A reply to the Stop The War Coalition

Submitted by AWL on 13 October, 2004 - 9:45

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the puppet Iraqi premier Allawi, at a time when the entire anti-war movement was demanding that the invitation be withdrawn, which it subsequently was.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.


Our reply

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.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/10/2004 - 10:38


who appointed u the mouth piece for iraqi workers, the federation u r trying or attempting to protect r not representative, and many iraqis r against all acts, it is not a fight for a for socialist against islam or bomber aganist the americans.

r u truely saying that women working for american occupiers r fine, u need to look at the bigger picture they r collabrating with occupation, and if a fedaration presiding over the theft of iraq and illegal practices of the americans in iraq and stopping even a vote on timetable for withdrawal from then it is they who r the traitors

why they do not fight aganist 100% foreign owned companies workers rights,we r fighting for that and lobbying while they sit on their lorals taking blood money from the americans shame on them and double shame on u r supporting them.

organised protests against them will be held and u will see alot iraqis in european socialist forum speaking against them, u sir should have a balanced view n not get sucked into one side, either u r for iraqi workers rights we iraqis dennounce a trade union who work n justify the occupation n r busy fighting for personal gain not the unemployed n the poor of iraq.

willing to give iraq on a plate so that they get to sit behind desks, these people r no better than the american occupiers

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 13/10/2004 - 22:54

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

The AWL does not defend the actions or politics of the IFTU leaders who are class-collaborationists and Stalinists.

However, we do defend the perspective of solidarity with the Iraqi working-class, some of whom happen to be organised in a union federation led by right-wing bureaucrats - the IFTU. Through this solidarity, perhaps we can help the rank-and-file of the IFTU excert some pressure on its treacherous leadership.

The AWL has also been equally - if not more - vigorous in our solidarity with the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FCWUI), whose leadership has a much more principled position and is in favour working-class organisation against the imperialist forces. Dismissing the entire Iraqi labour movement on the basis of the politics of the IFTU leadership is ridiculous.

As revolutionary internationalists, we defend and make solidarity with all workers in struggle - even those led by right-wingers and class-traitors. Many union leaders in Britain are class-collaborationist bureaucrats; how would you react if the STWC issued a statement saying that no-one should support or work with the TUC because it has a right-wing leadership? It would be insanity.

The STWC statement is an attempt to attack the perspective of solidarity with Iraqi workers in favour of one of passive support for 'the resistance.' However, making links with Iraqi workers' organisations - who are actually fighting the occupation on the ground - will do more to aid the cause of democratic anti-imperialism than passively supporting the reactionary elements of 'the resistance.'

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/10/2004 - 19:41

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You say 'treacherous' leadership. But what do you mean? I'd be interested to know if there are any examples of *treachery* in terms of actual workers' struggles. The type of involvement the IFTU has with the government is reformist, of course; it's pragmatic trade unionism - which surely goes even, or equally, for wanting to get support from Mr Blair; but 'treacherous'?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/10/2004 - 15:35

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

This is the IFTU strategy so far as I understand it,and as far as you understand it.
'The IFTU does not support the US/UK occupation. It calculates that working along with the Interim Government and the associated institutions is the best way to get some functioning political structures established in an Iraq pulverised by decades of totalitarian dictatorship, three wars, sanctions, and invasion, and so be able to lever out the occupation without falling victim to militias like the Mahdi Army or seeing Iraq torn apart in civil war.'(your leaflet for ESF)
What is the arguement against this strategy? Even if one were active in Iraq and wanting to build a revolutionary party then surely your members would have to fight for a similar strategy to guide the broad Iraqi movement.
Its a similar business re European unity: one may not like the current instutions nor their current characteristcs but they are to be built upon rather than stood outside of and shouted at.
Jane Ashworth

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/10/2004 - 13:07

Muhsin and Meshedani are members of the Iraqi Communist party, whose membership has been exiting in droves.
I ask you to visit the ICP annual exhibition end of March in London, in which they acknowledge all their comrades since the party's birth in 1938, except the Jews. This is so that their Islamists allies in the Interim Iraqi Government do not get upset!

Well done!

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 22/10/2004 - 17:28

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

No-one is defending the Iraqi Communist Party. They are a reactionary, class-collaborationist Stalinist organisation. Stalinists have always been the enemies of our movement and our tradition.

What we are defending is the perspective of international workers' solidarity against that of support for the reactionary elements of the resistance (i.e. the sectarian religious and nationalist militias). This sometimes means making links and solidarity with workers organised by the IFTU wherever they are in struggle.

This does not mean we defend or endorse the politics of the IFTU leaders or withold any of our criticisms of them. However it does mean we recognise the IFTU leaders for what they are - right-wing Stalinist bureaucrats prepared to collaborate with an imperialist occupation for spurious, mistaken reasons, but not fascists or paid imperialist agents.

We defend their right to speak, but not their politics.

