LABOR DAY IN IRAQ….Ever since World War II, American labor unions have been instrumental in helping spread democracy and labor rights throughout the world. The AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, for example, was one of the first to recognize what was happening in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk back in 1980, and immediately offered his help to Solidarity leader Lech Walesa. In the end, the AFL-CIO funneled over $4 million in aid to Solidarity, as well as both money and technical assistance to other labor movements in Eastern Europe and around the world. From Poland to Brazil to South Africa, local labor unions have played key roles in stabilizing emerging democracies, and American support for those unions has been instrumental.
So what better way to celebrate Labor Day than to link to one of my all-time favorite Washington Monthly articles, Matthew Harwood’s “Pinkertons at the CPA.” It’s the story of how the Bush administration’s anti-labor obsession led it to actively sabotage one of the few cross-cultural institutions that was genuinely happy to see American troops enter Baghdad and genuinely eager to work with us: Iraq’s labor unions.
By March 2003, when the first American and allied tanks rolled into Iraq, laborites there, who had been hoping for Saddam’s overthrow for decades, were mostly cheering. By mid-May, the IFTU arose out of the labor movement that had resisted Saddam for more than two decades. Composed of liberals, nationalists, and communists who represented Iraq’s Mueslix-like mixture of ethnicity and faith, the IFTU was one of the few existing organizations in Iraq whose membership crossed sectarian lines.
But from the time the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) took possession of Iraq, the Americans running the country not only declined to engage the labor movement in the process of building a nation, but also worked actively to undermine labor’s ability to play a constructive role.
First, during his tenure, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer repealed virtually the whole Iraqi legal structure with his so-called 100 Orders. He did not, however, repeal Saddam’s 1987 Labor Code, which forfeited the right of public sector workers to bargain collectively. That decision, though deeply foolish for purposes of nation-building, made perfect sense to the movement ideologues staffing the U.S. occupation.
Read the whole thing. It’s a perfect nutshell description of how Heritage Foundation conservatism took priority over serious democracy promotion and economic planning in Iraq. Multiply it by a thousand, and it’s the story of how conservative monomania helped wreck a country. Happy Labor Day, all you loyal Bushies.