation's tolerance for trade union organisation is temporary, partial, and unstable; its dedication to the forced privatisation of Iraq is relentless.
We disagree with the IFTU's rallying to Allawi and the Interim Government as a "lesser evil" than Sadr, just as we disagree with the British unions' rallying to Blair as the "lesser evil" than Howard (with less excuse, since the Tories are much less scary than Sadr).
But we continue to support the IFTU as a trade-union organisation, as we continue to support Unison and the TGWU as trade-union organisations.
We also support other trade-union organisations in Iraq, like the Union of the Unemployed and the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions, which aim to build a "third pole" in opposition to both the Islamist resistance militias on one side, and Allawi and the occupation forces on the other (while we disagree with the UUI's and FCWU's dismissal of the IFTU as a stooge organisation).
The STWC leaders go on from their specific denunciation of the IFTU to much worse: "With regard to the IFTU, the StWC condemns its political collaboration with the British government, exemplified at the Labour Party conference and its view that genuinely independent trade unionism in Iraq can develop under a regime of military occupation (including the daily bombardment of major Iraqi cities) by the USA and Britain."
The STWC leaders claimed not to presume tell Iraqis anything about the internal affairs of Iraq - but now they tell Iraqi workers that it is impossible to build independent trade unions under the occupation! So, presumably, not even worth trying!
That would explain why at the STWC conference in March, they opposed and defeated motions calling for solidarity with the democratic and secular forces in Iraq. They said then that STWC could give no preference to the democratic and secular forces over the Islamists. Now they say that the democratic and secular forces cannot exist!
In fact independent trade unions have already been built in occupied Iraq. They will continue to be built. Independent trade unions have been built in many countries under foreign occupation, and often played an important role in colonial liberation struggles. Independent trade unions were built in South Africa under apartheid.
If independent trade unions and workers' parties cannot be built to fight to end the occupation, then who is going to end the occupation? Someone else, obviously, not trade unions or workers' parties. People who want trade unions had better hope that whoever stops the occupation and takes power is willing to let them set up "genuinely independent trade unions" afterwards, but it's not a good bet. Remember the experience of Iran. Many leftists thought that the Khomeiny movement was a genuine democratic movement, with just a superficial religious coloration. We were wrong. Khomeiny in power crushed independent trade unions, and the left, even more ferociously than the Shah had done.
The STWC leaders' statement just sets them up as able to denounce any trade union which it does not like as not a real trade union, because (they've already told us) real trade unions are not possible under military occupation. And if it is impossible to develop genuinely independent trade unions in Iraq, then what is it possible to develop? Genuinely independent sectarian militias! Genuinely independent movements for an Islamic state!
In their final sentence, the STWC leaders even more openly contradict their claim not to comment on the "internal developments of Iraq". After making the comment on "internal developments" that independent trade unions are not possible, they conclude by endorsing the "struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary" against the occupation. Issued at almost the same time as the ceremonial beheading of Ken Bigley, this is a statement of specific support for the terroristic tactics and philosophy of the Islamist militias, and the "internal development" by which those militias hope to gain supremacy over the trade unions and other democratic and secular organisations in Iraq.