I have started addressing meetings about the role of Labour Friends of Iraq and its links with the Iraqi Trade Union Movement. To date, I have discussed the issues involved with the Derby Fabian Society and with the General Committees of the Constituency Labour Parties at Wyre Forest and Fylde. As an ex-student of Ruskin College, I am also due to address the Ruskin Fellowship next month.
If anyone represents a group in the Labour Movement that would like me to address them on the above topic, then please contact me using the comments section below.
I am grateful for the Wyre Forest Labour Party for letting me post the following extract from their Minutes and for their kind comments. The meeting took place on 22 June, 2006.
O606.3 Speaker : Harry Barnes, Joint President of Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) and former M.P. gave a stimulating and informative overview of the efforts being made to encourage trade unions in Iraq. Whatever our position on the war, Harry encouraged us to look forward and to support efforts to promote the Iraqi Labour movement.
Iraq is a country where there is much division along ethnic and religious lines - the Shia and Sunni Arabs in the south and central areas , with the Kurdish Sunnis in the north. Following the imposition of the no-fly zone in the north, the Kurds used their greater freedom, even in Saddam's era, to exercise a modicum of self-government. This has been developed further since the invasion and includes the recognition of trade unions and their positive role in the community. Elsewhere, the delay in forming a stable, effective government means that laws prohibiting trade unions in the public sector remain in force. Also, the Transitional Government had frozen and sequestrated the funds of the unions until the newly elected Government is in a position to legislate on the State/Union relationship. Trade unions have not had a positive image in the past as they were either banned or controlled by Saddam’s regime.
There are about 1 million union members across Iraq. Given that unemployment rates are up to 50% this constitutes a significant proportion of the working population. The General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) is part of the Arab Federation of Trade Unions and is in receipt of practical help from Britain, including the TUC, UNISON, FBU and the National Union of Journalists. What they require from trade unions here is help “to stand on their own feet and reconstruct Iraq.”
Given its recent history, it would be challenging enough to develop trade unionism if there was an effective government in place. But current efforts are being hampered by the lack of sympathy from the USA and the opposition of Islamic fundamentalism. About 2000 union members have been killed , such as workers on oil pipelines and civil servants, who are regarded as legitimate targets by terrorists. Not all trade union members in voting have supported non-theocratic politics but there are countervailing factors which may lead to changes in the long run.
Harry distributed copies of a report from LFIQ following a recent visit by them to Iraqi Kurdistan which included an appeal for old mobile phones and chargers to be sent to the ‘TUC Aid for Iraq Appeal’. The session concluded with questions and answers. Topics raised included whether it is right to try to impose a western-style democracy; the likelihood of independence for Kurdistan given the potential impact on surrounding countries upon this; the potential for a secular state emerging and the role of women.
Harry concluded with an appeal to delegates to find out what practical steps their unions are giving to the GFIW. Also, we were encouraged to have a balanced picture of what is happening in Iraq. In response to a question about corruption, Harry reminded us that the introduction of “ the principles of democracy is the way corruption and dictatorships are constrained.”
Having thanked Harry for his thought-provoking contribution. The Chair asked for a follow up item on next month’s agenda.