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Pinkertons at the CPA: Iraq's resurgent labor unions could have helped rebuild the country's civil society. The Bush administration, of course, tried to crush them.

On Jan. 4, labor union labor union: see union, labor.  leader Hadi Saleh Hadi Saleh (Arabic: هادى صالح )

(1949 - January 42005) was an Iraqi trade unionist and was International Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.
 returned to his Baghdad home after work. Five masked men laid in wait. After he entered, they jumped him, blind-folded him, and bound his hands and feet. The intruders beat and burnt Saleh on his torso and head and then choked him to death with an electrical cord. Before they left, the men strafed Saleh's body with bullets. His membership flies were ran-sacked. This wasn't everyday violence. Saleh was, at the time of his death, international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) is the largest union federation in Iraq and the only officially recognized trade union body. It was formed in the aftermath of the Iraq War by several groups, most prominently the Iraqi Communist Party, which wished to disassociate itself  (IFTU IFTU Iraqi Federation of Workers' Trade Unions
IFTU Intensive Flying Trials Unit
IFTU In-Flight Target Update
IFTU Intelligence Formal Training Unit
IFTU In-Flight Trajectory Update
IFTU I Find This Useful
IFTU Instrument Flying Training Unit
) and a strong player in Iraq's born-again labor movement once crushed by Saddam Hussein. The labor leader's killers are widely suspected to be remnants of Hussein's secret police, the Mukhabarat. Saleh's slaying was the most high-profile attack on Iraqi labor officials, many of whom continue to be kidnapped and killed with impunity by the insurgents Insurgents, in U.S. history, the Republican Senators and Representatives who in 1909–10 rose against the Republican standpatters controlling Congress, to oppose the Payne-Aldrich tariff and the dictatorial power of House speaker Joseph G. Cannon. . In recent months, two more trade unionists have been murdered, one while he was walking home with his children.


There is good reason for insurgents to take on the trade unionists. The IFTU supports a secular state, representative of Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurd. Its leaders have called for the insurgency to end. The union has endorsed U.N. Resolution 1546, which sets the time table for Iraq's transition into a democracy. The group was one of comparatively few in Iraq to back the American-appointed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government, the continued presence of coalition soldiers for security, and the Jan. 30 elections. Right before the elections, the IFTU's Foreign Representative Abdullah Muhsin emailed me a simple and direct view of their importance: "[T]he elections in Iraq Elections in Iraq gives information on election and election results in Iraq.

Under the Iraqi constitution of 1925, Iraq was a constitutional monarchy, with a bicameral legislature consisting of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate.
 are essential to avoid a brutal assault by reactionary forces." The Iraqi labor movement, in other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, had been a consistent enemy of the insurgency, and a strong proponent of a free, self-governing Iraq.

Saleh's murder is more than just a sign of the frailty of Iraq's move towards democracy. It's also an apt example of how Iraq's labor movement has fared under U.S. control. Americans have largely left the Iraqi unions to fend for themselves, and in some cases actively undercut them. As a result, Iraq has been significantly deprived of the movement perhaps most willing and best equipped to nurture along a nascent national democracy in a religiously and ethnically divided country: organized labor Organized Labor

An association of workers united as a single, representative entity for the purpose of improving the workers' economic status and working conditions through collective bargaining with employers. Also known as "unions".

From Poland to Brazil to post-apartheid South Africa, organized labor has played a critical role in helping new democracies emerge and stabilize. America's own history of successful occupation teaches the same lesson. After the Japanese surrender in World War II, the country's newly-appointed premier knocked on the door of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and was greeted with a memorandum outlining the framework for Japan's democratization de·moc·ra·tize  
tr.v. de·moc·ra·tized, de·moc·ra·tiz·ing, de·moc·ra·tiz·es
To make democratic.

. First on the list was the "emancipation of the women of Japan through their enfranchisement The act of making free (as from Slavery); giving a franchise or freedom to; investiture with privileges or capacities of freedom, or municipal or political liberty. Conferring the privilege of voting upon classes of persons who have not previously possessed such. ." Second was "the encouragement of the unionization of Labor."

Had the American administrators in Iraq followed MacArthur's model and placed a similar emphasis on nurturing labor, that move alone would not have turned Iraq into a stable, civil society. But given the history of labor in emerging democracies and the dearth of other nation-building alternatives in Iraq, sheltering and encouraging a union movement ought to have been pretty close to first in the reconstruction playbook. Instead, it seems to have come somewhere near last.

