Friday, June 17, 2005

What's Behind the Conflicts?

I just returned from US Labor Against the War's "Iraq labor tour" which in NYC hosted the controversial Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). The other groups on the tour, which is visiting "two dozen cities" in the US according to USLAW are the Federation of Workers' Councils (FWCUI) and the General Union of Oil Employees (GUOE). I had wondered about the IFTU, because I was reading news about assasinations of them by resistance fighters. I did wonder, were they somehow part of an official state union structure? It seemed fairly obvious that they were CP affiliated. Were they really independent? From what I could tell at the time, it seemed that they were the remnants of the Iraqi Communist Party, which I had always understood to have been severely repressed by the Baath regime and had been underground for years.
I was unable to find anything else about them at the time, but finally, thanks to some tendentious ISO organizers who handed out fliers critical of the IFTU at the event, now I have more information about them.
I want to write this post in a way that is informative to whoever's reading this without trashing either USLAW or the ISO. I do want to say at the outset that I increasingly find that the ISO's positions on the issues posit the world as a rather black-and-white place, in which choices are simple. "Support the Resistance!" for example, without reflecting on what/who "the resistance" (which is not a unified organization or coalition) is, instead of a more principled position of "support the right to resist." Theirs is also a sectarian world that is all too familiar, where rival organizations are supposed to engage in deliberate plots to thwart worldwide revolution. Perhaps I am reading too much into things, but when I read, for example at the beginning of the ISO pamphlet that "USLAW is sponsoring a Northeast tour for the IFTU," I found it curious that they didn't mention that the USLAW's tour also included two other unions - two of the main unions that the ISO have quoted in their pamphlet critiquing the IFTU, and, by implication, USLAW. There are some inaccuracies, misrepresentations and inconsistencies in the flier that you may find if you check the footnotes. For example, the ISO flier cites Tariq Ali's Bush in Babylon to support their claim that "from 1972-1978 the ICP belonged to Sadaam's cabinet." While this was technically true, as Ali presents it, the ICP, because of their subservience to the USSR, joined the Baath regime and stayed in it until the protested treatment of the Kurds and were subsequently ejected from the government and their leadership executed. While it doesn't speak to the ICP's independence or political smarts, it doesn't implicate them as completely as the ISO pamphlet does with Sadaam, and the ISO's pamphlet failed to mention why the stay in the cabinet ended in '78.
Interestingly, one of the organizations (FWCUI) that the ISO cites as a source of accurate information on IFTU has also pretty seriously denounced the ISO! The reason that the FWCUI opposes the ISO's position is that their organization, the Workers-Communist Party takes a position that socialist revolution is essential, uses quotation marks when referring to the "Resistance," and argues that there is an equal need to oppose "the Islamists" and the US occupation. Similarly, the GUOE, whom the ISO describes as a genuine and legitimate union does not take the kind of absolute position that the ISO calls for. In their discussion on the Socialist Unity website, GUOE said:
We hope that the elected government, though not fully legitimate, will take us forward. We don't think this government will have a magic wand to stop all violence. But certainly there will be some change. We hope that the new government will provide security.
They also remkared, just as the other two unions have, that "There is confusion between the resistance and those who carry out acts of violence, the suicide bombers etc., who are hurting Iraqis more than the Americans." When I see this many people who actually live in Iraq saying the same thing, I find it hard to understand the ISO's argument that the only correct position for US leftists to take is to blindly support something called "the resistance."
Now, those matters aside, what is the story with the IFTU? It seems pretty clear, if you read reports about their visits to England in 2004, that they have a history of being supportive of either a military occupation by the US and Britain, or a replacement of those forces by the UN. However, it also seems pretty clear that the IFTU does support the rights of workers to organize, that they have faced tremendous repression, and even murder, and that they came out against the war. My guess is that what they really want is a UN force to follow the departure of US troops. The ISO and British allies who seem to be their main source of info (Sami Ramadani) seem correct to me in their depiction of labour friends of Iraq," which strongly backs the IFTU as an essentially pro-occupation group.
Given the situation on the ground, I don't doubt that a lot of Communists are almost as afraid of the "resistance," as they call it (and that's not just the IFTU, but the FWCUIC who uses those quotation marks), as they are of the US. However, as all three groups are currently on tour of the US, I'll look for reports from the rest of the tour and hope to learn more.

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