Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tobin Or Not Tobin?

That Is The Question For Gordon

Gordon Brown has made a commendable speech at the United Nations on the crucial need for positive measures to tackle world poverty. Massive resources are, of course, needed to achieve this.

The time is, therefore, opportune for him to stress the case for an internationally operated tax on currency speculation - commonly known as the Tobin Tax. This would cover the major financial transactions which take place across the world on a daily basis. If the world's major financial markets were placed under its operation and the financial might and technical skills of the G8 were used to reach funds hidden in off-shore accounts; then the massive resources would be available.

Here is an explanatory Early Day Motion which I submitted when an MP in 2004 as signed by 147 MPs on a cross-party basis; plus further details from a Socialist Campaign Group News article in an earlier campaign in 2000.

The problem is that Gordon Brown rejects the proposal. But the time is ripe for him to place the matter on the international agenda. We need some fresh and urgent campaigning on the issue.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Walking And Chewing Gum

I can not understand how anyone claiming an interest in the politics of the Left could start reading George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" and not quickly complete reading it.

Yet in this article, Nick Cohen of all people states "....I did start Homage to Catalonia a few years ago, but to my shame I never finished it."

This might help to explain why Nick finds it difficult to oppose both Fascism and Imperialism at one and the same time, even though in his book "What's Left?" he talks of the need to be able to "walk and chew gum at the same time".

A full study of Orwell would put him on this wavelength. Anyone not hooked on Orwell, should start scanning Gauche. And (praise indeed) as good as Orwell himself is Bernard Crick's biography of him.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Do Socialists Need To Reassess Gordon?

The think-tank "Reform" is for "liberalism" within the public sector, free enterprise and limited Government. Gordon Brown's short period as Prime Minister has got up its nose - here.

Given Gordon's democratic agenda for Parliament and now moves towards public expenditure for what could come to be a more democratically controlled form of social interventionism, then maybe some of us rushed to judgement too soon in seeing Gordon as merely a tougher Blairite - as here and here.

So who is Gordon trying to con? Is it those anti-Labourites he has drawn into his "inclusive" Government or is it the Left and Centre-Left of the Labour Party? Or is it all of us?

It is all worth following closely and critically. Watch this space.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Ups And Downs Of Nick Cohen

Down With Nick

The current issue of Dissent carries this highly critical review of Nick Cohen's book "What's Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way". The review is by Johann Hari and it centres upon Nick's views in support of the invasion and of continuing Coalition activity in Iraq.

Johann at one time associated himself closely with Nick's views on these matters. Three weeks prior to the invasion, he wrote an article for The Independent entitled "Lefties For the War" and placed himself in the same camp as Nick.

However, Johann unlike Nick was able to see that there were two sides to the coin and three years later he finally wrote an article saying that he had been wrong and that the invasion had been a grave error. He has since looked for ways to find an exit strategy.

He came up with the idea of the occupying forces organising a referendum as to whether they should leave or not. This was a non-starter as the people with formal authority over referendums are the Government via the Iraqi Parliament, who could if they wished ask us to leave (but don't).

He did well, however, to point out the need to remove or firmly control the operation of private security firms in Iraq, whose personnel act as mercenaries and easily outnumber the British troops.

Like most converts to a cause, he goes over the top with some of his criticisms of the views of his former running mate. But what he has to say in his four key sections is well worth reading, as long as the reader retains a critical approach. These sections are on (1) Islamism, (2) Ba'athism, (3) the proper role for the left and (4) Neo-Conservatism.

Up With Nick

In response to Johann's article, Oliver Kamm has rushed to Nick's defence here and here. As Oliver has written a book entitled "Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-wing Case For Neo-Conservatism", he knows his way around the literature and is keen to protect Nick within his own area of expertise. Oliver has also reviewed Nick's book here. Oliver's left-wing credentials are, however, rejected by those who feel that Blairism was beyond the pale.

It is when Oliver and Nick criticise the thrust of the one-sided arguments which come from people such as Noam Chomsky, George Galloway and Andrew Murray that I am with them.

So Johann can be read as thesis and Oliver as anti-thesis - or visa-versa depending where you come in to this argument. Guess who wrote the synthesis?

Levelling With Nick

My own views on Iraq cut across the divide between Johann and the Nick who is supported by Oliver. On the one hand, I strenuously opposed the invasion of Iraq and was then highly critical of Coalition excesses and shortcomings. But on the other hand, I opposed both terrorism and the insurgency from the start and have continuously supported those Iraqis who have used the new situation to try to build civic society and a democratic nation. This line seems to me to be essential for what is left of the left, whatever our passing thoughts happen to be about the stationing of foreign troops.

My own review of Nick's book appears here and in the Summer 2007 issue of the "Democratic Left", the bulletin of Independent Labour Publications. It differs from Johann and Oliver's approaches in that I'm neither an out-and-out critic of Nick, nor a fully fledged supporter. So it lacks the punch of their intellectual polemics.

I agree with much of Nick's analysis on the dangers of fascism in the world, but I don't wish to fall in line with the norms of Western forms of Imperialism. This is closer to Johann's current analysis than Oliver's. But when Johann changed his stance on the invasion, he seemed to me to be too eager to pick up slogans pushed by the Stop-The-War Coalition. A body which believes that Iraq's problems will essentially be resolved merely by troop withdrawals.