Saddam's legal legacy

Iraq's contemporary labor movement was founded during the 1920s and played a crucial role in overthrowing the British-supported monarchy in 1958. The nation's unions had never coexisted very easily with the Ba'ath movement. While the Ba'ath Party preached a secular pan-Arabism organized on fascist lines, the Communist-inflected labor movement advocated a socialism inclusive of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Whether someone was a Shiite, a Sunni, or a Kurd didn't matter according to the prevailing ideologies--what mattered was whether they were workers. For this, "the Iraqi Communist Party Since its foundation in 1934, the Iraqi Communist Party (in Arabic: الحزب الشيوعي العراقي) has dominated the left in Iraqi politics.  was viewed as selfless modernizers by the people, willing to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs in social justice," Iraq historian Peter Sluglett of the University of Utah The University of Utah (also The U or the U of U or the UU), located in Salt Lake City, is the flagship public research university in the state of Utah, and one of 10 institutions that make up the Utah System of Higher Education.  told me. While both Communists and Ba'athists helped lead the 1958 revolution against Iraq's royal family, they split soon afterwards, largely over the Ba'ath concept of wahda, or Arab unity, which excluded Kurds and other non-Arabs, critical members of the Communist coalition. So, when the Ba'ath wrestled control of the state in the coup of 1963, they systematically set out to eliminate their only real rival, the Communists. Seeing the labor movement as essentially red, the Ba'ath would stage intermittent purges of the trade unions for a decade and a half.

When Saddam finally consolidated political control of the country in 1979, things got much worse for labor. The new president immediately stepped up the persecution of dissidents in the General Federation of Trade Unions General Federation of Trade Unions is the name of several union federations:
  • General Federation of Trade Unions (Iraq)
  • General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea
  • General Federation of Trade Unions (UK)
  • Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions
 (GFTU GFTU General Federation of Trade Unions ), Iraq's most powerful union, intimidating and torturing workers to flesh out dissidents, and appointing loyal apparatchiks to key positions. (The Saddam-controlled labor union was for a time in the 1980s headed by Ali Hassan al-Majid Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (Arabic: علي حسن عبد المجيد التكريتي , the Hussein loyalist who would later become infamous as the war criminal "Chemical Ali.") In 1987, Saddam decided he couldn't abide even this arrangement, and effectively banned trade unions in the public sector, where the majority of people worked. In response, organized labor went underground with a small cadre of activists and true believers collecting information on the regime's crimes and funneling it to the West, where many of the movement's leaders, now in exile, were agitating ag·i·tate  
v. ag·i·tat·ed, ag·i·tat·ing, ag·i·tates
1. To cause to move with violence or sudden force.

 for regime change.

So by March 2003, when the first American and allied tanks rolled into Iraq, laborites there, who had been hoping for Saddam's overthrow for decades, were mostly cheering. By mid-May, the IFTU arose out of the labor movement that had resisted Saddam for more than two decades. Composed of liberals, nationalists, and communists who represented Iraq's Mueslix-like mixture of ethnicity and faith, the IFTU was one of the few existing organizations in Iraq whose membership crossed sectarian lines.

But from the time the Coalition Provisional Authority The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) سلطة الائتلاف الموحدة was established as a transitional government following the invasion of Iraq by the United States,  (CPA (Computer Press Association, Landing, NJ) An earlier membership organization founded in 1983 that promoted excellence in computer journalism. Its annual awards honored outstanding examples in print, broadcast and electronic media. The CPA disbanded in 2000. ) took possession of Iraq, the Americans running the country not only declined to engage the labor movement in the process of building a nation, but also worked actively to undermine labor's ability to play a constructive role.

First, during his tenure, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer Lewis Paul Bremer III (born September 30 1941), known as Paul Bremer and also nicknamed Jerry Bremer, was named Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for post-war Iraq following the Iraq War of 2003, replacing Jay Garner on May 6 2003.  repealed virtually the whole Iraqi legal structure with his so-called 100 Orders. He did not, however, repeal Saddam's 1987 Labor Code, which forfeited the right of public sector workers to bargain collectively. That decision, though deeply foolish for purposes of nation-building, made perfect sense to the movement ideologues staffing the U.S. occupation. Much of the CPA's effort in Baghdad was devoted to helping create a conservative's ideal state, complete with a 15 percent flat tax on individual and corporate income. Bremer's crew was so zealous that they tried, in September 2003, to privatize virtually the whole economy--200 state-owned firms. Legalizing labor unions would not have been helpful, to say the least, to these privatization privatization: see nationalization.

