Trade union wolves in sheep’s clothing

From Zimbabwe to Iraq, phoney trade unionists are doing the dirty work of imperialism

Proletarian writers

Subscribe to our channel

Proletarian writers

Subscribe to our channel

Last February, when an RMT leader, hotfoot from a trade union delegation visit to occupied Iraq, told a peace festival in Bristol that the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions was making great progress in organising the Iraqi working class in the teeth of repression from the occupying forces, his audience felt impelled to applaud these reported efforts. Even when a lone voice questioned the attitude of the IFTU to the Iraqi resistance, this made barely a ripple in the ‘trade union solidarity’ consensus.

The RMT speaker, Alex Gordon, reported that the IFTU regarded the genuine resistance as coming from the trade union movement, the women’s movement, and “civil society” in general. When he counterposed such forms of “resistance” to what he described as “shadowy groups of armed men funded from abroad”, this was broadly accepted by the audience.

It was left again to the lone voice to point out the lunacy of trying to divorce the economic struggles of organised labour from the resistance struggle to free Iraq from colonial occupation. Surely, the lone voice argued, it was the responsibility of workers in Britain to show their solidarity with the Iraqi resistance, and to call for the defeat in particular of British imperialism.

In the intervening months, the world has come to know the courage, resourcefulness and remarkable degree of unity characterising the Iraqi resistance, inspiring anti-imperialists everywhere. In Iraq, imperialism has picked up a rock to drop it on its own feet. Meanwhile, the deep economic crisis that drives these war plans continues to grip imperialism by the throat, impelling it to drive ever deeper down the warmongering path.

So shaken is imperialism by these difficulties that, even in circles dominated by fake ‘left’ politics, there is an increasing readiness to pay at least lip service to supporting the Iraqi resistance. Where a few months ago it was fashionable to write off every act of resistance as either a provocation by the CIA or an unconscionable act of individual terror, it is now becoming commonplace to hear such actions praised for what they really are, acts of national resistance in a war of national oppression waged by imperialism in crisis.

So it was that the Stop the War Coalition, despite its domination by social democratic and Trotskyite politics, and its aversion to open public debate of contentious issues, found itself taking a stand over the antics of the UK representative of the IFTU.

This man, it turned out, had gone to the Labour Party conference to urge delegates to issue an invitation to Allawi, the butcher-stooge appointed by Washington to act as its gauleiter (ie, the local official of the imperialist occupation), to attend as a conference guest. Not content with this, he had touted round trade union affiliated delegates, trying to stir up opposition to the motion calling for early withdrawal of troops. New Labour functionaries assisted in these efforts, sorting out photocopying, distribution, etc! The gross treachery to the Iraqi national struggle of these antics stank too badly even for Stop the War to stomach, and they issued a laudable public statement denouncing the IFTU’s behaviour.

The next scene in this tragi-comedy unfolded in October, at the grandiose European Social Forum jamboree in Alexandra Palace, when the IFTU representative tried to carry on his trades-unionist-for-peace rigmarole as if nothing had happened. This caused such outrage that the meeting was suspended. Subsequent scalded reaction from some trade union functionaries, threatening disaffiliation from Stop the War, is testing some political understandings to destruction.

The Trotskyist/social-democratic model of anti-imperialist consistency

For example, Workers Power, who reportedly led the chorus of disapproval which greeted the IFTU man in Ally Pally, need to learn consistency. If they recognise that imperialism is happy to foster syndicalist (ie, the idea, very helpful to imperialism, that workers can take state power through purely trade union organisation, without a party) illusions under the shadow of the invader’s gun in Iraq, hoping thereby to see national democratic resistance to colonial rule divided and undermined, then why not apply some of that 20/20 vision to the counter-revolutionary role of Solidarnosc in Poland?

Pleading that Solidarnosc was a promising grass roots workers’ movement that got treacherously sold out by Lech Walesa (presumably before it could complete its historic task of making the “political revolution” against Jaruselski’s “deformed workers’ state” and ushering in an era of Trotskyite peace and plenty) is no answer at all. The reality is that no political movement in Poland, which did not start from the basis of support for the proletarian dictatorship, was ever going to be anything objectively other than a counterrevolutionary stooge for imperialism.

The TUC and the fake-‘left’ in Britain all lined up behind Thatcher, Reagan and the Pope to celebrate the virtues of “democratic, independent trade union organisation, not beholden to any political party”, just as ‘left’-Labour, the Morning Star and Mick Rix are doing now over IFTU.

And if social democracy and its hangers-on need hauling in for questioning on their support for counterrevolution in Poland, they also face a lengthening charge sheet for their actions elsewhere in the world. When the Greek revolution was crushed with the assistance of British troops after WWII, the TUC sent a delegation in to ‘help’. The courageous Greek resistance, within which communism was the strongest influence, had seen off fascist occupation and had taken the helm of the nation. Once this progressive development had been crushed by British troops, how did the TUC ‘help’? By assisting in the restoration of the trades union leadership associated with the homegrown fascism of the prewar Metaxas regime! “Solidarity forever” — under the shadow of the imperialist gun.

‘Democratic opposition’ movements doing the dirty work of imperialism

The old dog is still trying on the same trick today, and not just in Iraq. The chorus of approval for the bought-and-paid-for MDC ‘opposition’ in Zimbabwe has sought to justify itself by reference to anti-ZANU-PF protests by some sections of the Zimbabwean trades union movement.

Just as in Poland, the trick is to blow a lot of syndicalist smoke in people’s eyes whilst imperialism smuggles in its own agenda by the back door — and the entire British fake-‘left’ fell for it, hook line and sinker. Now that the outstanding success of the Third Chimurenga land redistribution has delivered a well-deserved slap in the face to imperialist meddling, the ‘left’ will be coming under increasing pressure to explain their eagerness to join in with the hate campaign against Zimbabwe.

And now that Washington’s efforts to divert the Ukraine from its path of closer relations with Russia (fearful that this will spoil the plan to weaken Russia by further balkanisation) have been blocked by its failure to buy the election result it wanted, imperialism will again be casting about for ‘labour movement’ voices to give some ‘left’, ‘democratic’ credibility to its outrageous meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations.

When the imperialist propaganda machine manages to find, or invent, a Ukrainian trades union voice raised in indignation against the ‘undemocratic’ behaviour of the Kiev government, or the ‘lack of trade union rights’, etc, can we rely on even the most ‘awkward’ of the trade union ‘awkward squad’ to expose the game that imperialism is playing? Just look at the hole they fell into over the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and you know the answer.

Expose social democracy

When labour organises, it can strengthen itself in its economic battles within capitalism. When it organises internationally, it can strengthen itself further. But so long as workers are prevented from progressing beyond ‘pure’ trade union consciousness, the working class remains in thrall to bourgeois ideology. In particular, attempts to build international worker solidarity on trade unionist consciousness alone will always leave the working class vulnerable to manipulation and division by imperialism — as over Greece, Poland, Zimbabwe and Iraq.

That is why we communists take with such seriousness the struggle to expose social democracy and its gendarmes in the trade union movement.