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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 October 2004

Labour and war

Union Leaders' Rebellion Fizzles Out

THE UNION leaders' threatened revolt against Blair on Iraq at the Labour Party conference evaporated quicker than you could say 'stitch-up'.

Ken Smith

Content with defeating the leadership on rail renationalisation and housing earlier in the week, and general promises of improved workers' rights, the main union leaders voted with the submissive constituency delegates not to inflict a defeat on Blair on Iraq.

The resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawing the troops, was lost with only 28% of conference delegates voting in favour.

Union leaders have been able to use the weakness of the anti-war movement's arguments over how to end the occupation to avoid a showdown with Blair.

In particular, the fact that most of the anti-war movement does not put an alternative which addresses the concerns many working-class people have about the prospect of inter-ethnic or religious conflict and a civil war if the troops are withdrawn.

The Socialist Party supports the withdrawal of the troops. But in contrast to the rest of the Left in the anti-war movement, we also point out that on a capitalist basis, one consequence of a rapid withdrawal could be a bloody ethnic or religious conflict.

This is why a democratic and equitable solution to Iraq's problems is only possible with the working class in the lead, uniting all groupings on the basis of a socialist and democratic programme.

Arms twisted

A LOT of arm-twisting and emotional blackmail was conducted before the vote. Blair himself had a 30-minute meeting with the Amicus union delegation. Abdullah Mushin of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions was taken to the Transport and General Workers' Union delegation to warn them that if troops were "pulled out too soon, trade unionists in Iraq could die in a civil war. " He also warned of the "Balkanisation" of Iraq in urging British trade unions to allow the troops to stay.

This may have touched genuine concerns amongst some. But Abdullah Mushin conveniently glossed over other equally crucial question facing trade unionists in Iraq, which can only be addressed by the removal of the occupying forces and allowing the Iraqi people to decide their own future.

The imperialist powers have detained and imprisoned most of the genuine Iraqi trade union leaders and destroyed their structures and offices since occupying. Paul Bremer and the interim government reintroduced Saddam's 1987 Labour laws banning strikes. Over a dozen trade unions are still not granted legal status by the puppet government.

At the same time, how many trade unionists died in Iraq because of the invasion and how many trade unionists in Iraq actually support the continuation of the occupation?

During the conference debate, foreign secretary Jack Straw said of the continuing occupation that it was the Iraqi people's call. "If they say we leave, we leave." This is like a landlord saying he's willing to hand over the deeds of a property any time the tenants ask for it.

Would Straw be prepared to act in the same way towards requests from the people of Fallujah to stop the bombing of that city immediately, or to straight away grant any requests to be released from those who have been wrongly imprisoned and tortured?

The big four unions ignored all these glaring contradictions and - displaying less critical faculties than the United Nations secretary general or even the Tory party leader - used their votes to shore up a liar and allow the continued oppression of the Iraqi people.

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In The Socialist 9 October 2004:

Strike Back At Job Cuts

Don't Let The Fat Cats Bury The Big Cat

Reject Agenda For Change!

Your Questions Answered

"We're Not Faceless Bureaucrats"

Building Support Amongst Other Trade Unionists

Can Blair See Out A Third Term?

Union Leaders' Rebellion Fizzles Out

Socialist Party feature

Forty Years of Fighting For Socialism

European Social Forum

International socialist news and analysis

Troops, Bulldozers And Resistance

As Politicians Talk - Sectarian Divisions Deepen

Tweedledum Or Tweedledee?


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