P.S. Norman Geras is now in on the act.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Joy And Then Terror In Baghdad

This is top coverage of events in Baghdad when the Iraqi Football team won a place in the Asian Cup Final. Lets hope they can have the joy after the final, without the terror.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

It's Amy, Amy Our Girl

Over the past week, there have been more important things to do than blogging.

17 July

Amy Eveline Barnes, our granddaughter is born at 8.27 pm - 7lbs 14 oz. Rebecca, her mother and Amy are doing spectacularly well.

18 July

At 4 pm my wife, Ann and I welcome a full taxi load back from the hospital to Amy's home. Its Amy herself, mother Rebecca, the proud father (Stephen our son) and Aunty Joanne (our daughter). Shortly afterwards Amy's two year old brother Joseph is collected from the nursery and meets his sister for the first time.

But I can't hide from blogging. The Evening Standard carries a diary item based on this item which I posted earlier.


19 July

Ann and I look after both our grandchildren whilst Stephen and Rebecca walk to the polling station to vote in the Ealing By-election.

20 July

Announced that Labour won the Ealing contest - well, I did help with the baby sitting!

22 July

My 71st Birthday (so this blog should now be called "threescoreyearsandeleven"). We leave Amy and Rebecca resting whilst the rest of us (including Aunty Joanne) pop to the pub for lunch, with Joseph playing on its slide.

24 July

Ann and I go to the London School of Economics to an event organised for the "Iraq Commission". The Commission's Report had dominated my blogging in the run up to Amy's birth.

25 July

Back home from London, by train. Finish reading a book given to me as a birthday present - the second volume of Bryan Magee's great autobiography. As the two volumes that have been published so far total 710 pages and only cover Bryan's life up to 18, perhaps Amy had better start keeping a diary now!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tehran Bus Leader Arrested - Again

This explains the situation and what actions we can take. Here is what I posted earlier.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Part 3: Iraq Commission's Unfinished Business

This is my conclusion of a three-part series about the Iraq Commission. Part 1 and 2 were highly complimentary on (a) its analysis of the situation in Iraq and (b) numbers of its interviews. This section is much more critical about its recommendations and its missed opportunities.

Like Boris, Use Your Weaknesses As Your Strength

When you have a serious weakness, it is sometimes appropriate to turn it into your greatest strength.

The weakness of the Iraq Commission is that it is an unofficial body and should, therefore, have avoided seeking to act as if it was the British version of the
Baker-Hamilton Commission which the United States Congress set up to produce their Iraq Study Group Report.

Yet the Iraq Commission ignored its great weakness and worked as if it could usurp the role of officialdom by producing grand schemes for the British Government, the United Nations and the International Community. In going for such an approach, they conveniently forget about the most important Government of all when it comes to the future of Iraq - the one in Baghdad.

Try Moving Lots Of Little Blocks

Instead of trying to move the policies of the main institutions such as the British Government and United Nations, I wish the Iraq Commission had directed its main thrust towards what it belongs to - civic society.

There is plenty to nibble at. Iraq has its own battered civic society bodies, there is an Iraqi diaspora who have developed its own structures and there are masses of voluntary groups in our own society. A few of the latter are organised specifically to help the needs of Iraqi Society, whilst many others would respond if they knew who they could help, with what and how.

Seeing That The Trees Make-Up The Wood

I know that the Iraq Commission interviewed Non-Governmental Officers and took a serious interest in the plight of the Iraqi people and its masses of refugees, but they only made recommendations in the area I have in mind in a small section of Recommendation No. 22 (out of a total of 34). They called for training and capacity building to be expanded to "non-sectarian civil society organisations like trade unions."

Unfortunately, this is the only reference in the whole of the report (and none in the broadcasted interviews I heard) to Iraqi Trade Unions. Not a single Iraqi Trade Unionist was called for interview, although the articulate and knowledgeable Abdullah Mushin, the International Representative of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers is based in this country.

There is, of course, much more to draw upon than Trade Unionism. Womens' organisations, student bodies, disabled people's structures and pressure groups for health and other improvements all abound. Some permanently and others on an ad hoc basis. If these would have been difficult to contact easily inside Iraq, they often have support groups amongst ex-pats in this country who could have been contacted.

The Iraq Commission could have played the role of being an opinion leader in directing public attention to the significance of the work and efforts of such bodies.

Replacing The Commissions Recommendations

A focus on the operations of the groups I have mentioned above, might also have made the Commission think twice before making some of its recommendations.

Is it wise, for instance, in Recommendation 16 to press for an "Economic Roadmap" confined to the stimulation of the private sector of the Iraqi economy? For whilst bodies such as the Kurdistan Regional Government seem keen to move beyond the traditional operations in Iraq of a form of command economy, they don't wish to throw the baby out with the bath water by letting in an alternative form of turbo capitalism. There are many Iraqi's who would like to discuss the possibility of an alternative to these extremes.

There are, of course, alternatives to the above extremes other than those of New Labour's Third Way. Some in Iraq might find approaches which marry together industrial democracy and a genuine mixed economy as having attractions.

Bringing Iraq On Board

The Baker-Hamilton Report was rejected in Iraq itself by President Talabani as being undue interference with the Iraqi Constitution and with the sovereignty of its people. Whilst the Iraq Commission stresses the federal potential of the Iraqi Constitution in ways that should have some appeal to Talabani as a Kurd, it still makes the mistake of issuing a series of ex-cathedra demands when viewed from an Iraqi standpoint.

