Jeremy Corbyn will this Friday grace a Stop the War Coalition fundraising dinner at a Turkish/Kurdish restaurant as their guest. He has spurned calls from Labour members of parliament to stay away from this hotchpotch of ultra-leftist groupuscules that abhor democratic socialists.
It is not as if they have just become a poisonous sect. They have been at it for over a decade. Ten years ago, I and an Iraqi trade unionist Abdullah Muhsin, who differed on the invasion, reviewed the hagiography of the STWC written by its two main officers, Andrew Murray and Lindsey German.
We had united with others to support the Iraqi trade unions and other democrats. Given that Saddam had brutally repressed independent unions for decades, one of the best outcomes of his fall was the re-emergence of a free labour movement that could again become a bulwark of non-sectarianism and democracy.
But the STWC’s priority was Troops Out Now. The clash peaked at the 2004 Labour party conference where STWC supporters proposed withdrawing British troops. Abdullah for the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions made plain that, ‘an early date for the unilateral withdrawal of troops would be bad for my country, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism, and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists.’
The STWC thought it would win the vote but lost massively. Murray and German then sneered that such arguments are always used by colonisers and their stooges. We argued that it was the height of a cultural imperialist arrogance for such armchair revolutionaries to lecture Iraqis on how to deal with the new political situation.
Murray and German also circulated a statement in October 2004 backing the struggle of Iraqis ‘by whatever means they find necessary.’ Leftwing member of parliament Harry Barnes tabled a Commons motion, which explained the issue. It said,
That this House notes that the Stop the War Coalition leaders recently put out a statement by email to its supporters which backed ‘the legitimacy of the struggle of the Iraqi people, by whatever means they find necessary’ to end occupation; believes that this scurrilous statement would strongly imply support for the so-called resistance and thereby acquiesce in the murders of more people such as Ken Bigley, as well as hundreds of ordinary Iraqis; further notes, however, that versions of the statement published in the Morning Star and on the Stop the War website exclude the words ‘by whatever means they find necessary’; expresses the hope that the Coalition’s leadership has disavowed these outrageous words which will only encourage those who use physical force in Iraq.
It urged, ‘the Stop the War leadership to clarify its position without delay, reassure the public that they have not lost their moral bearings and, if this is a policy statement made internally to their membership, to withdraw it and institute internal action against those who issued this terrible statement to make sure that such highly offensive positions are never taken again.’ No such action was taken. Corbyn immediately tabled a Commons amendment deleting everything in favour of a paean to the SWTC and also argued that ‘much of the unacceptable violence in Iraq is a result of the occupation.’
Former railway drivers’ union leader Mick Rix resigned from the STWC executive saying,
If you think I am going to sit back and agree with beheadings, kidnappings, torture and brutality, and outright terrorisation of ordinary Iraqis and others, then you can forget it. I will not be involved whatsoever, to me it is akin to supporting the same brutality and oppression inflicted on Iraq by Saddam, and the invading and occupying forces of the USA.
Rix told Murray: ‘The language that was used was deliberate, archaic, violent, and plain downright stupid and dangerous if you happen to be an Iraqi at this present time. Then again you are not … I don’t think you also realise the danger that your actions and those of the Respect colleagues in the STW have placed Abdullah and perhaps others in the IFTU against attacks from extremists.’ This was sadly prescient. Within weeks, the IFTU’s international secretary Hadi Saleh, was tortured, garrotted, and shot dead in Baghdad by Saddam’s goons.
All this was just four years after its foundation but the STWC has further decayed for a decade. Yet Corbyn now says that the STWC has repeatedly called it right for over 14 years of disastrous war in the Middle East. It is one thing for a factional left leader to back sects,but a Labour leader should rise above them. This is a kebab too far, Jeremy.
Gary Kent is director of Labour Friends of Iraq and writes in a personal capacity. He tweets @garykent
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