March 8, 2004
Myself and my comrades here in Portland, Oregon, read your articles on Indymedia with great interest. One can find hardly any information about Iraq, and your reports are among the few which concern the class struggle. We also think it is incredibly brave to go to a place like Iraq at the moment.
The most comprehensive report to date has been 'Working Class Struggle in British Occupied Basra' (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2004/02/285679.html).
Most of the article is the kind of factual reporting we need. The fact that the main problems in Iraq are basic things like making a living, repression from the authorities, the lack of security, and the continuing existence of the old socialist parties. Obviously, though, you express your opinions, and we would like to take issue with you on one point. You say
"Most if not all the workers I met did not clearly understand what a union was or why it would be in their interest to join one. They did not comprehend union structures, the right to strike, the right of free association and collective bargaining and the idea of challenging the boss in a sustainable way (rather than just rioting or kicking him)".
OK, so why *would* it be in the workers' interests to join a union? Do you really believe unions in Europe and the US "challenge the boss in a sustainable way", or do they rather try to channel that challenge into harmless dead-ends? As for the "right" to strike, etc., what use are rights? Perhaps we can best explain what we mean by an example. Any American woman has the right to walk down any street in the USA at any time of the day or night. In some countries, she does not have that right. But her decision which street to walk down, and at what time, has nothing to do with whether she has the right to do so, but whether it is dangerous, and so on. There is no connection between the right to do something and the ability to do it. Iraqi workers have a tradition of rioting and kicking out bosses, a tradition you dismiss in favor of the traditions of the British Labour Movement. It may be that you can learn something from the Iraqi workers.
To reiterate, though, most of what you write is dead useful, and we hope you are not offended by the above remarks.
Hiya, Im really puzzled by the claims you've made. I have no faith in the British labour movement whatsoever and i believe in autonmous workers organisations or unions if they are organised in a horizontal and transparent way. I dont think we should get bogged down in what we percieve to be a union in the west to what it Can be in Iraq. Rights i know is a really contentious term but the fact is, workers are not reaching Sustainable levels of confrontation which can be built on if they get together more often and plan more attacks so they have the upper hand and that the element of suprise doesnt suprise other workers too so much in that they can be Prepared.
Totalitarian dictatorships produce a chronic lack of understanding about how to organise - it was a baathist privelage- and workers although instinctually insurrectionary arent organised and again, im not talking bout a fucking UK beurocratic deadweight union, im talking about a workers organisation and the use of indternational principles as a guide - not a rule book, but a guide about what to maintain.
As for learning from Iraqi workers - I lived with trade union leaders and workers for 4 months, I learned loads from them, dont make me out to be some western freelancer that decided to 'teach the Iraqis how to organise'. I put forward options, held workshops on international law as a guide for struggle, something to demand whilst taking action and fighting back. Anything thats useful - i put forward.
I dont know why you think i dont think giving the boss a kicking isnt a Good thing? Im just saying that there needs to be more sustainability - the boss is protected by the british occupation army and SCIRI in many cases - theyre going to need to mount something more durable than just an attack when it all boils over every now and again and not all workers are convinced in a riot every now and again, they want more and that can be stronger than just giving the boss a kicking or it can be building in parallell alternative ways. Im not a pacifist or a believer in what we know as trade unions in the west. You cannot apply the ramifications and definitions and perceptions of what we know as unions in the west to the emerging workers organ isations and co-opting forced (theyre everywhere, i know that) happening in Iraq. Its just very very different.
I think your judgement was way off and really reactionary and really patronizing.