It calls for a "Diplomatic Offensive" via the United Nations, involving the appointment of a "UN Envoy" who is to develop a remit over the major Governmental functions in Iraq and will issue terms for the drawing up of an "International Compact" with Iraq's neighbours and with bodies such as the Arab League.

These things are fine, if you can get them. But should not the first port of call be to seek to engage the involvement of the Iraqi Government in drawing up the specific plans for the area? Although there are difficulties about divisions of interest in the Iraqi Government, we need them to help shape and ratify what international actions need to be taken on behalf of their nation.

Troops In, Out Or Sideways?

Recommendations 7 to 14 on the Britain's military role in Iraq are the ones on which too many people will decide their attitude to the Commission's Report, without feeling a need to tackle the complexities of the matters I have touched on above.

Yet what these recommendations are, seem to me to be close to the line which is developing between the British and Iraqi Governments. Basra is the last of four Provinces which is still patrolled by the British Army. A hand-over in Basra is on the horizon. Our troops then stay at the Basra Airport to continue to train Iraqi Forces and for call-out when asked for.

Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, has indicated that our withdrawal could then be on the cards. The Commission wants this to happen when the training programme ends.

To Surge Or Not To Surge?

The complexity in all this, has more to do with what is happening to the insurgency in the territory outside of both the wider British zone of operations and Iraqi Kurdistan. There are three Provinces (out of these 11) in which the American Surge is centred. The Commission generally avoids making judgments on what the Americans should do, and on the impact of any British withdrawal on their position.

A possibility put to them by Ali Allawi is that the Organisation of the Islamic Conference which covers 57 nations, could replace the United States with troops from Islamic Nations other than Iraq's immediate neighbours and competitors, with the agreement of Iraq and the United Nations. But the USA would still need to supply the cash.

Such a prospect would work best, of course, if it was made clear that other nations would not have permanent bases in Iraq - especially the USA and the UK.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If the British Government were to be influenced by the Iraq Commission's Report, then I hope that their first move would be to engage with the Iraqi Government to let them produce the final package.

In the meantime, the Iraq Commission should re-establish itself to undertake the civic agenda which I argued for above.

A Postscript From Baghdad - here

Monday, July 16, 2007

Part 2: Viewpoints On Iraq

One Can Not Live On Facts Alone

Yesterday, I argued that the report of "The Iraq Commission" contained a valuable coverage of many of the complex facts about the current situation in Iraq.

But facts alone (which are always themselves selective) aren't enough to help shape our analysis of a situation. We need to listen to the conflicting arguments of those with claims to expertise. Where can we get hold of these easily? Well why not examine some of the raw material the Commission itself examined -here.

What Is This Commission Anyway?

The Commission does not have the status or the resources of the Baker-Hamilton Commission in the USA which was set up by Congress and spent some 9 months on its detailed work; producing the Iraq Study Group Report which has since been at the forefront of the dispute about the role of the Bush Administration actions over Iraq.

Our Commission had no legislative status. In association with Channel 4, it has been run by the Foreign Policy Centre which is an independent think-tank.

It trawled for written submissions, did some additional research and ended up interviewing 50 people face-to-face and another 6 by video link with Iraq. The interviews were all conducted between 9 and 16 June. It reported its findings on 14 July.

It would be the first to admit that it was a rushed job. Although Jon Snow the Link Man, the Chairs, Commissioners and their back-up delivered some good stuff.

TV And Web-Site Coverage

Channel 4 covered edited versions of the interviews and the launch of its report, in 9 two hour programmes from 2 to 14 July. I watched the lot.

It was a mixed bag. Some of those answering questions (including Ming Campbell) lacked any depth to their arguments. But others made for compelling viewing. Some of the key interviews were with what may be household names for Iraq Watchers - such as Sir Jeremy Greenstock, General Mike Jackson, Dr Ali Allawi (not to be confused with the intertim Prime Minister - Ayad Allawi) and Bayan Rahman, the Kurdish Regional Government High Representative in the UK. But some of the best of the rest were completely new to me, including the academic Gareth Stansfield, the Oil Industry's David Horgan and David Bullivant from the Private Security Business. Some of their revelations were fascinating.

Both transcipts of the interviews and the unedited tapes are also available. Why not click in (as above)to see what you think?

I will cover what I feel about the Report's recommendations in Part 3. But whatever that is, it does not diminish from the worth of the material I refer to above and in Part 1.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Part 1: Key Facts About Iraq

There are certain basic facts we need to know about Iraq before we can decide what policies our Government should now follow. These include -

1. Who the groups are who are involved in its mosaic of terrorism and why.

2. The political divisions which operate between, within and across its ethnic divisions.

3. The make-up of Iraqi and Coalition security forces and how they are influenced.

4. The significance of the private security provisions.

5. Economic, social and refugee problems and measures to seek to deal with these.

6. The actions and interests of each of its six neighbouring nations.

7. The involvement and potential of international agencies and voluntary bodies.

But how do we obtain handy and up-to-date information on these? Try a 50 page section entitled "The Situation In Iraq" which was published only yesterday in the report of The Iraq Commission. It set the scene for their own recommendations.

