Thursday, July 01, 2004

Bacon on unions in Iraq

David Bacon has a good piece on "Solidarity in Wartime" The Nation, which is marred by a couple of sloppy historical references and a questionable political demand.

The good stuff: Bacon rightly lauds the solidarity campaign of US Labor Against the War to support Iraqi trade unions. USLAW is raising funds to support the fledging trade unions and splitting the proceeds 50-50 between the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and the the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions. I had the pleasure of hearing Amjad Al-Jawhar of the later group speak at a March conference in Kansas City organized by KCLAW and a rally organized by many groups. (I made a presentation about labor rights in China at the conference.)

The Iraqi unions are demanding a new labour law in Iraq, codifying the precarious de facto rights to organise and take action they have won over the last year, remains unmet. Saddam Hussein’s 1987 labour law remains on the statute books, unenforceable for now but a threat for the future.

Unfortunately, Bacon attacks the AFL-CIO for accepting funds from the National Endowment for Democracy because The NED has a long, unsavory cold war history, abetting coups in Chile and Brazil..." The US-aided military coup in Brazil took place in 1964, the coup that toppled Salvador Allende ocurred in 1973. The National Endowment for Democracy, however, was not founded until 1983.

This anachronism is a key point in Bacon's misguided political demand. Bacon argues

Just as Iraqi unionists seek US labor support, the Administration wants American unions to assist in imposing this neoliberal model on Iraq. In an Orwellian moment, Bush announced in his State of the Union address that the occupation would lead to "free labor unions" in the Middle East. Soon after, the National Endowment for Democracy announced that it intends to supply funds for programs in Iraq to build such unions. The NED has a long, unsavory cold war history, abetting coups in Chile and Brazil, war in Central America and attacks on militant unions around the world. Funding US labor solidarity work with NED dollars would involve the AFL-CIO in helping to administer the very occupation that Iraqi workers and unions oppose. To build real labor solidarity, US unions must be willing to challenge the Bush/Bremer program, which means finding other resources to do this vital work.

The NED funds overseas programs for the Democratic and Republican parties, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the AFL-CIO. It is modeled on a similar program in Germany. Now I don't see any reason why the labor movement should unilaterally disarm and refuse NED funds. Ideally, the international solidarity efforts of American labor should not rely on NED funds. There exists a potential to involve labor's grass roots in international labor solidarity.

I don't accept the premise that accepting NED funds means that US unions must necessarily accept the Bush/Bremer program.

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