The Death of Hadi Saleh
The Death of Hadi Saleh
When they came for Hadi Saleh, they found him at home in
No group claimed credit for his assassination on January 4. Nobody knows for sure who carried it out. But for many Iraqis, the manner of his death was a signature.
In 1969, when Saleh was only twenty, sentenced to death in a Baathist prison, such murderous tactics were already becoming well known. For the next thirty- plus years the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein's secret police, used them against his friends and coworkers. In early January in
That vision of
Thirty-five years ago, Saleh's dangerous notions led to his being arrested, accused of being a trade unionist and a red. Narrowly escaping execution, he spent five years in prison. On his release he joined many of his compatriots who'd already fled into exile, where he lived for over thirty years.
When Saddam Hussein finally fell, Saleh and his friends returned to reorganize the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. He became its international secretary. And even under a brutal
Remarkably, they've been very successful at organizing new unions, which workers need as never before. A study by the economics faculty of
First US administrator Paul Bremer, and now Iyad Allawi, installed as President by the US and British, seek to privatize Iraq's big state-owned factories, which workers fear will lead to even further job losses. In September, 2003, Bremer issued Order #39, permitting 100% foreign ownership of businesses, except for the oil industry, and allowing repatriation of profits. Bremer appointee Tom Foley, a Bush fundraiser, drew up lists of state enterprises to be sold off, including cement and fertilizer plants, phosphate and sulfur mines, pharmaceutical factories and the country's airline.
In two years the IFTU has organized twelve national unions for different industries, and successfully challenged the occupation's low-wage regime. But success has had it cost. Saleh's murder is the latest in a series of attacks on workers and unions, in response to their increasing activity. Last November, armed insurgents attacked freight trains, killing four workers, and then beating and kidnapping others a month later. Teachers have also been murdered. They say they're being blamed for helping the occupation by doing their jobs, although they perform no military function.
Attacks come from US troops and the Iraqi government as well.
Saleh's murderers had two objectives in making him a bloody example. For the Baathists among the insurgents, the growth of unions and organizations of civil society, from women's' groups to political parties, is a dangerous deviation. Their hopes of returning to power rest on a military defeat for the
Trying to stop those organizations from using the elections to organize a support base is a second objective. None of
Some, like the
While the Bush administration and some parts of Iraqi civil society might each have their reasons for wanting elections, they have very different goals in mind. For some on the Iraqi left, once the occupation is gone, a mass-based political party with a radical program could win the actual power to implement it.
Iraqi civil society -- unions, women's' and professional organizations, and left-wing parties -- are trying to grow in a political space that is rapidly shrinking. The armed resistance doesn't want them around. And despite talk of democracy, the Bush administration would prefer another dependable dictator than popular resistance to the free market plan. Saleh's assassination makes plain the extreme lack of security of these Iraqi leftists, caught between the two. The longer the occupation lasts, the more violence skyrockets, and the harder it is for workers to join a union, much less demonstrate and protest.
John Sweeney, AFL-CIO president, condemned Saleh's murder and called him "courageous," a welcome departure from the cold war past in which left-wing trade unionists abroad were often reviled as enemies. US Labor Against the War went further, in a statement that combined condemnation with a call to end the occupation and withdraw US troops, a position the AFL- CIO has yet to take. Unions in
Another IFTU leader, Abdullah Muhsen, remembered Saleh's vision of an Iraq with a future, a vision that in the end, he died for: "a democratic, peaceful and federal Iraq, which would unite all Iraqis, regardless of their background, ethnicity or religion ... workers' rights to organize and to strike to achieve decent jobs, pay and working conditions ... a defeat for IMF shock therapy and economic occupation, imposed on us by the occupying powers."