Why not read the factors they stress before making you own mind up on what is needed?

Footnote

The Commission's Report was published on this 49th Birthday.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Capitalism's Old Hats

Here is an argument to say why New Labour should embrace what is seen as the "New Capitalism". I can't get into the author's comment box, so I give my response below.

Ideas That Were "New" In the Olden Days

The dubious notion that capitalism is changing its spots under the influence of more people having a stake in pension funds, life insurance policies and other investments is hardly new. In this country, Tony Crosland and others started to peddle the idea as soon as the dust started to settle on the 1945-51 Labour Government's reforms.

Unfortunately, pension funds have been collapsing left-right-and-centre recently and are a poor example of how the "New Capitalism" has started to transform us all into stakeholders. Moves to protect such funds will hardly put their members in the driving seat over free market operations. This is because capitalism belongs to capitalists. It belongs to those with serious wealth, who use it to advance the size of their own portfolios and dominate what their Boards get up to. They don't need majority ownership to be able to override the isolated views of those whose biggest stake isn't their investments, but what they get from their paid employment.

Even the argument that capitalists (old and new) have a vested interest in being nice to their workers, was being propounded by Robert Owen as part of his theory of "the economy of high wages" back in the 1817. However, after bashing his head against this brick wall he moved on to the notion that worker's should unite and act collectively in their own interests via Trades Union and Producer Co-operatives.

Socialism's Contemporary Relevance

Of course, we have to regulate, restrain and attempt to influence how capitalism functions in today's world - a task made more difficult by its globalised nature in many of the areas which really matter. Advances to any socialist alternatives have, of course, to beware of bureaucratic abuses. In Britain ,thinkers such as GDH Cole had pointed this out from 1917.

But just as socialism is lost without democracy, so is democracy only a shadow of what it could be without socialism. We should at least start talking to people about the need to turn the ship round in order to start even a gradualist move to democratic socialism. If we don't start acting upon co-operative, egalitarian and democratic principles; then we will continue down the road to an even more miserable world. There is modernisation for you.

But How Do We Get To A Socialist Perspective?

Try this for size - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Iraqi For Sunderland?

Today's "Daily Telegraph" claims that Sunderland's Manager "Roy Keane has held talks with Iraq international Nashat Akram. The midfielder, who plays for Saudi Arabia side Al-Shabab is presently on duty at the AFC Asian Cup". Here is where the report seemingly comes from.

Iraq's activities in the AFC Asian Cup are covered here. Iraq having just completed its own football season as recently as last Friday - here are the final Iraqi football results.

For more on Iraqi Football see here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Iranian Trade Union Leader Abducted

The Iranian Trade Union Leader, Mansour Osanloo has been beaten and abducted in Tehran seemingly by a government agency. He is President of the Bus Workers' Syndicate of Tehran. The TUC has made these representations on his behalf.

Protests to British and Iranian Authorities would be welcome. People can also press their local MP, Labour Party, Amnesty Group and Trade Union on the issue.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Only Ronnie Has Balls

Ed and Ronnie

In a Statement in the Commons today, the new Schools Minister Ed Balls encouraged Universities to involve themselves in the expansion of Academies, by removing the need for them to find £2million when acting as a sponsor. Unfortunately, no MP asked him whether yet more Academies were advisable and whether any alternative form of linkage could be provided between Universities and Local Authority Schools for educational purposes. Nor did anyone check out as to whether the £2millions would come from the Exchequer instead, and (if so) whether the money couldn't be better used by Local Education Authorities.

All the MPs present who wished to asked questions were called by the Speaker. Yet the only left-wing Labour MP who raised a matter was Ronnie Campbell. He was justifiably concerned about a matter in his Blyth Constituency where two neighbouring and newly built schools are in a damaging competition with each other - one an Academy, the other a Local Authority School. Ed Balls offered to attend these with him, to try and defuse the situation. I am sure that Ronnie will make good use of the visit.

Ed and Gordon

It was interesting to see that Gordon Brown turned up for Ed's statement. Tony Blair tended to ignore Statement's from other Minister's unless they were what he considered to be high matters of State, such as a Foreign Affair's crisis or a Budget Statement. Does Gordon's appearance indicate a greater commitment to the Common's than was the case with Tony? That would, at least, be helpful.

Ed also offered to meet a whole host of MP's to discuss matters they raised. Even though they had seldom asked for meetings. With most others, he promised to further investigate the matters they raised. But only Ronnie won a Constituency visit from him. Either this was all a new inclusive form of governing, or Ed isn't yet sure how he should answer parliamentary questions about schools.

Monday, July 09, 2007

You, Me And The ILP

Independent Labour Publications (ILP) was founded in 1893 as the Independent Labour Party. It was a co-founder of the Labour Party itself. Today's ILP is an educational trust, publishing house and pressure group committed to democratic socialism and to the success of a democratic socialist Labour Party. It seems to me to be exactly the type of body that is needed, given the present conditions which Labour Party socialists find themselves in. We need some sensible long term thinking, rather then efforts at politicking.

Through its Independent Labour Publications Friends' Network it runs "a loose organisation of democratic socialists who wish to discuss ideas and learn from each other as a means of creating a living political community". The summer edition of the Network's bulletin "Democratic Socialist" has just been published. I am a member of the Network and the current issue contains two of my articles. Versions of these have appeared on this blog. Here and here.

