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ESF: "In the name of democracy..." ?

clara | 16.10.2004 19:54 | European Social Forum | Repression | London

yesterday's evening session on the occupation of Iraq couldn't go through - because of despite calls for democracy?

On Friday evening, I was coming into ali pali for another meeting, and had to wait near the entrance ofthe west hall for some people. At that moment, a session was scheduled about the occupation of iraq. However, it was a lot of shouting, whistling as well as cheering ans clapping - and a moderator who was trying to bring order in the masses of people standing there.

I had missed what it was all about, so I could concentrate on the moderation - which was quite astonishing.

Apparently somebody was invited to speak on that panel while a part of the audience was against him speaking there. In fact they thought he should have never been invited to the ESf in the first place. (Some Iraqi official... somebody told me the guy was from the Iraqui government,but i might also have been the Iraqi union reperesentative listed in the programme.)

Just before i came there had been a vote: a majority wanted him to speak, a minority wanted him to leave. The reaction of the moderator was simple: The meeting was challenged by people who said that this person should not talk in this session, that he should have not been invited - the moderator asked them to leave if they did not want to listen to them.

I suppose there are quite a few session where you don't want to listen to a speaker: usually you just don't go there. But not wanting to listen, and not wanting that somebody speaks are two different things. Not wanting to listen is something different then wanting a panel (of another 4 or 5 speakers) without that person interfering in the discussion.

The next argument was the constant referring to democracy: "for the sake of democary" the minority has to accept the majority vote. Clearly the ESf is not based on consensus or on any of the forms of decission makeing has have been developed by grass rots organistions and social movements. While I was waiting there, andother vote took place: "Who's for, who's against? Hands up" - Done.

And argument number 3: we need to stand together... "Last year the ESF was standing as one front. Now we have to end this occupoation and we can't afford to appear disagreeing."

As i said, I don't know who the person in question was. I don't know whether I would have wanted him on stage. But I know that social movements should have moved beyond telling people to walk away when they don't like something. Is that the way the ESF organizers think they can change the world? Taking the whole package as it is presented to you or leave?
And when we don't agree on strageties (like who to include in pur debates) should we shut up about them, because it's better the outside world does not know that we are politically debating?

PS: Later it appeared that the actual panel discussion did not take place.



Hide the following 7 comments

Don't collaborate with the Occupation

17.10.2004 04:23

The person in question is Subhi Al Mashadari, the General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade unions, who was invited by the organisers of London ESF to be one the main speakers at the plenary "End the Ocupation of Iraq".
This trade union federation both endores and is affliated to the 'Interim Government' that the US forces have installed. So some people objected to the guy.
Many other workers organisations in Iraq such as the southern oil wokers union reject both colaboration and reaction islamicist ideas, putting creation of their autonomy as workers and as people as their primary goal

samba qween

What's your point?

17.10.2004 07:48

So would you prefer it if a minority of angry people (in this case mostly Trots from some dubious groups calling itself 'Workers Power' - not many of them looked like workers to me) was able to shout down the wishes of the majority? Do you think it's acceptable that a vocal minority of people should be able to prevent views they don't agree with from being heard by everyone else?

Think about what you're saying. If we believe in democracy and diversity, as we constantly say we do, it means in practice that we might actually have to listen to views we don't agree with. Who knows, it might even be good for us. If we're not prepared to do that we're just closed-minded fanatics. and since when was a tiny group of objectors overriding the wishes of hundreds of people the spirit of this movement?



17.10.2004 08:32

I think the idea was that, as the majority were interested in hearing him speak, he should be allowed to do so. In the circumstances provided I find it hard to see how the situation could have been better resolved.

As for the suggestion that "if you don't like it, leave", this should never had arisen. If people disagreed with the Iraqi speaker (who, I believe, represnted in some way the Interim Authority, or National Congress, or another of the puppet regimes) then the simplest way to deal with it would be to "kill" him through debate, ridicule his ideas using logic and then send him back to his Puppet Masters with his tail between his legs.

