The Socialist 6 September 2002 |
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War against Iraq: Unions Must Organise Opposition
THE TUC is meeting at a time when opposition to war against Iraq is growing. A Daily Mirror poll this week showed 71% of the population opposed to joining a war without United Nations approval. A survey of Labour Party constituency chairs showed only five of the 100 interviewed by the Times supported military intervention. In terms of Blair's sanitised New Labour, that is as near a state of open revolt as you can get.
In the US itself, CNN and Newsweek polls show a 20% drop in support for a war on Iraq. There is even greater opposition to the idea of the US going it alone.
The trade union leaders are also having to reflect, in words at least, the unease and hostility that exists towards military action against Iraq. Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union, went on TV last weekend to warn Blair against getting involved in the US's possible actions and called for more evidence.
The TUC will debate a motion from the TSSA railworkers' union at its congress opposing an attack on Iraq. It says: "Congress urges the UK government to withhold support for such an attack, which it considers is contrary to international law and would inevitably destabilise the Middle East."
But the union leaders also need to give a way forward in concrete terms. At present, most opposition to the war comes in confused terms such as calling for UN inspectors to go back into Iraq first, for a UN coalition for action to be built first or, if action is imminent, for Parliament to be recalled.
In all previous conflicts, even where Parliament has been recalled, it has not made a single bit of difference. The only way that any wars have been halted in recent decades has not been through appeals to governments but only when organised mass protests have shaken governments.
Trade union leaders, if they are to show serious opposition to any war, must give a clear lead; preparing to organise mass protests and action rather than plaintive appeals.
The Stop the War Coalition are calling for a one-hour stoppage and show of civil disobedience before any action takes place and on the day action begins against Iraq. The Coalition has the support of many of the new generation of Left leaders of the unions in RMT, Aslef, PCS, Amicus, NUJ and FBU. At the TUC these leaders should prepare the way for a 'pre-emptive' stoppage and discuss naming a day in the autumn for such action to take place.
To ensure such a stoppage is successful it is vital that the trade union leaders and the Coalition launch a campaign of mass propaganda, stoppages and meetings in workplaces, colleges, schools and communities to convince workers and young people of the need for action against the war.
If the union leaders were to bring out the class issues in the war and link such a stoppage with the growing class anger against the Blair government on issues such as low pay and privatisation, then there would be widespread popular support. Indeed, a longer stoppage, possibly even a one-day general strike, could develop, if it is prepared properly.
A co-ordinated strategy could force even right-wing union leaders like Bill Morris and John Edmonds, such is the current mood, to go further in opposing the war.
In turn a decisive lead from the unions could bring out - as in Rome earlier this year - millions to protest at the Stop the War Coalition national demonstration in London on 28 September. Being prepared to link that demonstration with stoppages and strike action is the clearest lead that could be given.
Such a clear lead could effectively halt the plans of George Bush's regime to embark on a conflict that threatens catastrophe and chaos for a large part of the world.
AS PREVIOUSLY reported in The Socialist, New Labour are preparing for 30,000 troops to be used as a strike breaking force if, as looks likely, firefighters take strike action over their claim for a 30% wage rise (see page 12).
However, senior army officers have warned that if the plan, code-named Operation Fresco, goes ahead it will mean that Britain would not be able to support a US invasion of Iraq in the autumn.
One commanding officer told The Telegraph: "The vast majority of the soldiers committed to Operation Fresco will come from the army - that's almost a third of its entire strength. It will in effect mean that the army is grounded while the strike is on."