Who represents Iraqi workers?

Submitted by AWL on 9 March, 2005 - 9:23

This article by Sami Ramadani appeared in Socialist Worker, 30 October 2004

THE Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) leadership appears to have succeeded in convincing some union leaders in Britain that it is a staunch opponent of the occupation. Alas, this self projected image is false. Before I explain, let us bear in mind that George Bush and Tony Blair also claim they are against the occupation of Iraq and want to end it “as soon as possible”. After all, they handed “sovereignty” to the Allawi regime, which in turn “invited” them to remain in Iraq as the “multinational forces”.

Bush and Blair are now “fully committed” to withdrawing the troops the “moment” the newly elected government in Iraq asks them to. The “presence” of the US-led forces is merely to make sure Iraq will have free and fair elections—to withdraw the troops now “will lead to civil war”. To legitimise this entire process the US and Britain asked the UN Security Council to pass resolutions noting the transition from invasion to occupation, then from occupation plus US-appointed “Iraqi Governing Council” to “multinational forces” assisting an “Iraqi Interim Government”.

Now we are told the big problem is cut-throat terrorists and, in order to crush them, many Iraqi cities, Shia and Sunni, have to be bombarded and thousands of homes have to be demolished on top of their inhabitants. This “collateral damage” could go up as the free and fair election date approaches. This is not intended to introduce an element of cynicism, but to question what people mean when they say, “We are against the occupation of Iraq,” and, “We are for a free, democratic, secular and federal Iraq,” which the IFTU says it is for.

The IFTU is not an elected umbrella organisation of all Iraqi trade unions. It has not even officially claimed there has been such a conference representing democratically elected bodies across Iraq. But its leaders — including general secretary Subhi Mashadani and London-based international representative Abdullah Muhsin — have unashamedly given British and other union leaders this false impression.

The IFTU’s leadership is dominated by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) with the backing of the Iraqi National Accord, an organisation of former Ba’thist military and security men led by US-appointed prime minister Allawi, a former Saddamist agent in charge of all Ba’ath Party organisations in Europe.

It is impossible to understand the IFTU’s policies without recognising the ICP’s policies.

A party that was once a proud organisation with the support of millions of people in Iraq in the late 1950s and 1960s is now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation. The party’s slogan before the invasion was “No to war and no to Saddam’s dictatorship”. The first half of the slogan was not acted upon energetically. Opposition to the invasion was tempered by some equivocal statements in the party’s main organ, Tareeq al-Sha’ab. The party’s leaders surreptitiously took part in pre-war US and British organised conferences of some Iraqi opposition leaders, some of whom later served as collaborators appointed by the occupation authorities. The prevarication dramatically ended a few months after the collapse of Saddam’s tyrannical regime.

The interests of the Iraqi people would have been served by bringing into sharper focus the party’s opposition to the war and the subsequent occupation. Instead it declared on 13 July 2003 that its secretary general would join the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

Though anticipated by people familiar with the party leadership’s history and manoeuvres, that statement came as a shock to some of the party members I met in Baghdad last year. From that day onwards the party was seen by most Iraqis as a collaborationist force, with some of its leaders receiving their salaries from the occupation authorities.

Under the hammer blows of the Iraqi people’s magnificent struggle against the occupation, the IGC and its US master, Paul Bremer, were so isolated and discredited that he had to disband the IGC last June in favour of passing “sovereignty” to the US-appointed Iraqi Interim Government led by CIA asset Iyad Allawi. The ICP fully supported the formation of Allawi’s puppet regime, and has one senior and two junior ministers serving it.

US ambassador John Negroponte—the mastermind of terror organisations in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua — is now bunkered at Saddam’s Republican Palace and is the real political ruler of Iraq. He is working hard to build an Iraqi force to kill other Iraqis and subdue the people using Saddamist methods. So where does the IFTU stand on all this?

Reading the headlines on the IFTU’s website, you would be forgiven for thinking there was no war or invasion of Iraq and tens of thousands of people did not die at the hands of the US-led occupation. Nor would you think there has been a US bombardment of Najaf, the working class districts of Baghdad — particularly Sadr City — Fallujah, Samarra and many other cities in the past weeks and months.