Transfer of government services or assets to the private sector. State-owned assets may be sold to private owners, or statutory restrictions on competition between privately and publicly owned
 plans. As Bjorn Brandtzaeg, a former CPA team leader for trade and industry, wrote in the Financial Times, "Instead of focusing on restarting the main industrial complexes as soon as possible after the end of hostilities, a team of ideologically motivated CPA officials with close ties to the US administration pursued a narrow privatization strategy. The result ... [s]everal hundred thousand people remained out of work."

Ironically, and perhaps predictably, this U.S.-engineered unemployment helped undermine the administration's privatization plans. Iraqi workers feared privatization would worsen unemployment, seeing that overseas subcontractors were already importing cheap skilled foreign workers for jobs that Iraqis believed were rightfully theirs. Massive protests organized by Iraqi labor unions ensued. Bowing to labor's demands, the Iraqi Governing Council The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was the provisional government of Iraq from July 13, 2003 to June 1, 2004. It was established by and served under the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).  (IGC (Integrated Graphics Controller) The inclusion of the video display circuitry on the motherboard. An IGC is typically contained in the chipset, such as the Northbridge. See integrated graphics and IGP.

IGC - Institute for Global Communications
) petitioned the CPA to forestall privatization until a democratically elected government of Iraqis had assumed power. The CPA reluctantly heeded their advice.

The clash over privatization didn't exactly improve the U.S. attitude towards Iraq's labor unions. In late 2003, the CPA refused to unfreeze union assets, which the IFTU argued were rightfully theirs. In a 2004 interview with Scotland's Morning Call, the IFTU's General Secretary Subhi Abdullah Mashadani complained, "It's not Bremer's money, it is not CPA money--it is our money."

The truth is a bit more complicated. The IFTU is claiming ownership of the assets of the old GFTU, the once free and independent union that Saddam transformed into a "yellow union" by executing and imprisoning its leadership and appointing apparatchiks throughout its hierarchy. From then on, the GFTU functioned as an "extension of the party and the state," according to Harry Kamberis of the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, which provides training and assistance to labor unions in emerging democracies, including to the IFTU. The GFTU still survives in Iraq, leaving it and the IFTU to fight over the frozen assets. As Abdulwahab Alkebsi of the National Endowment for Democracy The National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, is a U.S. non-profit organization that was founded in 1983, to promote democracy by providing cash grants funded primarily through an annual allocation from the U.S. Congress.  told me, bad blood exists between the two unions because the "GFTU represented the status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy.  underneath Saddam and therefore had the assets." The IFTU contends that the GFTU remains Ba'athist, while the GFTU claims it has cleansed itself of any regime residue.

Their struggle aside, there's no clear rationale for why, after two years of occupation, a decision or compromise couldn't have been made that released at least some of the assets to deserving unions--especially since six of the 12 IFTU constituent unions democratically elected their leadership. (When I asked why the U.S. government hadn't come to a decision on the union assets, the State Department's press office replied that the "Iraq office [was] not able to speak on this issue.")

The U.S. government further signaled its attitude towards Iraqi labor unions in early December 2003 when coalition troops stormed the IFTU headquarters in Baghdad, ransacked ran·sack  
tr.v. ran·sacked, ran·sack·ing, ran·sacks
1. To search or examine thoroughly.

2. To search carefully for plunder; pillage.
 their offices, arrested eight union workers, and shut down the office. Within a day, the arrested were released uncharged from Al Muthan airbase
For the Swedish musician who is known as "Airbase," see Jezper Söderlund.
An airbase, sometimes referred to as a military airport or airfield, provides basing and support of military aircraft.
, but IFTU headquarters remained shut for seven months. The jailed men accused the United States of relying on information provided by a member of Saddam's old regime, Abdullah Murad Ghny, who owns a major private transport company whose workers had begun to organize. While in jail, Turkey Al Lehabey, the General Secretary of the Communication and Transport Workers Union Transport Workers Union may refer to:
  • The Transport Workers Union of America
  • The Transport Workers Union of Australia
  • The Swedish Transport Workers' Union
, an IFTU affiliate, said a local American commander named Kelly had told the men, "Iraq has no sovereignty and no political parties or trade unions. We do not want you to organize in either the north or south transport stations." He added, "You can organize only after June 2004; for now, you have an American governor."