Freedom of speech for all means freedom to hear the very words you hate. All or nothing.

"I disagree with what you say, but i'll defend to the death your right to say it"

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We should let the Iraqi trade unions speak

17.10.2004 08:55

The speaker in question was not a 'government official' - it was Subhi al Mashadani, the invited speaker from the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. Those objecting were following the logic of the Stop the War Coalition, who'd earlier in the week called the IFTU "collaborators" with the US occupation - a pretty dangerous word to sling around in Iraq, if not in Islington. The point at issue isn't that the protestors views should have been heard - they were, at some length - but that the Iraqi trade unions should also be heard. They are not collaborators, they're against the occupation and also against the Islamist reactionaries now masquerading as a 'resistance' in parts of Iraq, and that makes them unpopular with some in the anti-war movement who want an easy cowboys-and-indians conflict in Iraq with the US as the bad guys and anyone who is fighting them being on 'our side'. The fact that the ESF organisers failed to defend the right of the IFTU to speak, whilst allowing Ken 'scab' Livingstone and many UK reformist trade union leaders top billing, shows a disgusting double standard.

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He's a pro-war stooge

17.10.2004 18:52

If people wanted to hear this bloke speak, why didn't they go to the recent Labour party conference where he defended the US puppet government of Iraq and provided a fig leaf for liar Blair who subsequently defeated an emabarrassing anti-war motion.

The war mongers are given more than enough time to air their minority pro-war views on mainstream media. Let's not give them even more opportunities at anti-war events like the ESF.

Troops out

RE: What's your point?

24.10.2004 04:10

Are we so naive that we still think democracy is some great good above reproach? Any number of questions could have been asked: how many people in this hall want this man to speak? Would one of the protestors like to engage in a debate with him on this stage? Instead they confronted people with the threat that the meeting would end over and over again. It was farcical that people so engaged in protest themselves could treat people who had a real grievance like they were so bloody stupid.

If I want to hear someone justify this occupation than I can turn the radio or television on. I can turn it on, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday... but when I'm at the European Social Forum I want to turn it off.


The Unholy Alliance Between the Iraqi Collobarators and the TUC Chiefs

31.10.2004 20:38

On the evening of Friday, the 15th October, The European Social Forum (E.S.F.) in London became a battleground between two opposing forces. The apologists for the occupation of Iraq were insisting on imposing a known collaborator with links to the puppet Iraqi interim Government: Subni Al Mashadani, the General Secretary of Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, as one of the main speakers to address the audience in a plenary titled: ‘End the Occupation of Iraq’. Meanwhile, a crowd of angry protesters who were opposed to the imperialist occupation of Iraq were gathering in their determination to expose this scandal and to take a principled stand against Mashadani and his associates.

The protesters from various political persuasions, amongst them a significant number of Iraqis, occupied the central aisle of the meeting of approximately 1000 people and demanded that Mashadani should not be given a platform at this anti Imperialist gathering. The activists of the World Peoples Resistance Movement (the London chapter) were instrumental in mobilising the masses for this struggle by linking up with a number of Iraqi, Kurdish and Turkish, British and other European organisations and individuals. They were in the forefront of the confrontation that followed, marking one of the defining moments of the E.S.F.