Included in the current bulletin is an article by Jonathan Timbers giving details of the ILP's annual weekend of discussions which were held in Scarborough recently. These discussions centred around ideas to extend and refine the ILP's current political perspective which it adopted in 1996 under the title "A Socialism For Our Times".

I was unable to attend the weekend, so I submitted them a document of my own entitled "Towards A Socialist Perspective".It appears on this blog also, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I can't speak for the ILP or its Network, but those with sympathy for the general political line I take could do worse than to check out its web-site.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Order, Order!

The Association of Former Members of Parliament has 340 members and publishes a Newsletter entitled "Order, Order!". The Summer 2007 issue includes an article from me about this blog. I reproduced it below with their heading. It is in their edited form, I have omitted a small item and have corrected my blog details!


ORDER, ORDER!
Harry Barnes Is Looking For Bloggers!



As a pensioner, I once asked an even more elderly friend how I could acquire computer skills. His answer was - "have some grandchildren!"

But as our first grandchild was only born four days after I retired as an MP in 2005, it has been my son and daughter I have turned to for help.

I first became an MP in 1987 and was set in my ways by the time computers finally came to dominate the scene. I depended upon assistants to engage in the seemingly unfathomable surfing the net, producing DATA files, downloading e-mails and turning my scrawl into computer text.

I am now into the daily use of the computer. And as I taught politics at university for 21 years, then served as an MP for 18 years and even did my National Service in Iraq; it is natural for me to link my past worlds together in what I term "political education".

So now I circulate e-mails about political discussion meetings I organise, click into "Google" in order to research items, use a word processor to provide material for our Iraq LFIQ web-site and even operate my own "blog" which my son set up for me as a great 70th birthday surprise.

Having a blog is like publishing one's own column onto the scene. It is a substitute for no longer having my former MP's avenues of writing up notes for parliamentary speeches, shooting off press-releases and writing articles for magazines or local freebie newspapers.

So I can now rush out any ideas I want to on the Labour Leadership, book reviews, or the visit I made to Iraqi-Kurdistan last year, or football. Especially now Sunderland are back in the Premier League . I was very proud to have my piece "A Love Supreme" republished in the Sunderland fanzine.(1)

It is much easier than trying to catch the Speaker's eye.

There is no reason why ex-MPs can't establish their own blogging community - for a public debate.

If you are interested, then click into my blog at http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.com/ or just ask the grandkids!

Harry Barnes MP for Derbyshire N.E. 1987-2005.

(1) = N.B. The article was entited "From Beano to Keano" ,whilst "A Love Supreme" is the name of the Fanzine.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Is Britain's Role In Basra Drawing To A Close?

Does this report suggest that there could soon be a timetable for British troops withdrawing from Iraq? Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister is said to have told Gordon Brown that he wants the Iraqi authorities to replace the role of the British troops in Basra in three month's time. Basra is the last province in which we play this role.

The report goes on, however, to say that "Maliki expressed hope to Brown that British forces would only play a supporting role" afterwards. But presumably even that more limited role could itself come to be time-limited.

Such moves would, of course, begin to isolate the position of America. A position which has its own pros and cons. But Maliki's statement does allow Gordon Brown to see some light at the end of this tunnel.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Trade Unions In Iraq

To meet their word limit, I have sent an edited version of the following as a submission to the Iraq Commission. It deals entirely with the issue of Iraqi Trade Unionism. I had earlier promised a response to Duncan on criticisms he raised about aspects of my views the Iraqi Trade Union Movement. I hope that he will accept the submission as covering an update of my views on this subject.

Scope of the submission

1. This submission is restricted to two key aspects of your Commissions remit. These are (a) your interest in “the political and economic situation in Iraq” and (b) your concern for the “long term support for Iraq (in assisting)….democracy and civil society”. These matters are, of course, central to your Commmisions interests and are of overwhelming importance for the future well-being of Iraq.

2. Whilst Iraq is going through a terrible period of violent divisions on ethic, tribal, religious and other sectarian grounds; it also contains social forces which seek to unify people across these diverse and separate interests.

3. Groupings which seek to integrate, rather than divide people include women’s groups, student bodies and interest groups seeking improvements in medical services, welfare provisions, education and various other communal facilities. There is also a deal of inter-marriage and communal connections in areas of Iraq between those whom others seek to divide, including amongst Sunni and Shia.

4. I wish to concentrate on the impact and unifying influence of the organisations I have personal links with - the Iraqi Trade Union Movement. In sections 5 to 10 below, I will establish what these links are.

My Links

5. My connection with the Iraqi Trade Union Movement arose from a question I raised in the Commons soon after the initial Coalition invasion of Iraq, when I asked a Parliamentary Question about the role the Iraqi Labour Movement would play in the reconstruction of their country (see Hansard, 3 April 2003, column 1090/1).

6. I have since met with a wide range of Iraqi Trade Union Leaders in the Commons (first as an MP, then at meetings following my retirement in 2005), at the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and on a visit to Iraqi Kurdistan in 2006. The latter involved a key meeting with Iraqi Trade Unionists from Basra, Baghdad and other areas outside of Iraqi Kurdistan. They flew in to Arbil to meet with the group I was with.

