Iraqi Labor Movement Fights for a Democratic Iraq

As Iraq heads for its January 30 national elections, a free, democratic Iraq is the main goal of its organized working class sector. Despite attacks from terrorists and harassment from coalition authorities, the organized sections of the Iraqi working class continue to press on for worker rights, a secure and stable country, and an end to the occupation and war.

Forces that want to maintain the status quo of instability and violence are behind this wave of attacks on Iraqi National Guard troops, police, and civilians as the national election approach, observers there say. Many civilians and workers killed are not affiliated with either the US or British occupying armies or corporations.

Among this rash of terrorist violence, numerous Iraqi trade unionists have been killed. Railway workers have suffered numerous terrorist attacks in the outskirts of Baghdad over the last few months with many killed and injured.

In a statement published early last week (January 4) the leading Iraqi trade union organization stated, "The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) denounced yesterday further attacks on its members on the railway line between Basra and an-Nasiriyyah and on union premises in Baghdad. These criminal acts designed to intimidate workers and trade unionists follow a well-established pattern of targeted campaigns of assassination and terror which have been waged by those loyal to the former fascist-type, dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein against individual IFTU activists and ordinary workers in recent months."

Terrorists targeted numerous trade union leaders including Nuzad Ismaiel, president of the IFTU in the Kirkuk region, who was nearly killed twice.

Early last week, founding member and international secretary of the IFTU, Hadi Saleh, was found strangled to death in Baghdad, his eyes blindfolded and hands tied with metal wire. Hadi Saleh was also a leader of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). The international labor movement universally condemned his assassination.

IFTU praised the trade union leader in its official statement last week: "Hadi Saleh opposed Bush’s illegal war against Iraq. He returned home to Iraq after the ignominious collapse of the disgraced Saddam Hussein dictatorship. Hadi worked tirelessly to end the occupation and set about the task of re-building independent trade unions in Iraq"

In its statement condemning Saleh’s killing, the AFL-CIO remarked: "Hadi was a courageous trade unionist fighting for Iraqi workers. He put aside all thoughts of his own personal safety, returned home even before the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. From exile, he actively supported an underground labor movement committed to organizing workers…. Like all trade unionists, Hadi believed in peaceful solutions to working people’s problems. His commitment to rebuilding the trade union movement and a more democratic Iraq even under dangerous circumstances has cost him his life and thus a great loss for his family. He will be sorely missed by all of us who have met him and by the workers whom he valiantly fought for."

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the UK’s Trade Union Congress, the International Labor Organization, the Canadian Labor Congress, along with union movements in Pakistan, Italy, the US Labor Against War organization, and other international unions and community organizations expressed outrage at the assassination of Saleh.

Despite attacks directed against Iraqi workers, the IFTU insists, "Our brave workers are determined to continue the struggle and fight to build a democratic trade union movement and participate in the rebuilding of Iraq despite all the sacrifices and with the knowledge of the great feats achieved by the Iraqi working class and which it continues to pay with its noble blood."

IFTU described this assassination and other terrorist attacks that have killed Iraqi workers and trade unionists as "targeted campaigns of assassination and terror waged by Saddam’s loyalists."

Saleh’s assassination follows the murder of ICP leader Wadhah Hassan Abdul Amir, a member of Iraq’s interim National Assembly, last November.

ICP spokesperson Salam Ali told the British newspaper Morning Star that terrorist attacks in general are committed with the aim of "strengthen[ing] the hand of those elements, whether in the government or within the political life of the country, who call for an iron fist policy –” it’s not difficult to see that these forces are most closely associated with the Americans and also those who, lacking a power base, have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo."

The vast majority of the resistance in his view is comprised of either loyalists of Saddam or religious fundamentalists. "These people want to regain their position. It has nothing to do with liberating the country or achieving progress or a democratic alternative. They are enemies of democracy," he says.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, says Ali, oppose the agenda and tactics of these groups.