Having been wheeled into the E.S.F by the leading bureaucrats of the mainstream unions including the T.U.C and UNISON of Britain along with Blairites from within the so called Labour Friends of Iraq, Subhi Al Mashadani was portrayed as a legitimate voice of the Iraqi working class whose “view should be listened to if we are to help the Iraqi people to rebuild their country” (TUC statement, October 16th). The Iraqi Federation of Workers` Trade Unions (IFTU) in its October 15th statement published its response to the arguments put forward by George Galloway of the Respect Coalition of Britain who criticised this group for collaborating with the US and British occupation and characterised them as a “paper organisation”. IFTU claimed that they were committed to ‘free and democratic elections’ whereby the people of Iraq will determine their own future, without bothering to say anything about the role of their associates, mostly members of the phoney Iraqi “Communist Party” which forms part of the puppet Iraqi interim Government and serves the occupation by attempting to provide a more acceptable face to this institution that is soaked in the blood of the people of Iraq. The IFTU not surprisingly avoided addressing the question as to how democratic this so- called election could possibly be, when it is being imposed under the shadow of the US and British armies` bayonets and where these occupiers are openly banning newspapers, publications and organisations and carrying out a campaign of total annihilation against the sons and daughters of the people of Iraq in order to enforce their own rule. The only future that the imperialist occupiers are interested in is the one which safeguards their own economic and geo-political interests in the region. The statements of both the TUC and the IFTU did not mention the fact that the IFTU is the only trade union in Iraq that has been officially recognised by the interim government and the now defunct Iraqi Governing Council. Indeed, a number of other Iraqi Trade Unions including The Federation of Workers` Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), the Union of Unemployed Workers in Iraq (UUI) and a number of other progressive labour organisations from around the world registered an official complaint at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association in Geneva on 11th June, stating that the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 were being breached in Iraq, especially by the publication of the decree no:16, by which the Iraqi Governing Council decided to grant recognition to only one Trade Union, namely: the IFTU. This group continues to claim that they are against the occupation despite the growing body of evidence provided by international observers and their own actions (which will be outlined in more detail below) that demonstrates conclusively the level of their collaboration with the US and British occupying forces in Iraq.

According to the statement published by the Stop the War Coalition of Britain, during the weeks before the ESF, the IFTU and its leader Mashadani openly campaigned for the Labour Party Conference to welcome the puppet Iraqi Premier Allawi, in the face of a growing mass movement which was opposed to such an invitation. The IFTU shared a platform with the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and other government representatives championing the cause of war. In addition to all these shameless acts, the one thing which caused the most outrage amongst the protesters at the ESF, the crime for which they were determined to hold Mashadani to account, was his responsibility as the leader of the IFTU in openly lobbying the trade union affiliates of the Labour Party during the annual Brighton conference to oppose a motion calling on Blair to bring the troops back from Iraq. The motion which represented the aspirations of the tens of thousands workers from across Britain, coinciding with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people in this country, was dropped and the Blair government was effectively given a blank cheque to pursue its criminal ambitions in Iraq within the framework of the open ended and permanent state of war under the US led Strategic Offensive against the peoples of the world. The credit for this “achievement” undoubtedly falls on the IFTU and its representative, Mashadani who dared to show his face and attempted to address the people gathered at the ‘ End the Occupation of Iraq’ plenary. Abdullah Muhsin, the British representative of the IFTU, vehemently denied giving any voting advice to the trade union affiliates at the Labour Party conference in an article titled: “We are nobodies Pawns” published in “The Guardian” on 24 October 2004. However, as the letter of the secretary of the Labour CND makes it clear, His poisonous remarks were printed “…in the party’s official daily briefing for all delegates and in a special ‘open letter to trade union delegates’, in which he wrote that an early date for withdrawal of troops ‘would be bad for my country, and would play into the hands of the extremists’”.

According to a recent article published in the Arab Media Watch, the IFTU is also instrumental in pushing forward the programme of sweeping privatization imposed by the Allawi government which is hell-bent on selling Iraq to the highest bidder. In one of his articles published in the left wing British newspaper “The Morning Star”, Abdullah Muhsin, the British representative of the IFTU, stated that he was in favour of public- private partnership, echoing the enthusiasm of Nisreen Parwari, the Interim Iraqi General Works Minister for the wholesale privatisation of public utilities. According to the Arab Media Watch, “this policy together with order number 39- allowing foreign investors to own the utilities and take out of Iraq 100% of the profits with a low taxation percentage of 15%- will spell disaster for the already impoverished Iraqis”.