7. The visit to Iraqi Kurdistan was with Labour Friends of Iraq and with British Trade Unionists. Amongst those we met were Najim Abd-Jasem the general Secretary of the Mechanics, Printers and Metalworkers Union who was recently assassinated in Baghdad because of his Trade Union work.

8. I am proud to be an honouary member of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), which as early as January 2004 was recognised by the then Iraqi Governing Council as being “the legitimate legal representatives of the labour movement in Iraq”. It was established as a federation of 13 Trade Unions operating in each major sector of the economy.

9. As an MP I had the honour of chairing a meeting in the Commons which was addressed by Hadi Saleh, the International Secretary of the IFTU who was a major figure in establishing the above structure and in gaining the movement’s international Trade Union recognition. He was brutally murdered in Baghdad because of these activities in 2005.

10. A major person through whom my above links have been established is Abdullah Muhsin. He initially was international representative of the IFTU, a post he now holds with the wider body known as the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW). He is based in this country. It would be fruitful for the Commission to seek to draw from his expertise. Along with the academic, Alan Johnson (whom you are to interview) Abdullah produced the key TUC publication on this topic - “Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions” (TUC, 2006). I recommend this book to the Commission for its examination.

Trade Unions in Iraqi Kurdistan

11. In sections 11 to 22, I will seek to give an indication of the scope, strength and potential of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan, before moving on to the more complex situation in the rest of Iraq. Whilst the conditions for Trade Union development are more favourable in Iraqi Kurdistan, it should be noted that they have solid links with their counterparts in the rest of Iraq whom they see as sister organisations.

12. Trade Unions have been able to operate openly in Iraqi Kurdistan as a result of the establishment of the northern no-fly zone in the region in 1991. They operate in relatively favourable circumstances and are generally free from (and protected against) terrorist attacks. They also enjoy close links with the major governing political parties. In the Arbil area the connection is with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and in the Sulaimaniyah district it is with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. (PUK). These arrangements have involved some officials moving in and out of Trade Union, Parliamentary and Governmental positions. The only problem is whether this relationship is too close.

13. The Iraqi Kurdistan economy has the characteristics of a command economy, but even the Kurdistan Communist Party (KCP) are aware of the need to open up the economy for the purposes of inward investment. It is a matter the Regional Government is focused upon.

14. The region suffers from less unemployment than is the case for the rest of Iraq. Even so , the official unemployment rate is currently 28%. Perhaps half of the rate for the rest of Iraq. However, the region suffers from large elements of under-employment. For instance, we visited a cigarette factory employing 600 people which had produced nothing for four years due to the state of its machinery. The workers were fully unionised and had to attend the factory full-time in order to receive their minimal earnings.

15. Yet Iraqi Kurdistan has growing areas in its economy. There is a building boom covering private housing, rented flats, council houses, university student’s accommodation and public facilities. Road building, a hydro-electric project and plans for leisure provisions are to the fore. Cement factories proliferate.

16. It is not, of course, an area free from economic problems. In an oil producing nation, there are serious petrol shortages. Petrol is smuggled in over its mountains, especially from Iran. It is then sold on from containers in open roadside black markets at inflated rates.

17. The major Trade union federation in Iraqi Kurdistan is the Kurdistan Workers Syndicate (KWS) who claim a membership of 200,000. Given the numbers of Trade Unionists we met throughout the region, the number and size of their facilities and the links they set up for us with businesses and Government Ministers, this number seems highly plausible.

18. The KWS have close fraternal links with the Kurdistan Teacher’s Union, who cover everyone involved in education including those at University. It claims a membership of 100,000 and was prominent throughout our visit, including participating at our meeting with (and alongside) the Arbil Minister of Education.

19. We also met with a group described as Civic Society Organisations, who turned out to be Trade Unions for professional groups. These included Professional Engineers (2,000 members), Economists, Artists (15,000),Qualified Engineers, Health Professionals (9,750) , Agronomists and a Lawyers and Barristers Group (5,000). The major interest these groups expressed to us were (a) the need to have fraternal links with equivalent bodies in the rest of Iraq (although no equivalent existed in Baghdad for the Lawyers and the Qualified Engineers) and (b) in the meantime as these avenues were blocked due to disruption in Baghdad in particular, they need to develop such links with bodies outside of Iraq.

20. In all, Iraqi Kurdistan appears to have a vibrant and influential Trade Union Movement of at least 350,000 members. It cater for all the major elements of the local population, including Assyrians, Armenians, Turcomans, Chaldeans, Arabs and both Sunni and Shia Kurds.

21. The latest total population figure supplied by the Kurdistan Regional Government (covering Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk) is 3,757,058. The region has a young population, with a median age of 20. As the unemployment level is 28% and there is a large self-employed population in agricultural areas, with many women not seeking to enter the labour market; it is quite feasible that the density of trade union membership amongst the employed workforce is greater than the British figure of 29.1%.

22. In circumstances where there is a desperate need to have bodies in society which seek to nurture and hold-together the social bond, press for freedoms to act on behalf of their members’ combined interests and display their need to find their place in an open and democratic society; then the Iraqi Kurdistan Trade Union Movement needs our support and help. If it is argued that Trade Unions can display divisive and sectional interests, then it needs to be appreciated that this is much less likely to be a factor when they are in conditions where they are seeking to struggle against these very factors.