The raid had Muhsin and his followers equating American intimidation with Ba'athist repression. "They saw how Saddam Hussein brutalized the labor movement," Muhsin told me, "and then, [when] they saw the American forces come under the slogan of liberation, [they felt that they were] being terrorized by the same forces and not given a reason why." The State Department declined repeated offers to comment on any questions relating to the raid and how it perceived the IFTU's role in an independent Iraq; nevertheless, it seems clear that the CPA didn't exactly consider the union a partner.

Union cards and national unity

What's especially maddening about the U.S. government's attitude towards the IFTU is that organized labor has repeatedly played a vital stabilizing and democratizing role in situations that, in some cases, come close to that which Iraq finds itself in today. In Poland, Solidarity quickly evolved from a labor crusade into a social movement that peacefully brought down the communist regime and, once in power, established a system of regular, free elections. The trade-union movement in Brazil had a similar effect, helping to end 21 years of oppressive military rule and usher in 15 years of representative government. But perhaps the most significant precursor comes from South Africa. There, the Congress of South African Trade Unions The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) is a trade union federation in South Africa. It was founded in 1985 and is the biggest of the country’s three main trade union federations, with 21 affiliated trade unions, altogether organising 1.8 million workers.  (COSATU COSATU Congress of South African Trade Unions ) not only agitated ag·i·tate  
v. ag·i·tat·ed, ag·i·tat·ing, ag·i·tates
1. To cause to move with violence or sudden force.

 for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, but, as the apartheid government was losing power, helped keep the country from splintering along racial and tribal lines. "Labor organizations are based on social class identity and as a result cut across divisions of tribe and culture so that you'll find Zulu and Xhosa workers of COSATU," said Professor Mike Bratton of Michigan State University Michigan State University, at East Lansing; land-grant and state supported; coeducational; chartered 1855. It opened in 1857 as Michigan Agricultural College, the first state agricultural college. . "In that sense, COSATU is one of the major organizations that helps build a sense of national, non-tribal identity." Instructively, all of these countries have remained democracies: According to Freedom House's annual survey, each country is ranked "free" in its commitment to both political rights and civil liberties.

Groups like the IFTU, then, are precisely what Iraq needs to make a successful transition to stable self-government. Iraqi political leaders seem to understand this. In January 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council recognized the IFTU as "the legitimate and legal representatives of the labor movement in Iraq." America's allies in Iraq also seem to get it. By March of that year, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, speaking before the House of Commons House of Commons: see Parliament. , named the IFTU as the legitimate representative of Iraq's labor movement, England's union partner in the rebuilding of the war-tattered nation.

Even the Bush administration seems to have come around, at least a bit. In January of 2004, one month after the U.S. military raid on the IFTU offices, the president devoted a few lines of his State of the Union speech to acknowledging trade unions as a crucial component of democratization. "I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy" Bush told Congress, "and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, and free markets, free press, and free labor unions in the Middle East." Yet while Bush announced that the building of free trade unions would henceforth be official U.S. policy, the priority that policy has since been given can be seen in the budget numbers. The National Endowment for Democracy has spent $1.5 million for Iraq's free trade union movement--compared with the total of $40 million the State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency Noun 1. Defense Intelligence Agency - an intelligence agency of the United States in the Department of Defense; is responsible for providing intelligence in support of military planning and operations and weapons acquisition
 gave Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress Noun 1. Iraqi National Congress - a heterogeneous collection of groups united in their opposition to Saddam Hussein's government of Iraq; formed in 1992 it is comprised of Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Kurds who hope to build a new government

Years from now, when historians try to figure out what precisely went wrong in the American occupation of Iraq and why, there will be many candidates: the failure to win enough international support; insufficient numbers of ground troops; the decision to ignore plans drawn up by experienced nation-building experts outside the Pentagon. But somewhere on the list will be the administration's indifference, indeed hostility, to Iraqi organized labor. The Iraqi people are paying a price for that attitude.

Matthew Harwood is an editorial fellow of The Washington Monthly and author of
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Title Annotation:Coalition Provisional Authority; George W. Bush
Author:Harwood, Matthew
Publication:Washington Monthly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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