My suggestion is as follows. People who opposed the war but with a proper sense of the other considerations, the ones that moved us left-liberal supporters of the war, should be willing to move on. All said and done, they didn't agree with what was done, but what was done removed a scourge and they will recognize that and look to what is now the best possible course forward for the people of Iraq. (Norman Geras, March 5 2004)This was the month when the British labour movement decided to move on. Over the last six months a group of people from the Labour Party, trade unions, NGOs, the media and academia have been working with Abdullah Muhsin the UK representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions to encourage the labour movement and the left to move on to the task of building solidarity with the democratic forces in Iraq. The TUC has shown the way with fact-finding missions, money and now the launch of the 'TUC Aid Iraq Appeal'. A new group, Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) has been set up - they can be contacted at Labour Friends of Iraq, PO Box 2421, Reading, RG1 8WY - and a website will be launched soon. Abdullah Muhsin has visited local Labour Party branches and Union conferences, has been warmly welcomed and received pledges of solidarity. Many British Trade Unions have made donations to the IFTU and sent fact-finding missions (RMT, FBU, Unison and others). This work made tremendous strides forward this month at the TUC and Labour Party conferences. At the TUC conference the following resolution was passed (extract):
Congress urges the General Council to maintain and strengthen contact with Iraqi trade unionists, in particular the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), by:At the Labour Party conference, which ended today, the IFTU held a successful fringe meeting. Forces that had opposed and supported the war were united in moving on to the task of building solidarity with the democrats in Iraq. Harry Barnes MP, Abdullah Muhsin, Owen Tudor (TUC International Secretary), Keith Sonnet (Deputy General Secretary of Unison), Bill Rammell (Foreign Office Minister) and Rt Hon Ann Clwyd MP (Prime Minister's Special Envoy to Iraq on Human Rights) were all united in moving on to the agenda of supporting democracy in Iraq.
i) initiating, together with affiliated trade unions, a solidarity committee to liaise with, and give practical support to, the trade union movement in Iraq, including the delivery of a structured education programme on the TUC model, and assistance with the provision of IT and other office equipment;
ii) facilitating visits and twinning arrangements between Iraqi and British trade unionists;
iii) ensuring that links are made between Iraqi women trade unionists and their British counterparts; and
iv) working with the ICFTU and the ILO to press for the maximum involvement of Iraqi trade unionists in the drafting of new labour laws which conform with the core Conventions of the ILO.
During the Iraq debate at conference the moving-on argument carried the day as these extracts show. (Each of these speakers opposed the war.)
Shahid Malik (Labour Party National Executive Committee):
Now is not the time to desert the people of Iraq... We must support the people of Iraq to bring democracy... And with us in this hall today is Abdullah Muhsin, an Iraqi trade unionist whom I am proud to call a friend. Abdullah has spoken at some events this week and he has been very clear about what the Iraqi Trade Union movement believes and how we can show solidarity. The Iraqi Trade Union movement pressed for UN Resolution 1546 and they want us to do everything in our power to support it. They believe that if we pull out too quickly we literally put their members lives in danger. To Abdullah I say, 'We salute you, we salute everything that you stand for, and we salute the Iraqi people in this time of need. We will not desert you.'Clare Wilcox (Streatham CLP):
What matters now is helping to bring Iraq towards a lasting peace... And this resolution is clear about our role as Labour Party members in this. It highlights the work that is already going on in Iraq, as those who supported and those who opposed the war are united in helping to support emerging civil society. Led by the TUC, working with the IFTU inside Iraq, creating a federal, democratic pluralistic and unified Iraq, often at extreme risk to their personal safety... We may not agree on how we got to this moment in time but it is certain that from this moment in time we have to move forward together.Harry Barnes MP:
I am here to support the progressive democratic forces in Iraq and to give full backing for people such as Abdullah Muhsin, the British representative of the IFTU and whom I am proud to be associated with and to be working with... Whether we supported or opposed the invasion... one thing is clear. We support a viable democratic peaceful Iraq. And who is it that struggles for that? The women in their organisations, the youth groups, community groups, national bodies in culture and bodies such as the IFTU... We can never force people to be free but we can help comrades on the ground struggle for rights, recognition and influence. The TUC has recognised this. Individual unions have recognised this... so let us help our brothers and sisters to achieve their dreams.Yvonne Ritchie (GMB):
I opposed the war... However we cannot rewrite history... I do not want to leave the Iraqi people defenceless and vulnerable... The consequences of washing our hands of Iraq, if we could, would be heinous. I am an internationalist, a socialist and a trade unionist committed to a world where fairness, justice and freedom are a basic human right. Iraq has a trade union movement, the IFTU. Conference, we in this movement must stand in solidarity with the IFTU and will work with them to realise their dreams. They need our support. We should not walk away when the going gets tough... With elections due in January 2005, we must do everything we can to help the people build a democratic country.The case for moving on now has wide and growing support in the Labour Party, trade unions, the media, academia and the blogosphere. We must keep up the momentum. (Alan Johnson, Executive Committee, Labour Friends of Iraq.)