Stop the War Coalition and the IFTU
Since the bloody and illegal invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq by US and British armies, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) has consistently called for the withdrawal of foreign troops and the ending of the occupation. This position commands the support of the great majority of the British people, and was recently reaffirmed as the unanimous position of the TUC. It also commands the support of the majority of the Iraqi people, as evidenced by opinion polling carried out by the occupation forces themselves.
At the same time StWC has always refrained from taking any position on the internal development of Iraq, since this is solely the preserve of the Iraqi people themselves. Affiliates of the Coalition have, of course, developed their own links with Iraqi organisations, according to their particular policies or spheres of interest.
However, the recent activity of the representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) in Britain compels the StWC to make its position clear. In recent weeks the IFTU representative has:
· Urged that the Labour Party conference welcome the puppet Iraqi premier Allawi, at a time when the entire anti-war movement was demanding that the invitation be withdrawn, which it subsequently was.
· Shared a platform with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the UK government's “human rights envoy” to Iraq Ann Clwyd, respectively a leading architect of and an indefatigable apologist for the war and the occupation.
· Most shamefully of all, energetically lobbied the trade union affiliates of the Labour Party to oppose a motion, reflecting the union's own agreed policies, calling on Blair to set an early date for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq.
In this last undertaking the IFTU representative worked as the direct instrument of the government and the Labour Party apparatus, which prepared and distributed his statements to delegates and ensured him access to union delegations. Indeed, the statement by the IFTU representative issued by the Party was not merely supportive of the continued military occupation of his country, but could also be read as supportive of the original invasion of Iraq.
There is little doubt that this intervention played a significant part in persuading some major trade unions (and perhaps constituency delegates too) to abandon their agreed policy on the occupation (affirmed at the TUC just two weeks earlier).
It is understandable that British trade unions should wish to express their support to the working class of Iraq in its extremely difficult struggles, and the StWC has always encouraged such support insofar as it falls within our political remit. The IFTU is one of a number of trade union and workers’ organisations in Iraq, distinguished from others by its support for the Allawi government and, it is now apparent, for the foreign occupation on which that government depends for its existence.
The IFTU has, however, attempted to divide the anti-war movement from the trade unions by taking advantage of the goodwill towards it shown by a number of unions for honourable reasons of solidarity, the lack of understanding of the actual nature of different organisations in Iraq, and the climate of pre-election pressure from the government on trade union delegations.
As a result, several affiliated trade unions at the Labour Party conference voted for a policy of effectively open-ended licence for the occupation and against the early withdrawal of British troops.
The StWC hopes that the leading unions will restate their previous policy of an end to the occupation. The coming weeks and months are likely to see still bloodier battles within Iraq, with a growing number of deaths both of Iraqis and of British and US soldiers. It remains most likely that the war and the occupation will remain the dominant political issues in the months leading up to the next British general election. The trade union movement must find a voice on these developments and cannot remain within the confines of the statement agreed at the Labour Party conference.
With regard to the IFTU, the StWC condemns its political collaboration with the British government, exemplified at the Labour Party conference and its view that genuinely independent trade unionism in Iraq can develop under a regime of military occupation (including the daily bombardment of major Iraqi cities) by the USA and Britain.
The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends.
Stop the War Coalition