The IFTU rightly condemns the atrocities committed by a handful of terrorist gangs, such as the kidnappers of Ken Bigley. But they always do so in the manner of Bush, Blair and Allawi. The IFTU always try to portray the hugely popular patriotic resistance as “remnants of the Saddam regime” and “secretive anti-democratic” forces. On the other hand, the IFTU and the ICP are yet to launch a campaign against the massacres committed by the occupation forces.

Associating the popular resistance with terrorist gangs is one of the most insidious acts of the IFTU and the ICP. They dare not condemn the resistance openly, in Arabic within Iraq, but they always issue statements in the wake of terrorist crimes trying to suggest that Zarqawi and the other terrorists are the resistance in Iraq.

As it happens, the vast majority of Iraqis reject Zarqawi and his ilk — as do the armed resistance and its supporters in Fallujah, Basra, Najaf, Sadr City and across Iraq. Many even suspect that the occupation forces are somehow encouraging the likes of Zarqawi, or at least failing to prevent their crimes, as a way of obscuring the fact that most Iraqis now actively support a patriotic resistance movement.

Does the IFTU mention anywhere that the occupation forces have admitted the attacks on them by the resistance rose in August to 2,700? Does it mention exactly how many of these 2,700 attacks a month were claimed by Zarqawi? Only six. Six headline-grabbing, TV-dominating, stomach-churning moments.

The mildest, and furtively stated, criticisms are reserved for the US bombardment of the cities. “Bombing cities in which civilians die is not the way to defeat the terrorists” is the best condemnation we can hope for of US-led war crimes.

The IFTU and ICP assisted “war on terrorism” is nothing but a new deceitful attempt to wage a new war against the Iraqi people, in the interest of the Bush administration and the neo-cons, and to multiply the profits of the transnational companies.

So what does the IFTU stand for in Iraq today?

On the front page of the English version of their website is a picture of the leaders of the IFTU seated under an IFTU banner. The words on the banner sum up the IFTU’s main demands for Iraq and its working class: “The General Federation of Workers’ Trade Unions in Iraq [this is the full and accurate translation of the IFTU’s name] struggles for:

• Defending the fundamental rights of the Iraqi working class.

•Endeavouring to restart the wheel of production as soon as possible.

•The immediate improvement of the economic and social conditions of the workers.”

It is unreal. No war, no occupation, no torture and murder of workers, no privatisation, no selling of Iraq’s assets to the US and British transnationals, no Bremer and Allawi re-enactment of Saddam’s 1987 law banning independent unions and strikes.

There is no mention of the US bombardment of working class districts, no workers falling victim to radiation from depleted uranium shells, no working class children dying of water-borne diseases stemming from raw sewage because the greatest military and economic power in the world can’t bring electricity supplies to the sewage plants to their pre-war levels…The IFTU’s slogans remind me of the yellow unions under Saddam, when they were allowed to talk about everything except the nature of his regime.

If you dig deeper into the website you will find justifications for joining the occupation-appointed bodies. Abdullah Muhsin writes of the Bremer-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, “The UN helped in forging a compromise and the idea of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was born. Both Iraqis and the UN supported it.

“The US and UK administrations agreed. In July 2003 the IGC was formed. The IGC…remains an acceptable alternative to the US vision.”

A US-appointed IGC is “an acceptable alternative to the US vision”? Reading the IFTU literature might keep one in touch with the surreal.

There is a very good reason why the IFTU and ICP have to camouflage their practice with such contortions. They are addressing the left in Iraq, not renowned for their propensity to be easily fooled about their own society, and they are addressing anti-war and progressive opinion abroad. This is their main role. And that is why the CIA, Bremer and Allawi kept such a small organisation on board all the US-appointed or approved bodies.

There is another very good reason: to confiscate the glorious memory, dating back to 1920, of the tens of thousands of Iraqi socialists, secular democrats and, since 1934, Communists who died at the altars of British colonialism, Ba’athism and US imperialism.

Did the trade unions in Britain take such a considerate and caressing stance towards the institutions set up by the occupation forces in Europe during the Second World War, as some of them have done to the institutions of occupied Iraq?

