The natural and correct inclination of British trade unionists is to offer what solidarity and practical support can be mustered to Iraqi trade unionists struggling to build organisation in the most difficult circumstances. As the motion on the subject passed at the TUC noted, there is also a duty of anti-imperialism – to campaign to get troops out of Iraq.
The role of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), one of a number of Iraqi union centres, has proved particularly controversial. It is important that the controversy is debated. When I have heard IFTU speakers they have reminded me of nothing more than people that used to appear from the old South African Confederation of Trade Unions during the apartheid years. Once genuine militants, forced into exile by a vicious regime, they had little real grasp of conditions faced by trade unionists on the ground. Eventually a new federation, Cosatu, was born. It is to be hoped that a similar transition is underway in Iraq, but it is made very difficult by foreign occupation. That doesn’t mean that it is impossible to organise workers, but the possibility of creating a national independent trade union centre is not there until US and British troops get out.
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