Dissent from USLAW Sponsorship of IFTU Tour

*[FYI, the following messages address NYCLAW’s dissent from USLAW’s January 6 statement about the death of Hadi Salih, an official of the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions.]

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From: Michael Letwin [NYCLAW Co-Convener & Member of USLAW Steering Committee]
Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 12:19 AM
To: Michael Eisenscher, USLAW Steering Committee

My criticism of USLAW’s statement on Hadi Salih was not motivated by “ideological” prejudice; in fact, NYCLAW cosponsored (and I co-chaired) the main USLAW Iraq labor tour forum in New York City, at which 250 people donated $800, some of it for the IFTU (see below*). I would certainly have not have objected to USLAW’s statement on Hadi Salih, had it simply condemned his assassination, pointed out that “[t]he ultimate source of violence in Iraq is the US occupation,” and demanded “Bring the troops home now.”

What I did object to was the attempt to whitewash the IFTU’s collaboration with the very war and occupation that USLAW was created to oppose. This was reflected in the statement’s misleading assertions that, “[t]he Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions calls for the end of the occupation and the US war,” that “US Labor Against the War shares [Salih’s] vision of a peaceful and progressive Iraq,” that “Hadi Salih was killed because of his commitment and dedication to making Iraq a democratic and progressive country,” and that the Iraqi resistance assassinated Salih in order “to terrorize Iraq’s labor movement, and other parts of its civil society, to keep them from seeking any peaceful means of gaining political power in the interest of its working people.”

In reality, the IFTU reflects the views of the “[t]he Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) [which] totally supports the client regime of Iyad Alawi and has one senior and two junior ministers in his cabinet. The ICP equates the armed resistance with fundamentalist terrorism, and thereby approves the suppression of the resistance.”[1] Both the ICP and IFTU remained silent as the U.S. obliterated Falluja.[2]

As reported to the USLAW conference in December, the IFTU blocked an “Out Now” resolution at the British Labor Party conference in October, where it “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.”[3]

Just a few days ago, “[i]n collaboration with the [Iraqi Petrochemical and Plastic Manufactures Company] administration, [the IFTU] threatened workers with sacking, jailing and killing to force them call off a strike organized early this month. They justified these oppressive actions by referring to resolutions passed by Alawi’s government, which ban union activity and install IFTU as the only legal union.”[4]

As one commentator recently observed, “[t]he giving over of some executive positions to the leaders of the Communist party of Iraq, or the recognition of the trade union linked to this party (IFTU) is a price the Pentagon and CIA are prepared to pay for their support in repressing the resistance. . . . By signing into this policy, groups such as the [Iraqi Communist Party] show either ignorance or treachery.”[5]

Ewa Jasiewicz, who helped facilitate USLAW’s 2003 delegation to Iraq, reports “that more and more people, both within and outside Iraq, are viewing the IFTU, as it stands now, as an obstacle to genuine worker empowerment and direct, participatory democracy in Iraq and will oppose it, angrily and uncompromisingly.”[6]

Thus, Jasiewicz questions whether Salih’s assassination (which she too condemns), “is related to his activities as a Union organiser.” Rather, she believes that Salih may have been killed because “there is no neutrality or security for a trade union federation which is so enmeshed with a political party [the Iraqi Communist Party] which is collaborating heavily with the occupation in Iraq and remaining silent on the massacres being perpetrated daily against the civilian population there.”

Contrary to your claims, many SC members had neither seen USLAW’s statement on Salih before it was publically issued, nor were we informed that it would whitewash the IFTU. That portion of the statement may have reflected the views of its drafters. But it did not reflect an above-board, democratic process.

I also disagree with the attitude that, “[r]ather than impune [sic] our motives, you ought to be asking yourself why you stand so much alone.”

First, in raising the issues above, I criticized politics and process, not your motives.

Second, NYCLAW does not always stand alone within USLAW. For example, USLAW’s founding meeting on January 11, 2003 adopted NYCLAW proposals for the organization’s name and points of unity, while the national conference on October 25-26, 2003 adopted its proposals to retain that name and to demand “Bring the Troops Home Now.”

In any case, standing alone is certainly no disgrace. And minority views should not be met with personal attack or demonization.