Personally I believe the focus for solidarity for anyone interested in building links with Iraqi workers should be on the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FCWUI). Not only is it politically healthier, it does not have the luxury of official "government" recognition. This doesn't mean we shouldn't give solidarity to rank-and-file IFTU workers' struggles where we can, but - simply put - the FCWUI needs our solidarity more. Its representatives were not invited to speak at the ESF, were they? As well as defending the IFTU's right to speak, we should be demanding loud and clear that *all* Iraqi workers' organisations must be heard - not just those favoured by TUC and government bureaucrats and officials.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by Janine on Fri, 22/10/2004 - 18:36

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

Actually, I think there is more to support about the IFTU than their right to speak. I'd support the 'right to speak' for lots of poeple and organisations who are not even anything to do with the labour movement.

The IFTU deserves our support as a trade union, too. They are organising workers in a difficult situation, and while we do not endorse every aspect of their strategy for doing so, they are most certainly a bona fide workers' organisation - unlike many of the Iraqi organisations about which the Stop the War Coalition offers no criticism at all.

There are many trade unions in Britain which have awful leaders (much worse than Abdullah Muhsin) who do Blair's dirty work - but I'd do more than defend their right to speak, too. I'd advocate full-on solidarity with them and their struggles.


Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 22/10/2004 - 19:27

In reply to by Janine

"There are many trade unions in Britain which have awful leaders (much worse than Abdullah Muhsin) who do Blair's dirty work - but I'd do more than defend their right to speak, too. I'd advocate full-on solidarity with them and their struggles."

So would I - but that doesn't imply any species of support for the politics of the bureaucratic leaderships. In fact, full-on solidarity with workers' struggles necessitates vociferous criticism of such treacherous leaderships. If we want IFTU workers to win their struggles, shouldn't we say that ultimately they're bound to defeat as long as such a blatantly class-collaborationist leadership remains in place?

As I see it, there are a number of facts here - one, that the IFTU is a genuine trade union federation that has organised genuine struggles. Two, that it is - to a greater or lesser extent in certain areas - controlled by the ICP which is open collaboration with an imperialist occupation, and the logic of this collaboration clearly filters into the politics of many IFTU officials, most of whom are ICP members anyway. Three, that it is not the only trade union federation in Iraq despite the attempts of many to imply this. We need to be clear about all of this, in our own heads and in the material we produce as an organisation.

My only concern is that out of a legitimate desire to defend the characterisation of the IFTU as a genuine workers' organisation against supporters of the so-called "resistance," the AWL could lurch towards a defence of the IFTU leadership itself and attempts to try and explain why it has taken such a treacherous position.

We must continue to build solidarity with rank-and-file workers' struggles in Iraq wherever we can, including with IFTU organised workers. However we must remain as sharp as possible against the politics of people like Mushin and Al-Mushandi, even if we defend the organisation they represent as a genuine trade union.


Daniel Randall

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/10/2004 - 01:24

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

Once again this word 'treacherous'. This is a very serious accusation. And so far nobody has produced any *evidence* of treachery, only argument by extrapolation - the CP is dominant in the IFTU, they tend to be awful, etc.

Either someone should provide an account of the IFTU's work *in Iraq* and demonstrate through more than extrapolation that they are engaged in *treachery*, or you should shut up.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/10/2004 - 16:26

In reply to by Daniel_Randall

Daniel said:
" If we want IFTU workers to win their struggles, shouldn't we say that ultimately they're bound to defeat as long as such a blatantly class-collaborationist leadership remains in place? "

The problem with this approach is that you are jumping too far ahead. Even with a Stalinist leadership, politically the IFTU represents something so much better than the two other options that are being presented to the Iraqi working class. For socialists to be taken seriously in Iraq they must make building the trade union movement an absolute priority REGARDLESS of the politics of the official leadership. In doing so, the seeds of future struggles will be sown. If we simply make public denounciations of the IFTU leadership all we will do is drive non-IFTU Iraqi workers into the hands of their enemies. The fight against the IFTU leaders must be taken inside the union itself and not confused with opposition to the puppet government.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/10/2004 - 15:35

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

As I said in my previous comment (which nobody seems to have paid any attention to) the IFTU's CP leadership are PART of Iraq's interim government. Formally the IFTU is a seperate organisation to the Iraqi CP but it's actual politics are indisitinguishable from that party. That DOESN'T mean that the IFTU is simply a state labour front but it does mean that it's political independence is severely curtailed by it's de-facto alliance with US/UK imperialism and the Ba'ahtists and Islamists that support them. That is what is meant by those who speak of "betrayal".

As for refusing to criticuse the IFTU in public, well I don't think that it is our fault if Iraqi workers desert the IFTU because of their political record. People in Iraq probably know very well what the Iraqi CP does both in the IFTU and the interim government so our criticism of what they did at LP conference probably doesn't make that much difference. Anyway, if Iraqi workers decide they'd rather join the WCPI's federation (as many unions in the Basra area seem likely to do) then that is hardly a bad thing.

I support the British trade unions' efforts to promote solidairty with the IFTU because they are a genuine trade union federation and, political mistakes aside, probably do much valuble work. But building the "third camp" in Iraq involves more than just getting workers to join unions. It also requires formulating independent, socialist politics, so we shouldn't be afraid of speaking out when the bureaucrats do bad things.

Dan Nichols

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.