the Disillusioned kid: Who you calling yellow?
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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Who you calling yellow?

The General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW, formerly the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions) is the largest trade union federation in Iraq. Established in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq by a number of parties, notably the Iraqi Communist Party, it is ostensibly opposed to the occupation, but has on many occasions worked with the occupiers. Most notoriously, in 2004, IFTU representative Abdullah Muhsin intervened in a debate at the Labour Party conference in order to forestall calls for a withdrawal of troops.

Unfortunately for the GFIW, the occupiers seem less than impressed with their complaisance. Although they have been given exclusive rights to unionise public sector workers in the country, they have been unable to overturn the various anti-union legislation imposed by the new regime. At the end of last month, US troops further demonstrated their commitment to democratic principles by raiding GFIW's headquarters. According to the union's official statement:
On 23 February, American and Iraqi forces raided the head office of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) and arrested one of the Union security staff.

This unprovoked attack resulted in the destruction of furniture, the confiscation of a computer and fax machine and the arrest of employee who was released unharmed later same day.

The same force repeated this unprovoked attack on 25 February and caused further damage.
The unfortunate reality for GFIW is that, whatever their position vis-à-vis the occupation, they remain a barrier to US/UK efforts to neoliberalise Iraq by force, privatising its resources and handing over control of key industries to western companies. Almost by definition workers' organisation poses a threat to profit margins and hence cannot be allowed to take place outside very tight constraints. (Recall that totalitarian regimes, including Ba'athist Iraq, often use state-run unions as a further tool of control.)

Whatever your position on the occupation - or for that matter formal unionism - I think the emergence of a nascent civil society in Iraq, whatever its flaws, is a positive development. It offers hope that Iraq may not be doomed to perpetual suffering, as I sometimes fear in my more pessimistic moments.

You can send an appropriately strongly worded letter of protest here.

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