NOTES

1. Ardeshir Mehrdad, Between Iraq’s Colonialist and Islamist Quagmire the “Third Way” Is Hard But Possible, Iran Bulletin Middle East Forum, November 2004 <http://www.payvand.com/news/05/jan/1171.html>.

2. Sami Ramadani, Britain’s Trade Unions, Iraq’s Occupation, the IFTU and the ESF, October 23, 2004 <http://www.labournet.net/ukunion/0410/iraqtu1.html>.

3. The Stop the War Coalition and the IFTU, October 11, 2004 <http://www.stopwar.org.uk/article.asp?id=111004>.

4. Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions-IFTU Helps Alawi’s Government to Crack Down on Workers’ Protests in Petrochemical and Plastic Company in Baghdad, January 10,
2004 <http://www.uuiraq.org/english/130.htm>.

5. Mehrdad, note 1, above.

6. Ewa J., History Repeating Itself – the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, ICP and Iraqi Workers, October 31, 2004 <http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=04/10/31/3091915>

* From: Michael Letwin
Sent: Saturday, February 21, 2004 10:42 PM
Subject: Report on Iraq Labor Rights Tour, NYC

Report on Iraq Labor Rights Tour, NYC Submitted by Michael Letwin (NYCLAW) and Nancy Romer (PSC-CUNYAFT Local 2334)

The NYC tour leg was highly successful.

On February 2, David Bacon, Clarence Thomas and Gulf War vet Michael McPhearson (Bring Them Home Now!) spoke to a full house of about 250 people in the 1199 SEIU auditorium. The meeting was opened by 1199 representative Patrick Loman, and was co-chaired by Barbara Bowen (President, PSC-CUNY) and Michael Letwin (NYC Labor Against the War). USLAW, NYCLAW and other materials were distributed, and the audience was encouraged to participate in upcoming actions on February 24 and March 20. Approximately $800 in donations were collected. The meeting flyer, which lists sponsoring labor bodies, is attached. A published report of the meeting (which mistakenly lists NYCLAW as the sole sponsor) is posted at: http://socialistworker.org/2004-1/486/486_11_IraqLabor.shtml

On February 3, Bacon and Thomas were interviewed on by Amy Goodman on WBAI and on the labor radio program hosted by Bill Henning (CWA Local 1180). That evening, Bacon spoke to about 150 people at the Queens College-CUNY Labor Resource Center.

Donations at and sign-in sheets have been forwarded to USLAW’s D.C. office.

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From: Michael Eisenscher Sent: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 9:44 PM

Michael:

I’m sorry that Salih’s assassins were so inconsiderate as to torture and kill him the night before the SC call. Our objective in getting the statement out ASAP was to put USLAW clearly on record condemning assassination of trade unionists as a legitimate means of opposing the U.S. occupation. Notice of the assassination was sent to the Steering Committee at 9:45 a.m. PST on January 5, with announcement that draft of a statement would be forthcoming prior to the call. The statement was sent to the SC at 12:53 p.m., more than three hours prior to the start of the call in hopes that everyone would have a chance to review it and raise any issues they might have during the call. When no one did, we issued the statement in order that it would be timely in light of the nature of the crime.

The IFTU is on record calling for an end to the occupation. (For example, see the statement by Abdullah Muhsin on November 4, 2004 at http://www.uslaboragainstwar.org/article.php?id=7173.) Hadi Salih said just that during his presentation to the ICFTU conference in Japan only weeks ago. In his remarks, he said, “War does not serve the people of Iraq. Occupation doesn’t help democracy.”

You are allowing your ideological view to color your perception of the situation. There is no justification for assassinating union leaders no matter what their politics. The FCWUI recognized that instantly and issued a statement immediately condemning the torture and murder.

I have yet to hear from you one word of condemnation of the torture and assassination of Hadi Salih. Would you prefer that USLAW remain silent in the face of this crime? If so, your view is a distinctly minority one in the Steering Committee and in the larger labor antiwar movement. Hadi Salih, whatever your criticisms of his political views, suffered prison and torture, then exile at the hands of Saddam Hussein. He put his life on the line and lost it in the struggle to rebuild the Iraqi labor movement. I figure that earns him respect on the part of all those who claim to champion labor’s cause, whatever their politics.

