Blind spot

In The Washington Monthly, Matthew Harwood writes about the Bush administration’s indifference-bordering-on-hostility to the Iraqi trade union movement since the liberation of Iraq.

As we’ve mentioned here before, the nadir came in December 2003, when US forces raided the headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions and briefly detained several officials. But the US has done next to nothing to engage the trade unions in helping to rebuild and democratize the country.

The Bush administration’s approach in Iraq contrasts badly with that of General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the occupation of post-World-War-II Japan.

According to Harwood, the famously-anticommunist MacArthur gave the newly-appointed prime minister a memorandum outlining the framework for Japan’s democratization.

First on the list was the “emancipation of the women of Japan through their enfranchisement.” Second was “the encouragement of the unionization of Labor.”

And Harwood makes this important point:

What’s especially maddening about the U.S. government’s attitude towards the IFTU is that organized labor has repeatedly played a vital stabilizing and democratizing role in situations that, in some cases, come close to that which Iraq finds itself in today. In Poland, Solidarity quickly evolved from a labor crusade into a social movement that peacefully brought down the communist regime and, once in power, established a system of regular, free elections. The trade-union movement in Brazil had a similar effect, helping to end 21 years of oppressive military rule and usher in 15 years of representative government. But perhaps the most significant precursor comes from South Africa. There, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) not only agitated for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, but, as the apartheid government was losing power, helped keep the country from splintering along racial and tribal lines…

Given the Bush administration’s hostility to organized labor at home, I suppose its blind spot in Iraq is easy enough to understand. All the more reason for trade unions worldwide to fill the gap with as much solidarity and assistance as they can provide to their sisters and brothers in Iraq.