Allying with imperialism

Hopi attends, but does not endorse pro-imperialist protest. Mark Fischer reports

Comrades from Hands Off the People of Iran joined about 160 protesters outside the Iranian embassy on March 6. This London action was part of an internationally coordinated protest that brought out activists in 35 countries to demand the “immediate and unconditional release” of Iranian trade union leaders Mansour Ossanlou and Mahmoud Salehi.

The event was organised by the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Transport Workers Federation, endorsed by Amnesty International and supported in this country by Aslef, RMT, GMB, TSSA, Unison and Unite (see www.itfglobal.org). So presumably this was just the sort of thing Hopi had in mind when its founding conference passed a CPGB motion calling for trade union solidarity work with the people of Iran to be “dramatically stepped up” (see Weekly Worker December 13 2007).

No, quite the reverse. In fact, Hopi issued a leaflet making clear that - despite the physical presence of our supporters on the day - our campaign “[draws] the line at politically endorsing these protests”. As we noted, the silence of the organisers on the threat of imperialism to the Iranian people marks them as “deeply compromised politically”, effectively “junior partners in implementing the reactionary agendas of the US and its allies” (see below).

A March 6 posting on the IFT website underlines this compromised position. We are proudly informed that the “British and Australian governments have released statements backing the day of action”, with British foreign office minister Kim Howells approvingly quoted as demanding that “the government of Iran … release immediately Mansour Ossanlou and Mahmoud Salehi … [who] have been imprisoned for several months for their involvement in peaceful activities in support of workers’ rights.”

Howell’s counterpart in Australia, Stephen Smith, called on the theocratic regime to “respect and uphold human rights” in a statement that - according to the IFT commentary - “outlined the [Australian] government’s commitment to core international labour standards”.

Now leaving aside the supposedly unshakable “commitment” of these two imperialist governments to workers’ rights, this only adds to the key point that the Hopi leaflet highlighted on March 6. In contrast to what our comrades were told by some on the action - including sincere Hopi supporters - this is not “just a trade union issue”. Unless directly challenged, imperialism is more than capable of hypocritically claiming the banner of ‘democracy’ for itself - including workers’ and trade union rights, of course.

Without drawing an implacable political line against the likes of the Australian and UK governments, the workers’ movement risks making itself an adjunct of imperialism’s sabre-rattling and military interventions in the Middle East. On March 6, for example, we effectively saw an alliance stretching from her majesty’s Labour government, through the deeply suspect ITC and ITUC, all the way over to sections of the ostensibly Marxist left who made themselves available on the day to make up the numbers.

In this country, chief amongst these are the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Although for some reason no AWL comrade turned up on the day, the organisation’s website uncritically plugged this and other IFT/ITUC actions and a March 7 posting reports the picket, telling us that “this action is an important example to trade unionists across Britain of the kind of work needed to put real international pressure on the Iranian government”.

Coming from a group that effectively supports the occupation of Iraq (as leading AWL dissident David Broder says of his own group, “the AWL acquiesces to imperialist involvement in the region … in the belief that it will … create breathing space for the workers’ movement to grow”) this should sound a loud warning to comrades in the movement determined to oppose imperialist warmongering (Weekly Worker February 28).

March 6 was the third such action organised by the IFT/ITUC and their joint statement declares that “this will not be the end”. So it is vital that the working class movement in this country and internationally is clear on why imperialism must be seen not as a friend but an enemy of the Iranian people, not least the Iranian working class.

What sort of solidarity?

Supporters of Hands Off the People of Iran will be taking part in the day of action on March 6 to highlight the plight of Iranian trade unionists currently languishing in the prisons of the regime (Ossanlou, Salehi and many others). However, we draw the line at politically endorsing these protests.

The groups centrally involved in organising this mobilisation - the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) - are deeply compromised politically. They are more or less silent on the role of imperialism in the region and - in truth - are junior partners in implementing the reactionary agendas of the US and its allies.

The official leaflets to mobilise for this day of action focus almost exclusively on opposition to the theocratic regime. But the Iranian working class is facing two enemies - both the Ahmadinejad regime and the biggest enemy of it and the world’s working class, imperialism.

The negative impact that the pressure of US-led imperialism has already exerted on the Iranian working class does not merit a mention in the publicity material of the IFT and ITUC. The looming threat of war and sanctions have cost the jobs of thousands of Iranian workers - and those that protest to defend their conditions against the anti-democratic attacks of the theocratic regime are branded as “traitors” or “dupes of imperialism”. Iranian workers are struggling daily against the islamic republic’s attacks - privatisations, casualisations, systematic non-payment of wages and attacks on effectively organised trade unions that stand up to this vicious exploitation.

Yet, in this, the theocracy is just enthusiastically enforcing neoliberal economic policies dictated by the World Bank and the IMF! No wonder there is no enthusiasm amongst the working class and radical movements of Iran for regime change ‘George Bush style’. Not only do they have the grinding experience of what this already means for their daily struggle to live, they have only to glance at the nearby hell that imperialism has fashioned in Iraq to understand that the chance for genuine democracy and social change must come from their own struggles, not from reactionary self-appointed ‘saviours’. Organisations such as IFT or ITUC that are silent on imperialism - and those on the left that uncritically tail them - effectively provide a left cover for the war plans of Bush.

Hopi has a totally different approach to solidarity. We are clear that moribund capitalism - imperialism - has no answers either for the people of Iran or anywhere else on the globe. We want direct links of support between the working class in Iran and internationally that are ideologically, politically and materially totally independent of either imperialism or the theocratic regime. In today’s world, democracy and progressive social change comes from struggles only from below - whether in the Middle East, in Europe or in the United States itself.