At the end of 2004 and beginning of 2005 there was a strike wave in Iraq, which affected many sectors of industry. The fledgling labour movement is beginning to raise its head.
But it is still organisationally weak. It faces many dangers, both from the US/UK occupation which keeps Saddam’s labour laws on the books, and from the Islamist and neo-Ba’thist “resistance” gangs, which have killed and kidnapped trade unionists.
Despite the urgent need for solidarity, it was only after a lot of dawdling and fumbling that the British labour movement began to organise for the Iraqi workers. The biggest solidarity initiative is the TUC Iraq Appeal. Its committee runs on the basis of invites to union general secretaries, but it is complemented by a rank-and-file organising committee, Iraq Union Solidarity.
The influential Stop the War Coalition, taking its lead from the Socialist Workers’ Party, has been dismissive of the Iraqi trade unions or — in relation to the Communist-Party-led Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions — outright hostile. That hostility is based on favouring the Iraqi “resistance”, even though the victory of the totalitarians who lead the “resistance” would create conditions in which trade unions could not exist. Yet commitment to the working class and to the creation, growth, and education of a labour movement is a basic principle for socialists. Under pressure Stop the War has passed resolutions to support Iraqi trade unionists, but has yet to make concrete solidarity.
So there are still many political issues to discuss and clarify about what should be the proper attitude of trade unionists and socialists to the re-emerging labour movement in Iraq. This pamphlet is a contribution to the debate.
In Iraq there are two main trade union networks, to which not all unions are affiliated. In the north there are trade unions linked to the major Kurdish parties. There is also the rump of the old Ba’thist federation, the GFTU and a splinter from it (GFITU) controlled by the Shia Islamist SCIRI.
The largest “real” federation is the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), in which the leading political force is the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). Another grouping is the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). The Union of the Unemployed of Iraq (UUI) also organises under that banner. The leading political force here is the anti-Stalinist Worker-communist Party of Iraq.
Controversy in the UK labour movement has centred on the role played by the IFTU, and the Iraqi Communist Party. Here we print a critique of an article by Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi leftist living in the UK, who thinks the ICP/IFTU are essentially “quislings”. Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty have many criticisms of the ICP and IFTU, but we insist that the IFTU is a trade-union organisation which has a right to organise and receive solidarity.
Other controversy focuses on some Blairites and ex-Marxists who believe that solidarity with the Iraqi trade unions necessarily implies support for what Bush and Blair are trying to do in Iraq, because this is the best chance for Iraqi workers to win the necessary democratic conditions to organise. We reject that conclusion too.
There is an alternative, independent working-class, line to make solidarity with the emerging Iraqi labour movement and at the same time to oppose the continuing US/UK occupation and the Sunni-supremacist, Islamist and ex-Ba’thist “resistance”. This pamphlet explains our approach.
Despite all the differences, we believe that a solidarity campaign could be open both to those who believe that support for the new Iraqi labour movement can be combined with some sort of support for the “resistance” militias as well as to those who think that opposition to the Islamists and neo-Ba’thists justifies some sort of “critical support” for the US/UK occupation. For the campaign, what’s crucial is that individuals and groups are willing to work together to build workers’ solidarity and that the campaign is not tied to either a pro-Blair or a pro-resistance stand.
We hope this pamphlet can help inspire such a campaign.