Drawing parallels has its limitation, and one might accurately state that Bush and Blair are not Hitler and Mussolini. The retort to that is yes, but try telling that to the people at the receiving end of cluster bombs, helicopter gunships and tank fire in their besieged cities and Baghdad working class neighbourhoods. Try telling them that Allawi does not lead another regime like Vichy, imposed by the Nazis on France.

It is sometimes forgotten that the Iraqi people and their land have been occupied by the mightiest military forces in the world and that the Iraqi people expect, and are entitled to, not only sympathy but active support in their struggle for liberation and democracy.

They don’t expect the collaborators in their midst to be held up as representatives of the oppressed working class and the people of Iraq.

I have no doubt that the misleading picture painted by the IFTU and ICP leaders has taken its toll.

I also have no doubt that this is a temporary state of affairs. Not least because US Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters on the one hand and the valiant resistance, peaceful or armed in legitimate self defence, speak much louder than the honeyed words of the IFTU and ICP leaders.

British unions could also examine the fact that for years the ICP leaders played a similar role in relation to Saddam’s tyrannical regime to the one they are playing today in relation to the US-led occupation.

From 1972 to 1978 they were tireless in their efforts within Iraq, and here in Britain, to convince the unions and the Labour Party to accept Saddam’s tyranny as a reformed regime. They had two party politburo members serving as ministers under Saddam.

All the ICP-led organisations, including the then IFTU, were later disbanded by the party because Saddam ordered it to do so. Iraqis, including some ICP members, who continued to expose Saddam’s fascist policies abroad—and even those he killed and tortured at home—were dubbed as “infantile leftists” or “reactionary Kurds” by the ICP leadership.

The IFTU wasn’t accidentally chosen by the Bremer-appointed IGC as the sole organisation representing Iraqi workers.

There are several other such umbrella organisations led by other parties in Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan, and including the non party controlled Union of Unemployed Workers, which is now part of the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Trade Unions.

Bremer’s sponsorship of the IFTU was born out of a deal struck between the Communist Party and Iyad Allawi.

There are also individual unions such as the Basra oil workers’ union and the south oil workers’ union, both of which are strong unions that took part in a widely supported strike, stopping oil exports in protest at the US bombardment of Najaf in August. Neither of these unions recognise the IFTU leadership as speaking on their behalf. Workers across Iraq are entitled to ask what the IFTU leaders did to lift the siege of Najaf and Fallujah, and to stop the bombardment of the cities?

One incident that exposed the IFTU’s duplicity here in Britain was its support for Tony Blair’s invite to Iyad Allawi to address the Labour party conference. Having failed in that mission, Tony Blair and other Labour Party leaders made sure the IFTU and the Kurdish partner of an Iraqi minister were given ample opportunity to spread confusion at the conference to get it to, in effect, support Bush’s policies in Iraq.

It is time to call a spade a spade — the leaders of the IFTU and ICP are the left wing sounding, trade union “friendly” face of Allawi’s CIA-chosen regime and of the continuing occupation of Iraq.

They are part of a propaganda offensive designed to justify the “new war” to crush the resistance of the Iraqi people by portraying entire cities, towns and villages as hideouts for mass murderers and terrorists.

I and many trade unionists in Britain of Iraqi origin, who opposed Saddam’s tyrannical regime for decades, were shocked and dismayed that most of the unions at the recent Labour Party conference accepted the message from the ICP, IFTU leaders and other Allawi collaborators, and voted against a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the occupation forces.

This is tantamount to abandoning the Iraqi people to be crushed by US tanks and cluster bombs. This is tantamount to abandoning solidarity with the workers and people of Iraq.

The Iraqi people’s blood is as precious as that of the people of Europe who resisted the fascist forces, even if today the British government and the US administration refuse to count the Iraqis they have killed and are continuing to kill.

And Iraqi collaborators can be as treacherous and deceitful as any of the collaborators in Europe under the Nazi jackboot.

I am confident that Britain’s unions and most Labour Party members will eventually see through and reject these collaborators, much as the Iraqi people rejected their calls to support Saddam’s regime from 1972 to 1978, and much as they are rejecting their calls today to support the US-appointed Allawi regime.

I am also confident that Britain’s trade unions and most Labour Party members will, sooner or later, stand by the Iraqi people’s struggle against the US-led occupation and for liberation.