Trade Unions in the rest of Iraq

23. In sections 23 to 34, I will cover the more complex pattern of Trade Unionism which exists outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan area. It is not, however, an area I have visited since I undertook my National Service in Iraq in 1955-6. But I have discussed the current situation with a large number of its Trade Union leadership.

24. There is a strong pattern of Trade Union activity which pre-dates its suppression under Saddam Hussein’s regime. In 1959, no less than half a million people participated in a May Day demonstration in Baghdad out of a total Iraqi population of under seven million. The development of the railways, ports, factories and the oil industry had moved Iraq towards a greater urbanisation which stimulated a Labour and Trade Union Movement which was led at that time by the Iraqi Communist Party. The 1959 demonstration being called and led by the dominant Trade Federation of that time - the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU).

25. In 1987 Saddam Hussein banned the operation of Trade Unions in the dominant public sector and took over the remnants of the GFTU, putting Chemical Ali in charge of its operations and using its structure for abusive purposes. Unfortunately, Law 150 which banned Trade Unions from operating in the public sector has never been repealed for the bulk of Iraq. Using its federal powers under the Iraqi Constitution, the measure has, however, been cleared from the statute books in Iraqi Kurdistan.

26. Whilst Saddam’s Law does not function in the same way as it did under the dictator’s regime, it places considerable blocks upon the operations of Trade Unions. Employers can (and do) turn to the Courts to inhibit Trade Union operations. Whilst State power is used against Trade Union industrial action, as in the Basra Oil Industry at the moment - see section 33. The international Trade Union Movement and internal Iraqi Unions regularly press for the repeal of Law 150, which is in conflict with the provisions of the Iraqi Constitution which guarantees the rights of free Trade Unions.

27. As a consequence of Saddam Hussein’s persecution of Trade Unionists and their political allies in the Communist Party, many of those who weren’t imprisoned or executed went into exile or operated in a clandestine way until they finally grabbed the opening provided by the Coalition’s invasion.

28. Immediately on the heels of the invasion which the above Trade Unionists had been opposed to, they moved openly to re-group. Despite American troops initially taking over the IFTU offices in Baghdad and arresting numbers of its officials, the growth of Trade Unionism was dramatic. The 13 Trade unions affiliated to the newly formed IFTU soon claimed 200,000 members. The Iraqi Teachers Union catering for all from schools to Universities, claimed an even larger membership. Other independent Trade Unions and a Union for the unemployed were established.
The post Saddam GFTU and a splinter group entitled the General Federation of Iraqi Trade unions (GFITU) were also operative. For a period, the combined Iraqi and Kurdistan Trade Union Movements seemed to be covering a million members in a nation with massive unemployment, extreme poverty, disruption and internal conflict.

29. In order to gain affiliation to the Arab Federation of Trade Unions. The IFTU, the GNITU and the post Saddam GFTU merged to set up the General Federation of Iraqi Workers in December 2005. Abdullah Muhsin whom I mentioned in section 10 is their International Secretary. The IFTU forms their largest element.

30. Following an earlier flowering of their activities, Iraqi Trade Unions have faced numbers of stumbling blocks. In August 2005 the transitional Government passed Decree 8750 under which the Government sequestrates Trade union funds, pending its proposed decision to determine who it recognises as being legitimate Trade Unions. It has left the Trade Union Movement in limbo by never getting round to making such a decision. Whilst Decree 8750 as with Law 150 is, of course, in conflict with the Iraqi Constitutions commitment to free Trade Unions.

31. The practical consequences of the sequestration of funds is probably even more serious than the continued operation of Law 150. Although the two measures being run alongside each other form a massive restraint on Trade Union activity. Without financial resources, Trade unions have to depend upon voluntary help and are without proper office facilities. Again the international Trade Union Movement regularly protests to the Iraqi Government about Decree 8750 as it knows any funds it supplies to the Iraqi Trade union Movement will be taken over by the Iraqi Government.

32. Growing terrorism effects Trade Unionism in many ways. It disrupts economic activity and divides people into separate communities (cutting numbers away from their jobs). Trade Unionists and their officials are widely targeted and murdered. Trade Unionists are also kidnapped and executed both in their role as workers and specially for their Trade Union activities. Continuing economic disruption restricts job opportunities and helps create (at best) temporary and casual work.

33. Yet whilst State, terrorist and economic pressures hit Trade Unionism, the efforts made in advancing Trade union interests are still considerable. Currently, the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) are in dispute with their employers in Basra after protected negotiations to improve wages and conditions for their members. Iraqi Armed Forces have been sent in to break the strike, using Law 150. The American Trade Union Federation (the AFL-CIO) and the TUC are amongst those who are protesting strongly about the Iraqi Government’s actions. The IFOU is an independent Trade Union, but it has the support of the GFIW in its struggle.

34. Industrial action is only the more dramatic sign of Trade union activity. Yet in the past two months we have also seen strikes by the Teacher’s Union in Basra, by railway workers across Iraq (including Kirkuk), by rubber plant workers in Diwaniyah, by workers at four factories in Baghdad and by postal workers in Kut Wasit. Journalists also called for a week of protest in Maysan over the assassination of a colleague. The combination of this pattern, indicates that Trade Unionism is a strong force in Iraq, which can not easily be sidelined.

The political wing of Trade Unionism

35. When the earlier Iraqi Trade Union Movement reached its peak in 1959 with the mass demonstration I described in section 24, it was closely linked in with the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) which was a body which pressed for a Western-style “bourgeois” democracy, so that it could find its way into the political nation .

