British Rail Union Leader Blasts Blair on Iraq
by Mick Rix
Mick Rix is general secretary of the locomotive
engineers union in Britain (ASLEF). His article first appeared in the Financial
Times (London) on August 29. We post this version, edited for Labor
Standard, for the information of our readers.
I never thought the day could arrive when I would find
myself in the company of James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, General Sir Michael Rose,
and other establishment political and military figures from Britain and the U.S.
All are deeply skeptical over the necessity of
launching an attack on Iraq, a plan whose only real supporters may be found in
the Pentagon, in the Israeli government, and around U.S. President George W.
Bush. Perhaps these conservatives are simply catching up with the mood of the
British labor movement, most of which is totally opposed to attacking Iraq.
I have never known the movement to be so united in firm
opposition to a war apparently supported by a Labour government. That opposition
is certain to be voiced in the forthcoming Trades Union Congress and Labour
Party conferences. Where antiwar resolutions are tabled for debate, I would
expect them to be passed by large majorities.
A number of trade unions are also supporting the
“Don’t Attack Iraq” demonstration to be held in London on September 28,
the day before the Labour Party conference opens. I believe there will be a
massive turnout. Tony Blair would be well advised to listen.
The British trade union movement has a proud record of
internationalism and solidarity with oppressed peoples. For example, ASLEF has
campaigned actively for human rights in countries such as Colombia, where
hundreds of trade unionists have been assassinated and imprisoned. So we will
take no lectures from those who might accuse us of not caring about the plight
of ordinary Iraqis by opposing war.
British trade unionists were marching against Saddam
Hussein’s regime when he was still in favor with Washington. We support the
Iraqi people’s struggle for democratic government. But we have to ask whether
the sanctions regime of the past 10 years has helped moves toward democracy — or
whether it has brought even more suffering on an innocent people. And we must
think hard as to whether an externally imposed change of regime can really bring
It is debatable whether the Iraqi regime still has the
capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. The dossier that has been
repeatedly promised by Mr. Blair on the Iraqi weapons program has never
materialized. And Scott Ritter, former head of the United Nations weapons
inspection team, is convinced that Iraq no longer has the capability to develop
weapons of mass destruction.
However, there are other countries in the region that
do possess weapons of mass destruction, not least Israel. There is a clear risk
that Iraq, once attacked, will retaliate against Israel, and the government of
Ariel Sharon will have little compunction in turn about hitting back with
The Middle East is a tinderbox and Mr. Bush stands
ready with his box of matches. There can never be peace in the region without
justice for the Palestinians. Yet Mr. Bush appears oblivious to this truth.
Most of the British labor movement is also appalled at
the double standards of American policy toward Israel, which currently illegally
occupies the West Bank and Gaza. That is the main source of instability in the
region today. Indeed, not a single state in the Middle East, among those that
ought to feel most threatened by Iraq — if threat it is — is remotely supportive
of a U.S. attack.
Mr. Blair can play a pivotal role in helping to bring
about a peaceful settlement. Even the Bush administration would find it hard to
go to war without Britain at its side. So far, however, the prime minister has
never given any indication other than that he will back Mr. Bush over Iraq. In
recent days — no doubt shaken by the strength of feeling in the country and
within the labor movement — ministers have sounded a little more equivocal.
It is right that Mr. Blair should be reflecting long
and hard on what will undoubtedly be the most important decision of his
leadership and of our lifetimes. I hope that the forthcoming conferences will
make matters even clearer to him.
In 1956 Anthony Eden’s Conservative government failed
to heed U.S. advice and launched what proved to be one of the most ill-fated of
British expeditions in modern times. The Suez campaign marked the end of
Britain’s unilateralism and its empire. Now it is our turn to warn the U.S.
that an attack on Iraq has incalculable consequences for the Middle East and for
On an issue of such importance, it is vital that both
parliament and the cabinet have an opportunity to debate Mr. Bush’s war plans.
Nothing else will do.
In the meantime, those of us who have consistently
argued for peace and justice have a duty to try to persuade the Iraqis to comply
with the UN Security Council resolutions on weapons inspections.
That, I am sure, is the view of the great majority of the labor movement.