The imperative of solidarity

A long and fascinating piece from John Lloyd in the FT Weekend edition as he reports on his journey to Iraqi Kurdistan with a delegation of mostly anti-war British trade unionists.

Everywhere the British unionists go, they are congratulated on the virtues of prime minister Tony Blair. They, of course, are not fans. The trade union movement, especially on the left, takes the view that this government, if possibly better than a Conservative one, is not real Labour. “It’s all very well going on about Tony Blair,” says Davis, half drolly, half irritably, at one of the group’s lengthy feasts. “We don’t think he’s so wonderful.” (Davis’s British Communist Party and its paper, the Morning Star, are fiercely hostile to New Labour.)

The trip does seem to make a difference to the group’s views on the war. During a meal in a restaurant towards the end of the week, David Green, the younger of the two firefighters’ union leaders, says: “I was against the war. I thought it was a bad idea and it shouldn’t have been done.” I ask him about his thoughts now. “Well, you see a different perspective. You see what these people have done.”

… the aftermath of their trip, the trade union delegation is determined to take a pragmatic approach. A report, drafted by Nick Crook, will recommend that the TUC and its affiliates help Iraqi unions through the IFTU with training in organisational skills, leadership and English, and give money for offices and equipment. It will recommend that unions should not work with the GFITU, because of its Ba’athist links.

There is a strong precedent for this sort of action. After the second world war, the British union movement helped rebuild the German unions – giving them (as many Labour politicians have ruefully reflected since) a structure much more rational and coherent than British unions have today. It was a parallel that occurred to several members of the delegation in Iraq, though all were born after the war. Through the decades, some deep imperative of solidarity seems to have asserted itself.

Those are just tasters. Its a very interesting piece and well worth reading in full.

Gene adds: I second Harry’s recommendation. Every trade unionist who supports an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq ought to read it.