The role played by the leading bureaucrats of some of the largest trade unions in Britain, including the TUC and the UNISON, was also decisive in the dropping of the ‘bring the troops home’ motion at the Labour Party Conference. During a previous meeting on ‘Iraq: Fault line in British Politics’ an Iraqi women panellist exposed the TUC leadership by pointing out that they had entered into a process of unprincipled negotiations with the Labour Party leadership and agreed to facilitate the dropping of the said motion in breach of the resolutions agreed by their members in the previous meetings, in return for certain rights such as decent childcare for working people and other basic rights that were offered in the form of a bribery. They have acted as if these basic rights which reflect the aspirations of millions of workers from around the world, during the course of the countless battles fought for more than a century, were private commodities belonging to certain individuals that could be bought or sold at will. The actions of these union leaders have lead some people to correctly point out that the IFTU was simply used as a pawn by those who wanted to justify their positions which amounted to nothing less than a betrayal of their own anti-occupation resolutions. They wanted to hide their own reasons for not daring to confront Tony Blair.

The controversy over the decision to invite Mashadani to the ESF had been raging for a number of weeks before the start of the forum. Mashadani had already been exposed as a collaborator by many leading figures in the anti war movement. His credentials were known only too well by those who appointed themselves as the decision makers determining as to who should be given a platform in the Forum. They were faced with the mounting opposition of a great number of progressives involved in the organisation of the Forum, including Sabah Jawad of the AMW and other Iraqi progressives who were vocal in their opposition to the occupation of their countries and were scheduled to share a platform with Mashadani (one cannot help but admire their patience).

The working group of the ESF, however, claimed that only a few people made objections and that the objections came too late. The World Tribunal organisation described this as a lie, “a world turned upside down”, and argued that there was a hidden agenda. Mashadani`s invitation as a key speaker also represented a clear breach of the ESF`s very own Charter of principles according to which, “the World Social Forum is an open place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas… by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism..”. So why did the TUC chiefs and their associates act in such a manner as to openly defy the charter by inviting this apologist for the occupation to an anti-occupation gathering? It is simply not good enough to say that they were faced with “pre-election pressures”. The truth seems more comprehensive. They were clearly involved in an attempt to salvage the British governments` damaged prestige over the war in Iraq by helping to give legitimacy to the illegitimate Government of Allawi. If this blood soaked institution which depends on the US and British occupiers for its existence was seen as a platform for a diverse range of political forces in Iraq including the so-called Iraqi Communist party (the leading force within the IFTU) then the occupiers could be said to have achieved at least something worthy of respect. The war may not have been that bad after all. Never mind the question as to why “the US occupation authority” would “place a communist in it if they thought he was even in the least bit pink” argues the statement of the Anti Imperialist Action, another group that linked up with the WPRM during the protest at the ESF.

So, the hidden agenda behind this shameful invitation was not that hidden after all. Faced with the fury of a large number of protesters earlier in the morning, before the scheduled plenary, Mashadani and his associates refused to acknowledge their pro-occupation stance and vehemently denied their affiliation with the Iraqi interim Government, accusing the protesters of being Baathists. But as the protesters continued their exposure, Mashadani responded to a question put forward by a WPRM activist and stated that there were good people in the interim Government, and that the best way to end the occupation was to work with the interim Government. Mashadani was eventually chased out of Alexandra Palace amid chants of “collaborator out!” etc. But he showed up again with his bodyguards later on in the evening, sitting at the platform of the plenary in question. The protesters started to fill up the central aisle of the meeting place, calling on Mashadani to step down from the platform and chanting “Mashadani out!”, “Mashadani, you have blood on your hands!” etc. Meanwhile, the chairperson of the plenary, Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition, decided to use the advantage of the microphone and accused the protesters of denying Mashadani his freedom of speech, arguing that the protesters had no respect for democracy. The protesters on the other hand tried to make it clear that they wanted the other speakers to be heard but the warmonger had to be removed from the platform, yet they were threatened by the ESF stewards (not by the Alexandra Palace security personnel ) with being beaten up and told by German to leave the meeting.

