By Colin Foster
Workers in Iraq are striving to organise themselves to assert their interests in amid the chaos of war destruction and the increasingly discredited US/UK occupation.
They urgently need support and solidarity for their efforts. They face powerful and dangerous enemies - not only the occupation authorities, but also Iraqi forces such as the resurgent Islamic fundamentalists - and are having to start from scratch.
Iraq had a rich history of trade-union militancy in the turbulent years between the fall of the old monarchy in 1958 and the first Ba'thist coup in 1963, but for over 20 years Saddam Hussein's police state prevented the emergence of even small illegal, underground workers' organisations.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions is sending a trade-unionists' delegation to Iraq in November. ICFTU general secretary Guy Ryder says "Labour and human rights questions are not receiving the kind of balanced attention they should be."
However, the ICFTU's attention seems to be more directed towards "advising the authorities" than to directly aiding Iraqi workers. New-born Iraqi trade unions will need the sort of material support from abroad that big official trade union organisations best have the resources to give, but rank-and-file activists can not and should not rely on the ICFTU bigwigs to do what needs to be done.
Activists should demand that our trade unions make contact with workers in Iraq, for example by sending rank-and-file members on the ICFTU delegation or organising their own delegations.
Some activity is already underway in Britain in support of one particular group in Iraq, the Unemployed Union of Iraq. Initiated by the Worker-communist Party of Iraq (WCPI), the UUI claims tens of thousands of members and has offices in Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Nasiriyah. It demands jobs, or emergency payments equivalent to $100 a month, for unemployed workers.
It has organised demonstrations on May Day, and outside the officers of Paul Bremer, the US chief in Iraq. It has been attacked both by the occupation forces (who have arrested UUI members) and the Islamists.
A Campaign for Solidarity with Iraqi workers has been set up in Nottingham, and a meeting was held in London on 17 September between the WCPI and British socialist groups to discuss a similar effort on a national scale.
The Worker-communist Party of Iraq demand an end to the US/UK occupation, but also say that the Islamic fundamentalists are the "main threat" in Iraq. Some of the fundamentalists are collaborating with the US/UK occupation. One possible outcome is a US-sponsored regime in Iraq where the fundamentalists get sufficient concessions to cooperate without getting a full Islamic state on the model of Iran.
Socialists should also be clear that if the fundamentalists should turn militantly against the US and succeed in imposing an Iranian-type Islamic state, that would be another tragedy for the peoples of Iraq, not progressive alternative.
Likewise, a victory for the rump Ba'thist forces which are waging a sort of guerrilla war against the occupiers, and the restoration of the old Ba'thist order, not only is unlikely but would be a disaster if it happened.
It is the rump Ba'thists and the Islamic fundamentalists (and, in the Kurdish areas, the Kurdish nationalist parties) who start out in post-war Iraq with positions of strength, wealth, ruling-class substance, and international support, already in place. The reborn Iraqi workers' movement has to start from scratch.
That makes it vital for socialists to focus our efforts on helping that workers' movement. We must insist on the right to self-determination of the peoples of Iraq. We have a fundamental opposition on principle to US/UK occupation of Iraq. We want to help a reborn workers' movement become the leader of the Iraqi peoples against the occupation as well as on economic issues.
But it would be irresponsible for us to pretend that the Islamic fundamentalists, or the rump Ba'thists, represent any sort of national liberation movement and limit ourselves to simple slogans about "US/UK troops out". What do such slogans mean?
The US will not now withdraw (short of getting a government in Iraq which suits its purposes) unless it suffers catastrophic defeat on the ground. Do we want victory for the rump Ba'thists or the Islamic fundamentalists? Would we want it if it were possible? No more than we wanted Saddam's victory in the war. We opposed Bush's war not because we wanted Saddam to remain in power, or to win against the USA and make himself master of the Gulf, but because we stood up for the rights of the peoples of Iraq against both US hyperpower and Ba'thist regional imperialism.
We need to continue that stance now.