Trade Unions and Democracy

TRADE UNIONS AND DEMOCRACY….Suzanne Nossel has jumped into the conversation Marc and Dan had yesterday about the pitfalls of relying on NGOs to help promote democracy in places like Iraq. She’s sympathetic, but offers some ideas:

  • funnel money through organizations that are seen as more independent and less controlling than the USG (for example, the American Bar Association, which has done a huge amount of valuable work of this sort, mainly in Eastern Europe, relying overwhelmingly on US government funding);

  • set up a division of labor whereby the U.S. funds schools and businesses and the Scandinavians and others with less baggage focus on the NGOs;

  • hire locals and those with language proficiency to conduct the program evaluations so that groups don?t feel they must over-cater to the West.

I’ll offer one more: make better use of labor unions. The AFL-CIO was famously helpful in Poland in the 80s, and unions in developing countries have long been a natural way to organize workers as a counterweight to often corrupt elite leaders. Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s ideological hostility to unions has made it blind to the help they could provide in Iraq, where, as Matthew Harwood pointed out last month, unions are strongly anti-insurgent and anti-Baathist.

Both Bush and Paul Bremer (during his term as proconsul) were so hellbent on privatization as a cure-all that they ignored Iraq’s trade unions even though they could have become one of our strongest allies. And although the AFL-CIO opposed the war, if Bush could set aside his ideological blinders and make a call to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney asking for organizing help in Iraq, he might be surprised at the response. And the results.