In an apparent show of democracy, the participants of the meeting who were largely unaware of Mashadani`s true character and the circumstances surrounding his invitation, were asked to vote in order to decide as to whether or not Mashadani should be given the right to speak without any explanation about the views of the protesters regarding the reasons for their opposition. “Who is for, who is against? Hands up”- Done. Having thus gained the majority vote in favour of Mashadani, the chairperson proceeded to outline her simple logic according to which, all those who did not want to listen to Mashadani had to leave the meeting. But the protesters stayed on and continued to shout, urging the participants to take a stand and not to give in to those who were exercising dictatorship in the name of democracy. In the end, the meeting was abandoned and Mashadani left the hall once again.

During the heated discussions that continued in the spirit of spontaneous debate, the WPRM activists managed to win over many of those who originally disapproved with their protest. A large character poster signed by the WPRM was prepared collectively with the help of some environmental activists; condemning the presence of imperialist collaborators at the ESF. It was put up on a wall in one of the busy and popular corners of Alexandra Palace.

Meanwhile, the Alliance for Workers` Liberty started circulating a leaflet attacking the protestors and arguing that Mashadani was a lesser evil than the Mahdi army or the other fundamentalist forces that would bring Sharia law to Iraq. The point that was being missed in all this was the fact that Mashadani`s so-called leftist appearance had made him even more formidable as a collaborator. Because of what he symbolises, all of the secular and progressive forces in Iraq may risk being seen as traitors to the cause of liberation and servants of the US and British forces, and the masses will be forced into embracing reactionary leaderships. Rather than undermining the influence of the religious fundamentalists, Mashadani actually strengthens it. The example of the role played by the Communist Party of France during the French Invasion of Algeria provides a valuable lesson. The party supported the imperialist invasion of Algeria and the consequences of this position were to shake the very foundation of the working class movement in France for many years to come.

Another view that was expressed held that the best way to deal with the likes of Mashadani was to engage in a debate with them and to defeat them with the power of our arguments. The holders of this view believed that by denying Mashadani the right to speak he was turned into a martyr. Would they have shown the same level of courtesy if a BNP representative was imposed as a panellist at an anti-racist conference? Would the issue of the freedom of speech have arisen during the Second World War if the representatives of the Vichy collaborators in the German occupied France were given a platform at a meeting held in London? Mashadani and his associates have already been given massive opportunities to put forward their line of collaboration and warmongering in the posh conference halls provided by their masters and in the mass media. Their positions are already being defeated on a daily basis by the power of the critical arguments expressed in the heroic struggle waged by the sons and daughters of the people of Iraq against the military might of the US and British occupiers.

The TUC chiefs published a statement immediately after the above mentioned incident and shamelessly defended Mashadani as the legitimate voice of the Iraqi workers, trying in vain to intimidate the audience at the ESF into accepting him as a speaker on Saturday. When Saturday came, the plenary was reconvened without Mashadani. A speaker from the WPRM addressed the audience and defended Friday’s protest. His speech, which albeit was limited to only one minute, was received with an overwhelming approval by the people at the meeting. In particular, it was argued that engaging in unholy alliances with collaborators/oppressors in order to safe-guard the unity of the movement is unproductive, that it serves to sabotage the anti-war movement by demoralising the youth. It was also pointed out that this so-called ‘tactic’ was deeply rooted in an historic trend within the British working class movement of always seeking to rely on the Labour backbenchers to the extent of loosing sight of the role of the masses in making history.

The fact that Mashadani was refused a platform is important in that it symbolises the determination of the masses attending the ESF to refuse to submit to pressures from apologists for the occupation of Iraq and to hold them publicly to account. Indeed, contrary to the allegations of the organisers, the spirit of solidarity and defiance this protest engendered has strengthened the unity of the anti-war movement on a more profound and solid basis.

October 2004
The World Peoples Resistance Movement (London Chapter)

Tom Parsons

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