The fact that the capitalist media chooses to lump all opponents of the U.S. occupation into the category “Resistance” should not hide the fact that there are a wide range of groups involved in resisting the occupation – some with arms and others without arms. That Ba’athist elements and religious fascists do so with arms does not mean that we ought to embrace them as legitimate fighters for the autonomy, self-determination and national integrity of the Iraqi people. Those who embrace these elements and their “by any means necessary” posture, in my view, are as opportunistic and irresponsible as they claim the IFTU is by participating in the political process in play in Iraq. It costs them little hurling their charges from the safe and secure borders of the U.S., England, or other parts of the imperialist world, while those who struggle within the borders of Iraq have everything at risk.

USLAW’s statement makes it quite clear that we demand an immediate end to the occupation. We said: “The ultimate source of violence in Iraq is the US occupation. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions calls for the end of the occupation and the US war. Salih’s murder does not bring this end one step closer. Instead, it seeks to terrorize Iraq’s labor movement, and other parts of its civil society, to keep them from seeking any peaceful means of gaining political power in the interest of its working people.”

Nothing I’ve heard from you or others who share your view causes me to want to change one word of that. No one but you on the Steering Committee raised a word of objection. Rather than impune our motives, you ought to be asking yourself why you stand so much alone.

Yours in solidarity, Michael Eisenscher

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From: Michael Letwin
Sent: Sunday, January 09, 2005 6:19 PM
To: Michael Eisenscher; USLAW Steering Committee

I didn’t see USLAW’s public statement concerning Hadi Salih (IFTU) until after the conference call.

As reported to the USLAW conference (and referenced below), the IFTU is a member of the U.S. occupation regime, in which role it recently obstructed an “out now” resolution at the British Labor Party conference (see below). So why did USLAW issue the statement that, “[t]he Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions calls for the end of the occupation and the US war”? And why — given the open controversy on this issue at the conference — was a statement issued in USLAW’s name without any prior discussion or authorization by the Steering Committee?

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From: U.S. Labor Against the War [mailto:uslaw@igc.org]
Sent: Thursday, January 06, 2005 12:40 AM

USLAW Condemns the Murder of Hadi Salih

Hadi Salih, International Officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was a courageous union activist. His assassination in Baghdad yesterday is a crime against Iraq’s working people and its labor movement. The cowardly manner of his killing – he was shot in his bed – is intended to send a message to Iraq’s workers and trade unionists – that their efforts to participate in any peaceful process of political change will be met with death. We stand in solidarity with the IFTU in rejecting this brutal intimidation.

Hadi Salih was killed because of his commitment and dedication to making Iraq a democratic and progressive country, building a society in which its people can lead safe and secure lives, with full employment at a decent standard of living. US Labor Against the War shares his vision of a peaceful and progressive Iraq, and sends its condolences to his family and fellow workers.

The ultimate source of violence in Iraq is the US occupation. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions calls for the end of the occupation and the US war. Salih’s murder does not bring this end one step closer. Instead, it seeks to terrorize Iraq’s labor movement, and other parts of its civil society, to keep them from seeking any peaceful means of gaining political power in the interest of its working people.

In the past three months, IFTU members and rank-and-file workers have been murdered and kidnapped as they tried to carry out normal union activity, or simply do their jobs. On November 3, four railroad workers were killed, and their bodies mutilated. On December 25, two other train drivers were kidnapped, and five other workers beaten. On the night of December 26, the building of the Transport and Communications Workers in central Baghdad was shelled. Together with the assassination of Hadi Salih, these horrifying crimes are making Iraq as dangerous a place for union activists as Colombia.

The murderers of Hadi Salih and other Iraqi workers and unionists must be brought to justice. Iraq must become a safe and secure society in which people can exercise their rights as workers and unionists without fearing death and terror. The rights and security of Iraqi unionists are must be ensured and respected. This must include the full right to belong to a union and bargain with employers, the dismantling of the old Saddam-era laws banning unions in the public sector, and an end to the attempt to privatize Iraq’s workplaces in the interests of transnational corporations.

The occupation must end, and the security of Iraq’s unions and workers guaranteed. Bring the troops home now!

Hadi Salih, presente!

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