By Martin Thomas
Iraq has a growing new labour movement — independent trade unions, unemployed movements, women’s organisations, and working-class political parties.
In oilfields, oil refineries, the railways, factories, and elsewhere, workers have organised trade unions and sometimes won victories by removing Ba’thist managers or improving wages.
Different strands in the Iraqi labour movement have sharp political differences between themselves. But all the main groups agree on two points:
That Iraq must gain democratic self-rule, free of US/UK military occupation;
And that the various “resistance” militias are not a national liberation movement. They are reactionary groups, offering only an ugly future of communal division and conflict within Iraq, and clerical dictatorship.
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq states:
“The freedom-loving people of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Iraq struggle to separate their ranks from both poles of this conflict and to establish and consolidate a third camp as a humanist, liberationist and progressive alternative which stands up to both poles of reaction and terrorism”.
The Union of the Unemployed of Iraq declares:
“The ‘resistance’ of the ethnocentric and Islamist groups is reactionary… ‘Occupation’ and ‘resistance’ are two poles of the same reactionary camp… The real basis for struggle against the USA’s new world order is the workers, the proletarians, and their programme, liberty and equality”.
“Suppose the wish [of some Western leftists] comes true and the much beloved and eulogised ‘Iraqi resistance’ defeats the US government… A victorious Iraqi bourgeoisie will viciously turn Iraq into an unbearable hell for the Iraqi masses. How would [those Western leftists] respond to that? What will they tell Iraqi workers? Would they say, ‘We supported the criminal Islamists and nationalists to come to power?’…
“How would mass murder of communists and freedom loving people in Iraq at the hands of victorious bourgeois forces be of any benefit to the workers, communists, and progressive forces in the US? How would US workers benefit from the all-out attack and destruction of Iraqi trade unions and workers’ councils in Iraq? How would they benefit from having young girls being assaulted and raped under the guise of Islamic marriage laws? …
“No doubt it is important to defeat the US agenda in the Middle East. But, as communists and socialists, we should strive for that goal on our own terms. We do not have to choose between the US and Iraqi reactionary forces. That is not the option because both of them have nothing but a bloody and horrific future to offer Iraqi people.
“Opposition to the US is not a progressive stand per se. Many reactionary forces opposed the occupation of Iraq. That opposition does not qualify them as our friends or as people whom we should side with. What matters is the kind of future that this opposition represents and objectives it pursues. Worker-communism stands for freedom, equality, and workers’ rule…”
The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions insists:
“The so-called ‘Iraqi resistance’ referred to in the media represent neither a national liberation struggle (but rather an attempt to ‘balkanise’ Iraq) nor the possibility of re-building Iraqi civil society (except on the model of a mediaeval theocracy).
“The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions welcomes the many expressions of support from the international labour movement for their task of rebuilding Iraq’s trade unions and believes that they are fundamental to establishing a free and democratic secular Iraq in which civil society can be rebuilt”.
Anyone who thinks that militias like Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army represent a national liberation movement, only with a superficial religious coloration, is ignoring the lessons of the Iranian revolution of 1979.
The movement led by Ayatollah Khomeiny appeared to be a fundamentally democratic movement against the brutal US-backed dictatorship of the Shah. Socialists could see its religious coloration, and thought it undesirable but secondary.
We were wrong. The Khomeiny movement turned out to be more like fascism than any democratic movement. When it triumphed, it soon constructed a regime even more murderous than the Shah’s.
The outlook with the militias in Iraq is if anything worse. If triumphant, they will not only repress the peoples of Iraq as bloodily as Khomeiny. They will tear the country apart in battle one against another — Sunni against Shi’a, and probably more — and war against the Kurds.
At the Labour Party conference (26 September to 2 October) the representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions helped Tony Blair deflect trade-union anger and get his way on Iraq. Blair came away from Brighton with his hands free to continue to back George W Bush, whose brutal, arrogant, bent-on-privatisation conduct of the war and occupation has created the chaos in Iraq where the various Islamist militias are gaining support, and somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed so far.
The IFTU’s intervention in Brighton was wrong. Anyone who jumps to the conclusion that the Iraqi trade union movement is just a stooge outfit, of no importance for socialists, is, however, even more wrong.
The IFTU is not the only trade-union organisation in Iraq. The Union of the Unemployed and the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions of Iraq, for example, vehemently oppose the occupation and the US-appointed interim government at the same time as they oppose the Islamist militias.
And that the IFTU clings to the Allawi government as a lesser evil than the militias — even after the American army’s action against the IFTU last December — shows the IFTU as reformist, but for sure no worse than British unions which line up behind Blair as their “lesser-evil” alternative to Michael Howard’s Tories. The Tories are not as scary as the Islamist militias!
We should support Iraq’s new trade unions as trade unions. We cannot demand they agree with us on all points before giving them support. Nor does our support for them on a class basis, against the occupation authorities, the interim government, and the militias, oblige us to follow their political judgements on every question.
Can socialism and democracy be won when the labour movement is crushed? Or is the crushing of the Iraqi labour movement a small price to pay if the Islamist militias can strike a blow against US power?
Such ideas are ridiculous. For socialists, the life of the labour movement is a higher priority than any nationalist concerns. And in any case, all hopes for genuine national self-determination for the peoples of Iraq — the assertion of their democratic rights, against all foreign domination — rely on the Iraqi labour movement winning, at the very least, a substantial say in the country.
A free Iraq cannot possibly be won by way of the victory of the reactionary militias.
Activists in the West must therefore combine all our condemnations of Bush and Blair — their war, their occupation, the way their military campaign against the Mahdi Army and other militias has recklessly killed so many civilians along the way, and, politically, only boosted those reactionary movements — with positive support for the positive alternative in Iraq: the labour movement.
The TUC voted in September to set up an official campaign in support of Iraq’s trade unions, and has launched an Iraq Appeal.
Activists should support that Iraq Appeal. At the same time, we should not be tied to the sluggish tempo and priorities of the top TUC officials, and we should make sure that the more revolutionary elements in the Iraqi labour movement get support, as well as those more likely to be favoured by the TUC hierarchy.
That is why Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty work with No Sweat and the Iraqi Workers’ Solidarity Group to build support for the new Iraqi labour movement, as a Third Camp against both the occupation and the Islamist militias.
More links at www.iraqworkerssolidarity.org