36. Although the ICP and its Kurdish equivalent have a small number of seats in the Iraqi Parliament and they can now be viewed as being left-wing Democratic Socialist Parties, they can not now be seen as being in a position to act as the political expression of the wider Trade Union Movement. The ICP has, however, recently held a 4 day Congress in Baghdad with 250 delegates and observers. Whilst they also ran celebrations on their 73rd anniversary, claiming that 10,000 people attended a celebration at the International People’s Stadium in Baghdad on 31 March. This and related claims seem to be verified by photographic evidence .Guest speakers included representatives of the Iraqi President and of the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament. Several related events were held in Sulaimanya, Hiila, Kut, Karbala, Najaf and Halabja, with 2,000 at the events in Nasseriyah.

37. The activities of the IPC and the KCP do not, of course, mean that the Communists are about to achieve a political break-through in a nation dominated by the divisions I have stressed. There are, however, indications that counter-cultures exist to those we find so worrying. Whilst this might not be reflected in the ballot box (even amongst the bulk of Trade Unionists) it provides signs that a class based politics can make advances in competition with the current dominant forces.

What can we do?

38. I have attempted to show the size, importance and persistence of the Trade Union Movement in Iraq. I see it as part of a countervailing force against Iraq’s divisive elements. It sees its own interests as best being served in a democratic society which activates a wide area of civil liberties.

39. When the Commission makes its recommendations, I hope that it will incorporate this understanding into its analysis. The key question is how the Iraqi Trade Union Movement can be encouraged down the path I have indicated and how we can assist it in such efforts.

40. There is, in fact, a great deal of moral and practical support which is provided by the International Trade Union Movement to its Iraqi equivalents. Unfortunately, this work is largely ignored by the major avenues of the media in this country and elsewhere. A strong recommendation by your Commission that the media should focus its attention on this good news, would be helpful.


41. In Britain the TUC runs an Iraqi Solidarity Committee and an “Aid Iraq Appeal”
which has sponsored a major project assisting Iraqi Journalists in establishing free Trade Unions. As monies the TUC might supply to the Iraqi Trade Unions outside of Iraqi Kurdistan would now be confiscated, it has a scheme to collect used mobile phones with their chargers for use on Iraqi Trade Union business. The Fire Brigade Union ( FBU) sent 600 kits of boots, leggings and tunics to their equivalent organisation in Basra, when they saw fire-fighters’ needs. Recently FBU members drove two fire engines to Baghdad for use by the capital’s fire-fighters. UNISON funds Trade Union Training Courses in Iraq. Our group visited one of these in Arbil and met the co-ordinator who runs the national scheme. As a former tutor on Trade Union Courses, I was impressed with what I saw. The NUJ, RMT, PCS and GMB are amongst other Trade Unions providing support. Whilst Iraqi Trade Unionists regularly attend Trade Union Education Courses, Conferences and Rallies in this country. There are close links between the Teacher’s Unions in Iraq and our equivalents such as the NAS/UWT. The Iraqi Trade union Movement also has a regular presence at world-wide Trade Union Conferences, recognition by the Arab Federation of Trade Unions and close contacts with the International Labour Office and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

42. The British Government makes a wide range of sympathetic responses when questioned on the role of Trade Unions in Iraq. I elicited a good number of these from Ministers and the Prime Minister when I was an MP. Dave Anderson MP first elected in 2005, succeeded me as a Joint President of Labour Friends of Iraq and has since carried on this practice. Tony Blair as Prime Minister also hosted a reception at 10 Downing Street for the launch of the TUC’s book on Iraq (see section 10). It is much more difficult, however, to assess how these expressions and signs of sympathy work out in practice. The government are, of course, restricted in relation to open representations and other pressures they can place upon the Iraqi Government, as this might be viewed as interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation. Although some would argue that they act more clearly for commercial interests. Your Commission’s encouragement to the Government to do what it can to aid Iraqi Trade Unionism would be welcome, especially if this can be attached to the supply of hard evidence about its achievements. A main objective is the repeal of Law 150 and Decree 8750 as described earlier.

43. Much ,however, needs to be achieved outside of formal Government avenues, beyond the ranks of the dedicated few. A better understanding of the Iraqi Trade Union situation by the general public would be helpful. More of those who see themselves as being part of the wider Trade Union and Labour Movement could (in particular) provide much-needed moral and practical support to the Iraqi Trade Union movement. The Commissions efforts in stimulating such interests would be welcome.

44. I have concentrated on the area I understand the best - Iraqi Trade Unions. I am convinced that similar considerations apply to Women’s Groups, Student Organisations and hosts of other interests Groups such as the one we met in Iraqi Kurdistan who organised as a Dwarf’s Group from those effected by Saddam Hussein’s gas attacks upon their parents.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Daily Life In Baghdad

This is from a Dentist in Baghdad. It is worthy of much wider circulation. I hope that others will pass it on via their own blogs. I have already recommended his blog in an earlier item I posted. It is the best one I have come across in Iraq from an individual.

Given the pressures Mohammed and his wife live under; the blog, sympathetic responses in its comment box and the couples general use of the Internet, help to keep them going. Involvement with them is highly informative and, above all, is a help to them.