As a result of the increase in attacks, Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayed Allawi extended Thursday an emergency law aimed at thwarting violence ahead of the Jan. 30 elections. The emergency law was introduced for 60 days on Nov. 7, the eve of the U.S. assault on the former rebel stronghold of Fallujah.

It gives the prime minister the authority to impose curfews, restrict movement between cities and set up around-the-clock courts where the government can go to obtain arrest warrants. Curfews are already in place in Baghdad, Mosul, Baquba and other cities.

The ICP calls for a sppedy end to the occupation and a peaceful, political solution to civil conflict in the wartorn country –” without which the U.S. occupiers will continue to find reasons to maintain the status quo.

The Party is running over 200 candidates in the elections scheduled for January 30th. Its electoral program, titled the "Program of People’s Unity," calls for a nationally sovereign, unified, federated democratic republic that respects and protects the rights of working people, political freedoms, civil rights of women, provides for the needs of the unemployed, poor and retirees, and respects the religious and cultural diversity of Iraq’s peoples.

Reflecting this platform, Communists formed a coalition called the "People’s Union" that includes Arab nationalists, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Muslim Sunnis and Shiites and Christians.

While the ICP is not expected to win much political power, its growing influence will have an impact on the direction of the process of reconstruction and the building of a democratic society.


ICP spokesperson Salam Ali told Political Affairs via e-mail that 16 Party members have been assassinated in the rash of violence. These people "were active on grassroot level, elected to local councils and leading organisational work in poor and working class districts," Ali says.

"The objective of those who carrying out the cowardly acts of assassination, targeting our Party, is part and parcel of the overall aim of terrorizing the population, and achieving the goal of destabilization, creating a climate of fear and terror, which is conducive to carrying out their agenda: return to power, restoring dictatorial rule, and regaining lost positions of influence and privileges enjoyed under Saddam’s regime. These anti-people groups, mainly members of the former intelligence apparatus collaboration with extremist fundamentalist elements, who are disguising their agenda as anti-occupation, consider our Party as an obstacle to implementing their schemes.

"ICP’s agenda, calling for eradicating the legacy of both dictatorship and occupation and opening up prospects for a truly sovereign, independent and democratic Iraq is diametrically opposed to their agenda and real objectives. Other major political forces, in addition to our party, have also been targeted. For example, the killing of Baqir Al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in August 2003 and the leader of the Islamic Daawa Movement, Mr Izz-el-deen Selim in April 2004. Some of these acts were aimed to stir up sectarian strife. They aim to alienate the people, marginalize them in the ongoing political process, and spread despair and fear among them. This agenda holds no prospects whatsoever for liberating Iraq and present no prospects or real hope for a better future for the people. As a matter of fact, it only serves to perpetuate the occupation, provide a pretext for increased foreign military presence (as recent events have shown), and help to bring further death and devastation, and continue the vicious cycle of violence which clearly serve the schemes of extreme right-wing circles in the US under the cover of ‘war against international terrorism.’"

Ali also remarked on the upcoming elections: "The forthcoming elections are very important for beginning the next phase in the political process (as endorsed also by UNSCR 1546): electing the Transitional Assembly which should draft the permanent constitution (laying the foundations for a democratic modern state), and thus prepare the ground for general elections by January 2006. The transitional government would be more legitimate and representative, and also more accountable to an elected transitional assembly. It should seize back control over security matters, as well as the economic policy and other sovereign powers, from the occupiers. This will be an important step forward along the path of regaining national sovereignty and independence, i.e. handing power back to the people and empowering them to determine their destiny with their own free will.

"The Communist Party," Ali concluded, "endeavors to be a major patriotic and democratic force in political life, upholding the democratic rights and freedoms of the people, and also fighting for true independence and liberation of our homeland. It aspires to play an influential role in shaping the new Iraqi state and Iraq’s future, serving the interests of the popular masses who are longing to freedom and a dignified life after decades of repression, fascist terror, wars, sanctions and finally foreign occupation."