On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, Labour MP Dave Anderson writes:
Ten years ago, I was utterly opposed to the invasion of Iraq. At the time I was President of Unison and sat on the TUC general council, so like a lot of others in the labour movement I did my bit to lobby against Western intervention, believing that the reasons given for invasion were not justified, that the argument about WMD was not proven and that inspections should have been given a chance to work.
But in the years since I have had to face new facts having been to Iraq to see things for myself. I now see that the international community should have toppled Saddam Hussein earlier, as my Kurdish comrades have told me in clear terms.
Anderson explains that his views were changed by a 2006 visit to Erbil sponsored by Labour Friends of Iraq:
I was struck by the attitude of the trade unionists: comrades and friends keen to develop their skills so that they could better stand up for working people.
The first thing that they said was, “We need your help. We need your Government to start investing in this country, because if they do not invest we will not have work, and without work we do not have a trade union movement.” That was a very simple equation.
The other thing they said, very clearly, was “We thank you, as a nation, for what you did for us in 1991, and we thank you even more for what you did for us in 2003, when you liberated us.” That was a shock for me. I saw 2003 as an invasion by an unwanted occupying power.
However, it was all very well for me, sitting in the comfort of Blaydon, to say that it was really, really wrong for the allied forces to invade. It was not me being wiped off the face of the earth by Saddam’s thugs. It was not my parents being buried alive. It was not my village being flattened.
It did not change my view that we invaded Iraq for the wrong reasons, but what became ever clearer to me was that we should have liberated Iraq many years earlier. If we had, we could have stopped genocide being unleashed against the Iraqi people.
For all the mistakes and tragedies of post-invasion Iraq, for all the continuing restrictions on trade union activity, workers are at least able to organize and protest in a way that likely would have got them slaughtered when Saddam was in charge.
Matthew Harwood was right when he wrote in 2005 that one of the Bush administration’s biggest errors in post-invasion Iraq was its indifference-bordering-on-hostility to the Iraqi trade union movement. Harwood noted that even the famously anti-communist Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the post-World War II occupation of Japan, understood the connection between free trade unions and democracy. 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.”
(Hat tip: amie)